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Russia of Stanislav

The purpose of this page is to give some fresh information on such a mysterious country as Russia. I do understand that it may sound strange but we do not have Communist rule here, just like we do not have bears walking in the streets, etc. The words like balalaika, matrioshka, samovar, etc. are native Russian words but are not the only things we have to be proud of. We are not a “third-world country” as we have spaceships and nuclear weapon. However, you should not afraid of us because the times of the Cold War are gone, and things are very different now.

Russia According to the West 2015

Christmas & New Year

We do celebrate New Year (the night of December 31 – January 1), and even more than Christmas. My understanding is that the Communists did it because during their rule, religion was called as “opium for people” and it was forbidden, so celebrating Christmas was also forbidden and New Year became a sort of “replacement” for it. Now many Russian Christmas traditions are represented in New Year traditions. Year by year, I hope, we will get back to celebrating Christmas more than New Year.

The special food we have is mashed (or cooked in other way) potatoes with chicken or so-called “French meat”, various salads (so-called “Russian salad“ (“Vinegret”), “Olivie”, corn'n'crabs salad, etc.), caviar, etc. People come to a New Year party closer to 23:00 or even to midnight, have meals and/or fun (including watching TV, etc.); at 23:55 we usually listen to our President's New Year speech and then open up champagne to fill a wineglass right with the Moscow Kremlin chimes, and at midnight we say “chin-chin”, congratulate each other and listen to and/or sing the Russian anthem. Then we have meals, play games, etc. We also go in the street to meet our friends, to see/make a firework, to have different games with snow – so much fun!

Our “Santa Claus” is called Ded Moroz (“Grandfather Frost” in English), and unlike Santa he has a granddaughter Snegurochka (“Snow Maiden”) who helps him managing all the presents and surprises! We do give presents (oops! of course, our Ded Moroz and his Snegurochka do this!) but, again, mostly for New Year (usually presents can be found under New Year's trees in the morning of January 1).

We celebrate Christmas on January 6-7 because our Christianity is called Orthodox Christianity, and it differs from e.g. Catholicism in some aspects, e.g. in the date of Jesus' birth. The shift in dates is the result of incorrect/numerous calendar changes in the world. In fact, we had our Christmas right before New Year (that should be celebrated, according to our today's Christmas, on January 13-14 – it is so-called “Old New Year”, also celebrated here). We really call our Christmas like “Christmas” (though the Russian word does not have “Christ” in it, it is also related to Jesus' birth). However, on Christmas we usually have a quiet family supper (late dinner).

Decorations in our houses are usually located mostly on traditional New Year's trees. No, the Christmas decorations do not have to be taken down by 6 January for good luck because we have our Russian Christmas on 6-7 January! Usually, the decorations are put on Catholic Christmas and taken off on so-called “Old New Year” (13-14 January).

Driver's License

To get a driver's license in Russia you must be at least 18 years old (though you may be taught to drive since aged 16). To get a license you must pass a complex examination consisting of parts: 1) driving theory (a computer test of 20 questions with a chance to make maximum 2 mistakes); 2) driving exercises (4 basic driving exercises: reverse driving into a box, manoeuvring in a limited area, accelerating/braking with a gear shift, forward starting on an upgrade slope from a manual brake; you have only one chance to repeat an exercise if you failed); 3) city traffic (driving from A to B, 40 kph maximum, highway code usage). If you pass all this you get an international driver's license (a small plastic card) that is valid for 10 years.

Education & Employment

At the age of 3 children may attend kindergarten, at 7 they go to elementary school (Grade 1-3), then basic secondary school (Grade 5-9), then completed secondary school (Grade 10-11). The secondary education lasts 10 years (Grade 1-3, 5-11) but we have a project of making it lasting for 12 years (for the compatibility with the rest of the world). Besides, we have different high schools, colleges, etc. but, however, the next step after secondary education is higher education (4 years to get a Bachelor degree, 5 years – an Engineer degree, 6 – a Master degree). Almost all of them are co-educational, i.e. boys and girls study together.

Summer is a usual period for entering colleges/institutes/universities, as it is the longest vacation during an academic year. After getting a certificate of secondary education in June all applicants decide where to study and then make their applications. Passing initial exams is a part of the process of entering so it is hard to enter several places at the same time (though it is possible). State schools (like my Vladimir State University) still have free (of charge) education (entering is also free).

