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Every day I pass at least fifty unbelievably beautiful women before I even reach the office

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14 May 2013


The road was closed suddenly and a convoy of tanks, rocket launches and Topol-M mobile nuclear weapons came screaming round the corner. It was both exciting and frightening. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

It has been a strange week for me as an immigrant in Krasnoyarsk. The city has been reasonably quiet and I have had a lot less work to do owing to the May Day and Victory Day holiday that began 1 May and ended this week. I’ve had a lot of time for personal reflection, which is never a good thing as before I came to Russia I spent a great deal of time drinking, talking rubbish and cultivating a large poet’s ego. 

It has also been a time of reflection all over Russia, with many cities holding military parades to commemorate Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany. There was a parade held here, just a stone’s throw from where I work, but I couldn’t go as my parents-in-law needed me at the dacha to plough the land. 

I did manage to watch some of the parade on TV but it’s probably for the best I wasn’t there in person, they can be a little intimidating. Two years ago in Moscow I happened to be in the same street where the military were practising for their May parade. 

The road was closed suddenly and a convoy of tanks, rocket launches and Topol-M mobile nuclear weapons came screaming round the corner. It was both exciting and frightening. I didn’t sleep for a few nights after, and as it was my last day in Russia, on my very first visit to the country, it left me feeling afraid of returning. However, I did pluck up the courage to come back and I’m glad that I did. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov

 I have also been busy this week replying to some of your emails regarding Trans-Siberian travels and general cultural queries. The most common question is ‘how do I cope with the massive cultural differences’. The answer is I don’t. Picture: The Siberian Times 

With the weather getting warmer and warmer my family have moved back to their dachas to begin clearing the gardens and preparing the ground for crops. 

My brother-in-law has a dacha right next door to my parents-in-law’s and it is the perfect place to see the change in social attitudes. He ploughs all of his land with a machine, a rather expensive petrol powered plough that cost him a small fortune; the cost didn’t matter to him as he earns a decent wage, even by Western standards, as the CEO in a communications company. He and his wife buy a lot of things, and both drive brand new cars. 

My father-in-law on the other hand drives a car that is about 20 – 30 years old; it’s an old Soviet machine, and if I’m honest, it’s a bit better. He doesn’t need a qualified technician to fix it if it breaks-down as it’s mechanical and came with a manual. 

In the dacha he keeps a fridge that is about 50–60 years old. He’s very proud of it. One of the first things he said to me was ‘Soviet fridge, is good’. He’s right, old products were made to last; and while his car and fridge may not be as attractive as my brother-in-law's, who cares? My father-in-law thinks in terms of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it; and if it is broken, attempt to fix it before you think of buying something new’. 

This isn’t a Communist attitude but more of a pre-capitalist attitude; my own father in the UK is exactly the same, and I like to think that I am too.

This is why I had to help plough the land this week, because my father-in-law as well as my own father are of the opinion that we shouldn’t slacken just because there are machines that can do our work for us. There will come a day when the machines break or are too expensive, and we need to be able to survive on our wits, our strength and skill. I was happy to plough the land, even as I watched the land on the other side of the fence being machine ploughed, because I knew that I was becoming slimmer, stronger and when my kobachoks are fully grown I will be able to look at them and say ‘I made those’. 

Actually, as I’m only helping when I can, our crops this year will be more Russian/Welsh made produce, which I like the sound of. Hopefully, by helping out at the dacha as much as possible, I will learn how to become fully self-sustaining and won’t need to work in so many language schools in future. 

Plus, when I’m fit enough, my father-in-law wants to take me into the taiga to teach me to hunt caribou. 

On a completely different note, I have also been busy this week replying to some of your emails regarding Trans-Siberian travels and general cultural queries. The most common question is ‘how do I cope with the massive cultural differences’. 

The answer is I don’t. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Yulia Savicheva

streets of Krasnoyarsk, Siberia

I was really careful about how I worded it, but still I managed to offend some people, including my wife, who wished me to publicly declare that not only does she like music other than ‘Russian pop’ but that I am in fact also a fan of Russian pop. It’s true. Picture:, The Siberian Times 

I have tried to adapt as best I can and I am still changing however there are some aspects of Russian life that I seem to be forever tripping over. 

One major difference is the superstitiousness of Russians. 

For example, you must never put an empty bottle back on the table (as devils will come); you must never whistle indoors (as more devils will come); and you must never shake hands cross a threshold (as even more devils will come).

Last week I left for work and forgot something I needed. When I went back to the apartment for it my wife made me poke my tongue out in front of a mirror and wiggle it about (to prevent devils from eating me or something equally strange). 

