Free Internet

| Friday, June 26, 2009
I saw this commercial a while back, and I laughed out loud. I would totally do this for free internet! Enjoy!

Russia - People

| Sunday, June 7, 2009
The people in Russia are very interesting and very diverse. It makes sense with all of the things that they have been through from Communism under the USSR to the fall of communism to the beginning of a democratic society that this people has a very unique attitude and one this is tough to capture in a blog post or any pictures. Words can't really describe human nature, but I have tried to describe other parts of Russia, so I will do the same here.

The first thing I think when I see Russian people on the street or in pictures or even when I first meet them is how mad they look and sound. Russians have this interesting quality that makes you think that they are an upset people. As you walk along the streets, enter stores, and ride the transportation system you will likely not see many, if any, smiles coming from the people around you. I am not sure what it is but Russian nature is not to smile in public.

Listening in these same situations to conversations and interactions is also pretty interesting. It always amazes me how a Russian person can sound so mad and upset and the other person doesn't get offended. Russians like to hold intense conversations and be very serious as they talk so much so that I often think a fight is going to bust out, but it never does. The people are very straightforward, and they don't try to sugarcoat their words.

For example, my wife has a really good friend who she has been friends with for some time. They like to do different things together but like any women or young ladies, they love to shop and they love clothes. One of the things that always gets me is how open and honest they are with each other about each other's clothes and looks. My wife says she really likes something and her friend tells her that it is ugly and not to put it down (she doesn't say "I don't really like it." but she says "That's ugly, don't even think about it."). When it comes to boyfriends they are the same way and anything else. They also sound like their fighting a lot, but they're not, they're just talking/discussing a topic. It is the Russian people's nature for some reason.

However, Russian people are different at heart. As we were leaving Russia and were in the airport I met another woman who was headed home after a three week vacation in Russia (her first time in Russia and she didn't know the language or alphabet at all). I asked her several questions, including what she thought of the Russian people. Her answer is one of the things I love most about Russia and the people that make it who they are. She said that Russians seem really hard and mean but the people are the most hospitable people she has ever met. They have so much less than we do in America, but they give so much more. She shared how the people she visited would not let her go to her hotel but insisted she stay in their 2 room apartment. They gave up their bed and slept in the kitchen on the floor. Jean, the women coming home to America, said that in America we don't give up our beds and bedrooms, but we have a guest room, or we let them sleep on the couch downstairs. My wife and I experienced the same thing while we were there and were given the best room and place in the apartment. Jean also shared that every meal was extremely large and very good, the people giving the best they had no matter what.

Our first night on the train as we were headed to Penza, we had neighbors in the train who were extremely hospitable. As soon as they learned that we were from America and that I was an American, we were immediately invited to share their food. They gave us sausages and bananas and offered vodka and beer. They wouldn't let us turn the food down no matter what (they let us turn down the alcohol fortunately). These people were not rich by any measure and they sure didn't know they would meet Americans in the train, but that didn't matter and they were willing to give us more than what they had themselves.

I find it quite interesting that a people who seem so mean and mad from first impressions are actually some of the most hospitable and kind people I have ever known. The Russian people have a lot of problems that face them as a society and people with a lot of deceit in the government and bad business practices, but the people are what truly make Russia a wonderful place to visit. Check out my book review on "A Train to Potevka" for more about the Russian people.

Russia - What to eat

| Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Like any foreign country, Russia has its own unique cuisine. Russian food seems to be a secret to a lot of people. The Russian diet is nothing special with lots of vegetables being consumed. Most people eat a lot of potatoes and macaroni. Most meals will contain one of the two. The one food that is at practically every meal, if not every meal, is bread. If you don't eat any bread then people think you're sick because bread is a must. I am not sure why but people ask me every time "Why aren't you eating any bread?" (Что хлеб не едите?). Following your meal, usually tea is served. I find it odd, but that is because we didn't do either of these things when I was growing up. Anyways, here are some of the common/unique foods of Russia.

Black Bread - The number one food of Russia (I think). Bread is served at basically every meal. Bread is made fresh daily and available at any store. Russian bread is much tastier then any of the bread sold in American stores.

