Monday, July 18, 2011

Tidbits of Random Information

After traveling through Russia and Eastern Europe for a few months, these are my tidbits of random information about the region:

1. If you plan on staying for some time, don't forget to bring house shoes! House shoes are imperative to Russians and especially to the Russian babushkas. House shoes are generally slippers or sandals of some sort. 
            I once had a friend scolded for her lack of house shoes in the kitchen by the old woman that was the dorm mother in our Russian dormitory. The Russian babushka proceeded to bring my friend house shoes so that she has something appropriate to wear in the kitchen. House shoes are THAT important! 
            And as I wrote earlier, to go to the gym you must have gym only shoes. Even some men that are at the gym lifting and working out wear their house shoes to the gym! 

2. Flowers, flowers, flowers! Eastern European women love their flowers. You will see flower stands everywhere. If you were invited to someone's house for dinner, it is definitely appropriate to bring flowers. 

3. The marshrutka. Public transportation in Eastern Europe is pretty cheap but don't expect anything high quality. In Moldova, the marshrutkas, vans renovated to be a form of mass public transit, are the main means of transportation. They have anywhere from 12-16 seats but during the morning commute to work, there are usually around 30 people crammed inside one. 
4. Fruit here is seasonal. The thought that I couldn't eat a strawberry year round never occurred to me until I arrived here. But eat the fruit here and buy it at the markets! The fruit and vegetables at the market are significantly better than the fruit or vegetables in the grocery store (and cheaper too!). 

5.Eastern European woman are always dressed well. In my opinion, it is not shirts with English words written on them that will make you stand out but it is the way you dress, especially Americans. Don't bring a hoodie, sweatpants or baggy clothing because then you will stand out. Also, Eastern European woman LOVE their high heels. I have even seen woman security guards inhigh heels so dress well! 

6.Always carry small bills. ALWAYS. I don't know why the ATM dispenses only large bills because no one is willing to accept them. I went to the ATM to take out cash the other day and received all 200 lei notes when what I really needed was money for the marshrutka which only costs 3 lei. That didn't go over well. 

7. Be be prepared, there are homeless wild dogs everywhere. They aren't mean but they don't trust people and don't interact with people. You do your thing and they do their own thing. 

8. Tea. Tea. Tea. Eastern Europeans love their tea! 

9. Always specify if you want carbonated or non-carbonated water. 

10. Notebooks here are filled with graph paper. Students take their notes on graph paper and not college-ruled lined paper. It annoyed me all semester. 

11. At most stores there will be lockers. Put your stuff in your locker before shopping or else you may end having to pay for your items again!

12.Pedestrians have no right of way. Always look both ways and never expect a car to stop for you (most likely they will swerve around you angrily). Horns here are also way over used. To a foreign observer, there seems to be no traffic laws. 

13. Vegetarians be warned as Eastern Europe is for the carnivores. These Eastern Europeans love their pork products and the shelves of the grocery stores are filled with all sorts of pork- salami, ham, pepperoni, etc. There is not much variety so come prepared to eat pork, pork and more pork!  

14. Along the same lines as point 13, the American version of salad is not common here. Salads in Eastern Europe are always mixes of various vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, etc.) and maybe some ham and ALWAYS smothered in mayo. If you want a salad with lettuce then order a Caesar salad otherwise be prepared to eat a lettuce-less salad.  

15. Often women are greeted with kisses on the cheek and men greet each other with handshakes. It is also not usual to see women holding hands and walking down the street together. 

16. SQUAT toilets. Yep, they are everywhere. I recommend coming prepared with your own pack of tissues or toilet paper and hand sanitizer (the one pictured is a particularly nice one and not the norm).

17. Get a cell phone with a flashlightor bring a cell phone with a built in flashlight. There are few street lights once you get off the main road and in order to see where you are walking, sometimes a flashlight may be useful.

18. Most old Soviet buildings look alike. It is true. It can be really confusing to figure out your apartment building so pay close attention upon arrival!