My sister-in-law’s daughter from her previous marriage had a baby this week. She and her baby moved into the dacha so my sister-in-law could help her daughter with her duties as a new mother. My wife and I wanted to see the baby, but we weren’t allowed. Apparently if ‘strangers’ look at a baby during its first month on Earth, devils will come and plague the baby for ever and ever, Amen. 

There are very many superstitions to remember, but even if I knew them all, I wonder if I should adhere to them. Before I came to Russia I was awfully fond of whistling in the house, but now I can’t. 

Let’s say for instance that I was at a party with all my family and I began to whistle a tune, every head would turn and I would be scolded for my behaviour.

Sounds a bit mad doesn’t it, but what can I do? I live here now and I have to obey certain rules. With these customs and observances I can’t help but feel that as much as I am growing, I am also eroding. When I first moved to Russia I felt a deep longing for my home country, that prompted me to learn more of my history; in doing so I felt even more Welsh than I did in Wales.

But now, I feel less Welsh than ever. I don’t know who or what I am anymore other than an immigrant. 

Changing the subject again, in my last blog I carefully discussed what it’s like to be married to a Siberian woman. Even though I was really careful about how I worded it, I still managed to offend some people, including my wife, who wished me to publicly declare that not only does she like music other than ‘Russian pop’ but that I am in fact also a fan of Russian pop. It’s true. 

As I’m writing this I’m listening to songs by Yulia Savicheva; though if I’m honest, being a fan of Yulia Savicheva has less to do with her music and more to do with, um… her. One of you rightly pointed out that in Russia men treat women with a great deal of respect, standing to free seats for them on the bus, opening doors, taking off coats etc. etc. 

It’s true, and in this way, women are regarded as being more important and deserving of greater respect. It is old fashioned, but it is nice in a way. Another thing was that I seemed overly critical of women beautifying themselves. 

While I don’t agree that women should feel compelled to gratify their existence by pleasing men or looking good for mankind, I would be a complete hypocrite if I said I didn’t enjoy the fact that there are so many completely stunning women here. Every day when I go to work I pass at least 50 unbelievably beautiful women before I even reach the office. It is one of the many perks of living here. And I don’t think this is sexist in any way. 

My wife is the first to point out a handsome man and is forever watching Ben Affleck movies. There’s nowt wrong with looking your best, and people here go to great efforts to look as attractive as they can.

Who am I to judge anyway? I hate shaving, and yet I shave so that I look attractive; I cut my hair often, wear fashionable shirts and am always careful to check that I am well groomed before I leave the house. I do it so I feel good about myself, and I suppose many if not most of the people here pretty themselves up for the same reason. 

Regardless of people’s reasons, Krasnoyarsk is one of the eye-candy capitals of the world, which is a great thing!

So perhaps it’s not the Siberian attitude that needs changing, but mine.

Comments (3)

I agree with Michael on the number of stunning woman in Siberia, this was exactly my thought when I traveled across Siberia several years ago. Also all women I've met - whether young or not - had great sense of humour and were very friendly.
Janis, Latvia
16/05/2013 18:58
enjoyable read yet again Mao , Russians are not alone in being superstitious you know ,.How many welsh people have you seen saluting a single magpie and saying good day to it , How many have you seen avoiding walking under a ladder or crossing another person on the stairs . Never ever put new shoes on the table, smash a mirror or cross your cutlery after finishing a meal . If you spill salt , throw some over you shoulder If a black cat crosses your path .... could be lucky or unlucky depends where your from . Keep a rosemary plant by the front and back entrance to your home to keep the ill intentioned away , hang a witch doll in your kitchen for good luck. How many hours have been wasted looking for a four leaf clover . i could go on , i think your new Russian family would be just as confused with some of our superstitions as you are by theirs .
i like that men in Russia still have good respectful manners towards women , Reminded me of my Grandfather who would take the men outside if he wished to tell a joke, that was a little risky or had bad language in it. When i was a child in the 70's, men always gave up their seat for a woman e.t.c. Lets hope Russian men hold on to these principals .The world is a better place with respect and courtesy for others in it
Amanda Davies, Neath , South WALES
15/05/2013 20:50
Amusing. I guess you’re starting to feel Russian in a way.

Not trying to sound offensive, but man, what’s the deal with the amount of stress? First you find New Year scary, now Victory Day is intimidating. You know, these tanks and launchers are sort of protecting you now.
Andy Dean, Moscow
14/05/2013 16:48

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