Schools, colleges, institutes and universities, etc. always reopen in Russia on 1 September – Knowledge Day. Schoolchildren have their autumn holidays somewhen in the end of October – the beginning of November, winter holidays in the end of December – the beginning of January, spring holidays in the end of March, summer holidays in June – August. Colleges, institutes and universities have only winter holidays (usually 2 weeks) and summer holidays (about two months) in different times. As for my Alma Mater (Vladimir State University), its winter holidays are set to the end of January – the beginning of February, and its summer holidays are in July and August. Every year there are 2 semesters of about 16 weeks each.

A person who graduates from any college/institute/university with secondary professional education or higher education normally takes care of his job himself. There are still some places where people are hired at once after the graduation (e.g. if their profession is very specific) but most people start looking for job. However, in Russia there is no unemployment but there is absence of qualified specialists.

Food & Recipes

Once my English-speaking friend from Ghana said, “I like the type of healthy food you guys eat”, and it is the best comment for this section. Another friend from the USA added, “Russian food is much better in Russia and I wish we would have eaten much more borsch because I love it and only eat it in Russia”. Below you can find some recipes of the food that is quite traditional to Russians.

Russian Borsch

Ingredients: 2 liters of bouillon or water, 1 small beet, 100 grams of fresh cabbage, 1 onion, 1 carrot, 2 potatoes, 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce, 1 teaspoon of flour, salt, sugar, citrate, greens, 4 tablespoons of sour cream.

Process. Beet may be prepared in different ways: it may be wholly seethed, roasted in oven, sliced, fried over in grease, then water and citrate added and braised. In the bouillon or water chopped cabbage is seethed. Carrot is grated largely, the onion is chopped to small pieces and then fried over together with carrot and added to the soup. Potatoes are sliced, then put to the soup and seethed until preparedness. Add to the soup prepared beet and lightly fried flour and tomato sauce. If the borsch is not colored enough, add some beet squeeze, salt to your taste, add sugar, citrate, and put laurel leaves at will, then parcook. When dishing up, scatter chopped greens to the borsch, put sour cream.

Vinegret (Russian Salad)

Ingredients: 1 beet, 2 carrots, 5-6 potatoes, 1 onion, 3 pickles, 1 can of pickled green peas, 300 grams of sauerkraut, salt, pepper, sunflower oil.

Process. Beet is wholly seethed, the same for carrot and potatoes. Everything is chopped, put together, then salt and pepper are added to personal taste. After that, the salad is dressed with sunflower oil.

About Nuts

There are at least the following kinds of nuts available to purchase and eat in Russia: peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios; pecans and macadamia are also known to me but only because they were sent to me by American friends. There is also such a product as peanut butter in Russia.

Holidays & Traditions

We do not have a pumpkin on Halloween, moreover we do not celebrate the holiday in Russia at all, and I only have mutual congrats with my English-speaking friends.

I am familiar with the Thanksgiving food but only as what it is – I never tasted it. The reason is, we do not have such a celebration at all. We do have turkeys in Russia but people do not eat them very often (at least I have never heard of anyone here eating turkeys). Chickens are much more popular.

We do not have any autumn holiday that is nationally recognized and celebrated (the one we had was the Day of the Great October Revolution (1917) but now it is renamed to Day of Conciliation and Agreement and is not celebrated very much). If fact, I have to confess that we have lost many of our traditions (either prohibited by the Soviets or disappearing now as former “Communist traditions”). I hope we will restore the traditions and/or form new ones in future.

We do not celebrate either Mother's or Father's Day here but we celebrate their analogs, Fatherland Defender's Day (February 23, that is also considered to be the holiday of all Russian men, of all ages) and International Women's Day (March 8, that is also considered to be the holiday of all Russian women, of all ages).

It seems that there is nothing special about the significance of crows in Russian culture. Usually crows can be seen near litter containers so there is nothing special with them. But we have a figurative sense of the verb “to caw” (or “croak”, as the sound crows produce) that implicates “to say something meaning mischief”. Besides, crows usually can be heard at cemeteries so they are not considered as “good birds”. But their relatives, ravens, are even more fateful and at the same time considered much wiser than crows as ravens live much longer. So you see that in the very beginning of the paragraph I said there was “no special meaning” but in fact I have recalled some interesting things.

Life & Humor

Some foreigners think that it is hectic and stressful to live in Russia. Maybe they are right, and we, Russians, do not feel this because we have habituated ourselves to… However, I think we have here the real life, with adventures and danger, with inconveniences that stimulate to advance our body and soul.

