1- The whole men and women situation.
I feel like I have stepped into a 1950s housewife world. Men work, women stay in the kitchen. It is completely normal for men to do absolutely NOTHING around the house. I mean seriously nothing, they don’t even make their own breakfast. It’s so bizarre coming from a society where equality is a major issue and sexism is frowned upon to then arrive here where it is the norm. During one conversation I had with my host and his niece I told them that my dad cooks and cleans and even does the gardening. Well, you should have seen their faces. He even grows flowers?! Oh yes. Dad if you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure they thought you were secretly gay. Last night Natasha came and sat down with me and announced with great conviction that if she gets married she wants a husband who will help her around the house. Uh oh. What have I done?? I am disrupting the Russian marriage culture! Another thing to note about marriage is this – If a girl is not married by around 25 then she is considered a lost cause; it’s highly likely that her ship has sailed and she will turn to cats for comfort. Those who do find a man are highly likely to be much MUCH better looking than him. The amount of couples I’ve seen where the girl is perfectly groomed, slim and click clacking her way down the corridor alongside a highly unattractive, badly dressed guy continues to baffle me. Can two attractive genes not create a boy? Maybe I’ll look into the science of this.
2 – Dirt.
There is a kind of muddy dust EVERYWHERE. This could be partly to do with the fact that I’m pretty much living on a building site (my road consists of a massive new student flat block being built, a burnt down wooden house, a half built wooden house, a warehouse, a man chopping wood all day long and several shabby wooden houses with the mysterious aroma of cow despite us being in the city. I am yet to crack this mystery) although I am aware of the air not being clean even when I’m in the centre of the city. You can sometimes not only feel the dirt in the air but even see how dusty and polluted the air is. It gets to the end of the day and my fingernails look as if I haven’t washed my hands for a good few days. Now I know why all the girls paint their nails religiously.
3 – Manners
So Russian. People do not say excuse me or apologise for bumping into you on the street or on the buses etc. In fact, people have physically moved me out of the way so they can walk past. When I was struggling with my change in a shop one day the cashier spoke to me like I was a piece of dirt and demanded I emptied the contents of my purse onto the counter top for her to look at. I almost wanted to walk out of the shop right there and then. Hopefully I’ll get used to this as it is not Russians trying to be rude, it’s just how they are. It would be nice to see a smiley face in a shop once in a while though.
4 – Poverty
I’ve seen an alarming number of homeless people and drunks on the streets so far. For westerners, Tomsk seems like an extremely cheap place to live. However, I was surprised to hear that for people who live in Tomsk it is extremely expensive in relation to their salaries. As a result of this, you see far more people living on the streets. I am living near a relatively run-down area residential area and there is even a water pump on my road for people to get their daily water. I thought Russia was meant to be a relatively wealthy country, I wonder who gets to keep all that money?