Dried Fish - Fish is a common food for most Russians. A lot of times fish is boiled and put into soup. The other common way that fish is eaten is dried (as seen in this picture). The fish is dried with all of its scales and bones still in place and when you buy it, you remove the scales and eat the dried meat right off the bone. I've never tried it but I hear it is really tasty...

Piroshki - A pastry of sorts. It is like a bread or a roll with either potatoes, meat, or cabbage inside (they put other things inside as well but these are the 3 most common). My favorite is with potatoes but the others are pretty good as well. After putting the filling inside, the bread is either baked or fried. Fried are definitely my favorite.

Borsht - one of the most famous Russian soups. Borsht contains potatoes, meat (any type), cabbage, carrots, and beets which gives it the red color. Tastes best with sour cream. Soup in general is very common and made by some variant of boiling together meat and potatoes and some other vegetables.

Shashliki - Like a shishkabob. It is meat roasted over hot coals. These things are very tasty and found at small street vendors or when going on a picnic.

Pelmeni - Russian dumpling. A noodle type outer layer filled with beef and pork typically (sometimes with chicken). Usually these dumplings are boiled and eaten with mayonnaise or kethup. Russians do not fry them, but I think they are tastier that way.

Salad - A typical Russian salad does not contain any lettuce. You won't find a head of lettuce in Russia (you can find leaves of lettuce) so when you see the word salad anywhere you can know that you aren't getting a typical American salad. Usual salads are a mixture of rice or diced potatoes with other diced vegetables such as carrots, peppers, peas, etc. and some kind of meat all mixed together with mayonnaise or sour cream. Some can be really tasty and some can be not so great. The other common salad is sliced up tomatoes and cucumbers with onions and mixed together with mayo, sour cream, or oil (yes, vegetable oil).

Pastry - Like the bread, the pastries are fresh too. Usually the pastries are filled with a fruit jam or condensed milk. Condensed milk is used in a lot of things and is very tasty (and super fattening as well).

Blini - Russian pancakes or crepes. These are typically eaten with some type of filling inside. The above picture is a blin filled with cabbage and eggs. Other common fillings are jam, condensed milk, and fruit.

A standard Russian meal. As soon as we flew in, this was the first thing that we ate. Macaroni with fried chicken with mayonnaise for the topping. Mayonnaise and ketchup are used very often and rarely do Russians make a tomato sauce for macaroni, rather just use one of the two or both.

Sharuma - Russian fast food (kind of). This is a common food made in several cities throughout Russia. The best sharuma I have ever eaten were in Saratov with beef, tomatoes, and cucumbers but these ones are pretty good as well.

Russia - Copyright

Doing a quick search for Copyright laws in Russia bring back several sites that talk about bringing Copyright laws up to standard with other countries. I am not quite sure what they are talking about though. Here is what I've found in Russia.

There isn't really any enforcement of copyright laws at all. Well, I guess that isn't completely true. It looks like Microsoft got in with someone and so most Microsoft products are legal copies. However, most everything else is pirated over and over.

How can you tell if the movie/cd/software that you are looking at is pirated or a legal version? Price of course. Good quality pirated DVDs are around 100 rubles or just over $3. You can expect to pay about $15 for a legal version of the film. You can find even cheaper films as well but the quality is very lacking and leaves a lot to be desired.

A CD will usually go for about $2 and sometimes you will find CDs of MP3s from an artist for the same price (there is usually about 100 songs on a cd like this). You can expect to pay about $5 for a pirated computer game. Xbox and Playstation aren't really popular in Russia so I don't think I've seen any "illegal" copies before.

DVDs, CDs, and computer games for sale on the rionok.

DVDs and computer games for sale in Russia.

Shelves of pirated DVDs for sale inside a store in Russia.

Like I said, I am not sure if there are copyright laws in Russia or what but they aren't enforced if there are. If you do decide to buy films in Russia though, whether official or unofficial copies, you will want to make sure that you have the correct region encoding or else you will be out of luck.