Who said we were very solemn people? I would say, Russians are very jesting people! We have an inherent sense of humor! And our humor is the most “striking” because it is much deeper than foreign movies' “kick me”-jokes! If we did not laugh, we would not survive in the country like ours and in the time like ours!

We even have an anecdote about how foreigners can understand our national mentality. Once after the Iron Curtain had fallen (when our country became available for visiting from abroad) an American had visited Russia and when he came back to the USA he was asked, “Well, how is life there, in Russia?” He replied, “You know, they have a holiday that is called Great October Revolution Day but they celebrate it… in November. And all the rest is in the same way!”. It means, we may look totally obscure to foreigners but many of them find a special delight in understanding us. (And, by the way, on 7 November we still have a holiday though now it is called Day of Conciliation and Agreement.)

When Russians say they are fine this usually means they really are, and vice versa. Once my English friend said, “The difference between our and Russian answers to “How are you?” is explained by that you, Russians, are more sincere and we are more delicate”.

Millennium & Y2K Problem

We did not celebrate the New Millennium on 31 December 1999 – 1 January 2000 because it was coming only the next year. 2000 is just a round year, and no more. The third millennium, and the XXIst century come when it is 1 January 2001. I mean, the year 2000 is still the XXth century. Surprised? Russian children are always taught that the calendar we use starts with the year 1, not 0! And one more thing: there is no Year 2000 problem (with computers) in Russia! We are not so computerized, and if we even have computers they are all new and ready for any date change.

Parents & Middle Names

Russian children usually refer for their parents the following words: when learning to speak they say “mama” and “papa”, older ones (like me) say “mam” and “pap” or just “ma” and “pa”. Formally we call our parents “mat” (soft “t”) and “otets” (“ts” like in “Yeltsin”) that means “mother” and “father” respectively.

Russian middle names are called “patronymic names” because usually they are made of our fathers' first names. For instance, my father's name is Anatoly, so I am Stanislav Anatoly Ogryzkov.

Politics

Vladimir Putin was (is) better for Russia than Boris Yeltsin but now (in 2005) he is not enough. To become a world power again (to balance the world against the aggressive USA and their satellites, including Great Britain) Russia needs a more decisive political leader, and a team of professionals of who support him, to plan, implement and develop many things to re-animate our agriculture, army, culture, education, industry, science, social welfare, etc., and to conduct hard international policy to set down some the above-mentioned aggressive countries.

Western newspapers demonstrate the West's fear of stronger Russia when they talk of an alarming authoritarian drift and possible return of Russia to its totalitarian past. The West is interested in having weak Russia, with chaotic state government, and thus afraid of any trends to make the Russian state government more strict and effective. So please do not believe in those bellows about totalitarism.

The same regarding so-called “independent media”. Those “independent media” are mostly sponsored by the West to destroy the state from the inside, and the West is afraid to lose the last mechanisms of influence. Believe me, here we have much more information freedom than any American or British citizen.

The trials on people like Khodorkovsky are made “shows” mostly by the Western and West-sponsored media, and in fact such trials are normal practice when people steal money. Look at the double-faced USA – when they lose money from “Yukos”, they shout about “political case of Khodorkovsky”, and when they arrest Adamov in Switzerland (again, for money stolen), they do not call it political (though it is, if you know about the US sanctions for Russian nuclear institutes working with Iran).

The Beslan school siege in 2003 was a force-majeure anti-terroristic operation, and I do not see much politics in it. It was a tragedy, and after that I still cannot understand why the West shout about “human rights violations in Chechnya” (violations of terrorists' rights?).

The welfare reform of 2005 was a good idea but, as usual, its realization went wrong, and many old people suffered from it. The government is now trying to fix it. Some people call it an anti-national attempt to see what else people can stand. The reform became a good “minus” for the President Putin and his government.

The revolutions in Georgia in 2003 and in the Ukraine in 2004 were openly sponsored by the West (particularly, by the USA), and they are the next steps to round Russia with pro-American ex-USSR republics with American military bases on their territories. The revolutions in Kyrghyzstan and Uzbekistan in 2005 seem to be from the same row but they differ from the first two (in Georgia and the Ukraine), patrticularly, by including genuine people discontent, thus there is a hope at least these two Asian republics will not be fully controlled by the USA. I think we will avoid such a revolution in Russia though the West is trying to prepare Russian people for such a thought.

The youth activist movement “Nashi” (Our Guys) created in 2004 still has no much influence here. It is another attempt of the President Putin (the first attempt, a youth activist movement “Iduschie Vmeste” (Going Together), failed) to have a pro-government youth activist movement instead of October/Pioneer/KomSoMol organizations existed in the ex-USSR. I think, it is a good idea to organize youth so that keep them away from smoking, drinking, drugs, doing nothing, etc. A state without any ideology is a dead state. Again, the attempts to create such a national ideology and to organize people in patriotic movement are called by the West like “totalitarian trends”. Do not listen to them.

Yes, in 2005 Russia is still at a crossroads but the both ways offered by the West (“a western-style democracy with a fully independent court and legal system or a return to the past where power is concentrated at the center and people look to a strong man to solve all their problems”) are bad. The so-called “western-style democracy” is an absolute perversion of the ancient Greek term, when false slogans of freedom are used to invade oil fields without any care of the people living there, with full ignorance of million-people ant-war demonstrations in London and the USA. The so-called “return to the Communist past” is a scary myth for the Western of all ages, moreover, it can never repeat as every time every political form is different, however, the West is afraid of any form of Russia's strong power as it is the power that can stop the “freedom aggression” that is implemented everyday by the USA and their satellite, Great Britain.

A few popular political jokes in Russia:

  • Do not you know what democracy is? Then we are flying to you… on the wings of “Tomahawks”! :-)
  • Now the news of geology: American geologists have discovered a small Arabic country over the American oil fields… :-)

Population & Nationality

According to the latest (but still approximate) calculations of the 2002 All-Russian Census, the population of Russia is 143 million people.

Russia (and the ex-USSR) has always been a multi-national country. Our new internal passports do not say what nationality you are though in some forms you still have to fill your nationality. it is quite normal practice to call all the ex-USSR citizens as “Russians”. In fact, it is competent to call them Russians as most of them do speak Russian and sometimes even do not speak their native languages (e.g. Ukrainian).

Religion & Confessions

Officially, the Russian Federation is a laical state, with numerous religions and confessions recognized. Orthodox Christianity is the most widespread religion, and the official Russian Church is the biggest Orthodox Christian institution in the world.

During the Soviet rule religion was called “opium for people” (Lenin's words) and it was forbidden (or at least “not recommended”), so atheism became the official ideology of the Soviet Union. Nowadays, many atheists are trying to find themselves in a religion, for example, trying to be Orthodox Christians, and in many cases they are insincere (it is especially applicable to ex-Communists). As the state is laical, religious holidays are not official state holidays though there is an exclusion called Christmas.

I have been to Russian Orthodox services, and I like it very much – very beautiful and giving great emotional uplift, unlike some western “Christian shows”. However, there is a difference between religion and faith so I trust in God but I do not belong to any religion – it is the key of understanding people of different confessions and cultures. Periodical “attending a new type of religious retreat” sounds quite strange for me, maybe because I have my own “religion” or because we have numerous religious missions here that instead of connecting people together separate them (besides, some of them are even criminal or considered as dangerous religious sects).

Russian Army

The Russian Army is not a volunteer army still. Every healthy young man still must serve to the country for 2 years (1 year for those who have higher education) in the army. If you are a student you are exempt until you graduate. Besides, health is a criterion of whether young men go or not. Alternative service is also available though it is still quite new for us. In the future it is planned to shorten terms of service and/or make the Army fully professional.

Here are the two examples of stereotypical understanding of the Russian army:

Bear ArmyRussian ICBM

However, we saved Europe and the world from Tartarian'n'Mongolian invasion in the XII-XIIIth centuries, from Napoleon's agression in the XVIII-XIXth centuries and Hitler in the XXth century, independent on either you believe this or not. And we will not let any other country in the future to dominate in the world.

Russian Nouns

Once “Washington Post” postulated that English should have male and female nouns, and readers were asked to assign a gender to nouns of their choice. And in Russian we do have gender assigned to every noun! The following list shows which nouns have which gender in Russian (Washington Post versions are in brackets): Swiss army knife – male (male), kidneys – female (female), tire – female (male), hot air balloon – male (male), sponges – female (female), web page – female (female), shoe – male (male), copier – male (female), ziploc bags – male (male), subway – neuter (male), hourglass – neuter plural (female), hammer – male (male), remote control – male (male). As you may see, “Washington Post” has “guessed” 69.23% of Russian nouns' gender!