Also, Russian websites also have lots of pirated movies, cds, and games that can be downloaded. However you have to know Russian on most any of these sites. A lot of them are locked down to Russia only as well (for good reason).

One other thing that isn't unique to Russia but I find interesting is that ratings aren't given to films. No R, PG-13, PG, G rated films. Really there isn't any rating or way to know what the film contains without doing some research on your own. It's pretty tough to explain to someone the rating system (believe me since I tried to do it several times).

Russia - Street Food

| Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Today's post will be quite short. Also, the next couple will probably be shorter and I'll be missing a few days as we are getting ready for the long trip back to the United States. Stay tuned however.

One of the other ways to get your food and drink in Russia is from the local street vendors. Vendors range anywhere from people selling ready to go food, all the way to people selling nuts and other such products. People sell anything and everything you can think of and it can be anywhere on the street (not just at the rionok). Some of the sellers have little huts that they are in (often found at the bus stop) while others are right on the street with their stuff. Here are some pictures.

Small shop where fruits are sold.

Grandma selling piroshki (yummy russian food).

Women selling nuts on the street.

Small cakes/pastries seen through the window of a vendor.

A vendor selling russian root beer (kvas). It doesn't taste like root beer. I am not a fan.

Buying anything on the street should be done with care if you are buying prepared food. You never know what they may have put in those piroshki with meat...I've heard some pretty nasty stories about dogs and cats being used in them.

Russia - The Magazine

| Monday, June 1, 2009
So obviously the rionik isn't the only place to buy things. There are stores all over the place where you can buy stuff. However, the stores in Russia have some distinct differences from those in the United States.

I am going to look at grocery/food stores to start, but I will cover a little bit about other stores as well. One thing that I love about Russia is that no matter where you are, there is almost always some type of store (in Russian the word for store is “magazine”) within a short walking distance. The nearest store to our current place in the United States is at least five minutes by car. I sure wish we had one closer than that.

Magazine in Russian.

Magazines differ in size and can be super small to decent size. Expect to find small magazines all over and larger ones more spread out. If you walk into a small magazine you can expect to find a sales person (typically a woman but not always) who will give you what you want. In other words, you don't touch anything without asking the sales person to let you take a look at it (sometimes this is a real pain and I am not a big fan of this setup). Many of the items sit behind the counter and you can say that you either want to buy it or look at it. Other things sit under glass that is the'll typically find chocolates and other treats here.

Waiting to buy meat and cheese.

Walking into a larger magazine usually entails leaving your bag behind that you have brought with you. You generally can't carry it into the store for theft reasons. Basically, watch out for the lockers to put your stuff inside or else the security guard will ask you to put your stuff in them. Once inside the magazine, it feels much like a typical American store other than the products are probably pretty foreign to most Americans.

Lockers sitting outside the magazine entrance.

One thing that is a staple in the Russian stores are alcoholic beverages. No matter where you go, you are going to find plenty of choices on what you want to drink. In the smaller magazines, expect to find from about ¼ to ½ of the magazine to be only alcoholic beverages. In larger magazines you can expect a smaller percentage but still enough to make you realize that you aren't in Kansas anymore.

The wine. Beer and vodka are on the next isle.

Magazines for clothing are much like American stores and you can usually walk in with your bags and other things, but expect to be watched pretty closely. In most magazines that I have walked into people keep a good eye on what you are looking at and what you are doing always. For some reason, magazines with food products always seem to watch you the closest...

Also magazines for other things such as electronics, school supplies, and other stuff are typically under the locked down policy as well. In other words you have to ask to be able to touch something. This isn't always the case though and there are a lot more electronic magazines showing up where you can touch what you are looking at, but school supplies are typically under lock no stealing any of those good looking notebooks you want.

Waiting to buy school supplies.

One other thing is that a lot of clothing stores our found in areas kind of like the mall in a sense (called a “torgovi center”). Basically, it is a bunch of small shops found next to each other one after the other. This is different from the rionik though because all of the stores are indoors and at night you don't have to take down your shop like on the rionok. Each shop is different on whether or not everything is behind the counter or not.