Sport & Games

Russian teenagers play a lot of sports and games. The most popular are football (I mean, soccer, – we call it just football), basketball, volleyball, running, swimming, boxing, all kinds of single combat, etc. There are also a lot of street games; some of them are definitely unknown for Americans. Different board games (e.g. chess) are very popular too. The same for card games. As for me, the favorites are walking, bicycling, ice-skating and skateboarding, volleyball, various card and board games. Sport activities, I would say, are available for all children, those highly talented go in for professional sport (my classmate is becoming a professional boxer).

We have many parks, and most of them are state, also created on public land set aside for public recreational use. But unfortunately we almost have no special tracks for bicycle riders there. The same for skaters (as recently I was given a skateboard, now I am interested in good places where to skate). So usually we use roads and streets where cars go by. Besides, most of us never use any protection stuff (like helmet, etc.) – it may sound strange for you but we “prefer not to fall” at all, and that is maybe why we do not need it.

Territory & Climate

Russia (the Russian Federation officially) is still the biggest country in the world by its territory (1/6 of the lands on the Earth, about 17 million sq. km) so there are so many things and events here! The climate is very different, too. I live in Central Russia (Vladimir (the name of my city) is 180 km to the east of Moscow) where the climate is temperate continental so we have quite cold winter (-30 degrees Celsius) and quite hot summer (+30 degrees Celsius), though it is different from year to year.

“A few inches of snow” as a reason for “a complete standstill” in England sounds definitely strange for Russians! We have meters of snow – and that is OK! :-) There is a story when an Englishman married a Russian woman who was from the Soviet Union and therefore had an habit of buying great volumes of food “just in case” of food deficiency. Her new English environment laughed at her, telling her that there was no need to do so as there were no problems with provision in England. But one day there was a great snowfall so that the small town where they all lived was absolutely isolated from the rest of the country – no communications, no food and goods delivery. It could be a very dangerous situation but the pantry in the house of the Russian wife was so full of food that it was enough to feed all the people of the isolated town until all communications were restored!

Train Fare

About the train fare from Vladimir to St. Petersburg. Firstly, there is no difference whether a Russian or foreigner travel. Secondly, we have very different seat types in Russian trains. Most Russians in most cases (including me) travel on the cheapest open-berth seats but foreigners may consider such seats like “third class”. In other cases people use four-seats compartments that can be considered like “second class”. In exclusive cases people use two-seats de luxe compartments (“first class”). Besides, trains are also different, regular trains are less comfortable than so-called name-trains (or “firm-trains”). And even more, prices depend on the season you travel. However, let us see. On 31 October 2004 I called our train station information desk and they said me that a “third class” seat from Vladimir to St. Petersburg cost exactly 560 rubles, or less than $20. So if you double the price, say $40-50, it would be more than enough to travel to St. Petersburg in a very comfortable way. As I said, there are a number of trains from Vladimir to St. Petersburg, they leave Vladimir at 4:35 AM and 10:20 PM and arrive to St. Petersburg at 4:55 PM and 9:45 AM accordingly.

Visiting Russia

All foreign nationals are required to have entry visas to travel to the Russian Federation. Russian entry visas can be obtained at local Russian Embassy or Consulate, proper authorization (invitation) from the Passport and Visa Department (OVIR) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or specially authorized travel agencies is required. Read more at Russian Visa Online.

To get a Russian visa you still need to have an invitation from a Russia-located person or organization. I have an experience of making such an invitation (a personal one) for my English friend who successfully obtained a Russian visa and visited me in the summer of 2003. His impressions from visiting Russia, “My mind is awash with impressions. Of the court of law we visited, of the strange wedding procedures, of the old ladies selling their wares – and the one who refused to be photographed! Of your school and university, of your place of work and our English tea break, of our visit to Kuzma's flat, of Suzdal once again – of staying with Max's family, seeing where the ladies make the quilts, of our delightful meander through the town and seeing the bells being rung by the two boys. Of the trip to Nizhny Novgorod and visiting the preserved steam engines and riding the metro, of the train journey back to Vladimir. Of our visit with Andrey to Bogolyubovo where we saw the monastery and the lonely Church of the Intercession. It was pleasant walking along the river to the confluence with the Klyazma… A big thank you for the lovely food – I shall now have to start a strict diet!”


Read more and watch my country pictures.

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