Monday, September 3, 2012

A Country with Technology Smiles (or does it??)

Hey everyone,

ok so I have a little list here of things I want to talk about so this post may go on for a while. I am also smack dab in that weird period of time where no one in the US is really up yet but I am already in my apartment and tired enough that I don't really wanna move or think or do anything but sit here and ramble on my computer.

Ok, the first thing:

1) The Dacha, good what a wonderful thing. Any of you that read my last blog are probably relatively familiar with the idea or at least the existence of dachas in Russia but for those of you who aren't - its basically a summer house. My new revelations about dachas really stems around the fact that they teach people skills that are otherwise lost in modern society. For instance, I have heard in multiple places the argument against GPS devices in cars and on phones because it makes people, if you grow up always having access to a GPS, less adroit at following directions, navigating themselves, and knowing what to do when they get lost. I think the claim in pretty valid in pretty much exclusively a post-apocalyptic situation. Ok, that's not true, those skills are useful at other times and are valuable, at times. Along the same lines as society's increasing dependence on technology, however, comes up the topic of a dacha. Dacha's, to this day, are only built by the residents. There are not construction companies and contractors who go out into the suburbs or to Karelia (in the case of my family) and build rows and rows of dachas. The "summer homes" that essentially every Russian family moves two for a few months out of the year and then frequently visits to tend to their crops for another several months, are built completely and entirely by the men in the family. Thinking about the united states and the culture I grew up in and hypothesizing what the result would be of taking an average young man and being like, "ok johnny, I need you to build this 3 story house (yeah... my family's dacha is THREE STORIES) with plumbing and electricity. Also, when you are done with that, how about you throw in a pool and a sauna in the backyard... GO" does not bring particularly fruitful thoughts to mind.

In Russia, thats what happens, with every family. The boys and young men of the family, as part of spending time on their Dacha, is learning how to actually build a structure that will safely house their family, will keep them safe from the elements, and be overall suitable to live in for weeks at a time. Now, to give credit where credit is due, I think a lot of the friends I had in school who were in the boy scouts would be pretty well equipped for this task, but outside of them, I wouldnt have too much faith in most people, or even myself for that matter. Its an opportunity to acquire so much knowledge, passively, that we in the US, for a large part, miss out on and that here is, "Did I build this?... of course I built it, who else would have done it if I didnt?"Yeah maybe being able to find out which direction is north without your iPhone or starting a fire with just two sticks and no flamethrower or building your own sauna are skills that the average Westerner would only need during an apocalyptic zombie attack (thats for you sammy), but maybe not. Maybe our society, as a whole, would benefit in some larger way if we were forced to get back in touch with how much work it takes an actual man to hammer some 4x4's together and erect a house.

Ok, second thing:

2) I know I have talked about the technology awareness here in the past but it is just so omnipresent that I cannot get over it. The other day in class, we were asked to say our first impersonations of St Petersburg and one guy said, "It's unbelievable how everyone here is always reading." While standing on a bus or on a metro car, it really is pretty fantastic how many people are reading. Yeah, some of them are reading newspapers or magazines, but the majority of them are reading kindles, iPads, android tablets, or smartphones. I know the same thing happens in the US and I also recognize that I dont ride public transport particularly much but it feels like its way more prevalent here. That and the just average knowledge of technology and computers is way higher per capita here. For staters, everyone texts, and I mean everyone. In the US, you cant even be guaranteed that someone you meet in a bar has texting (thats for you tina and alyona!) let alone that they know how to use it - granted, if its someone young in the US, you can be rest assured they know how to text. Youngans, however, always make jokes about how bad their parents are at texting or the common and "stupid" mistakes their parents always make when texting and it's really like this big long running joke between the youth of the entire country about the generation before us. Here, you dont have to preface anything with "oh can I text you?" its implied that a) they have texting and b) that they use it, partially because its cheaper than calling, even though they only get 70 characters per message because of the formatting of the message! Also, and I know this may have been different a few or several months ago, but Apple's official presence here can definitely be felt, iPads and iPhones are rampant, even though they cost about $1000 USD off the shelf here. They are officially carried by cellphone providers and are sold in authorized Apple reseller stores. You can still see a little bit of fear in some peoples eyes as they use an Apple product in public or on the metro, turning away from people as if to hide some precious treasure, but more and more people are accepting how common they are and simply holding out their iPad on the metro and reading it or even flaunting their iPhone 4S and they dance down the street with the white apple headphones in their ears.

3) The next point I wanted to bring up was about the whole smiling thing. Yeah, its true, no one really smiles on the street or on public transportation in Russia but that is changing. I have definitely noticed more and more people smiling, although it is usually when they are in groups or at least pairs and it does have some nuances. For instance, a young guy and young girl will often be smiling when they are together on the metro or getting on or off the metro because they are incessantly kissing, and I mean incessantly. However, in that kind of situation, the moment the two stop kissing, or stop flirting, and look away from each other... both of their faces become the most horrifying blank stares the world has ever seen. It's almost comical, watching two teenagers just making out and making out or pushing each other, calling each other names, smiling and laughing with one another, and then a pause in the conversation comes and then happen to look away and, instantaneously, the smiles vanish into thin air... and whats left - the face of an robot, turned off centuries ago because it scared children with its stoic gaze. Also, I know its because they are not having fun because... well.... yeah, its not!

ok well I had two other things to talk about but I dont want to make this post too long and I kind of need to go take a shower and get ready for dinner/bed and stuff. My host mother brought home a watermelon... it was like 2 feet in diameter and the three of us literally just sat around the table watching tv and carving it up until it was all gone. SO GOOD!

ok, more to come, prolly tomorrow or the next day.

also, sorry there havent been more pictures, I havent been doing too much picture-worthy lately but ill start to try to :)

later everyone


  1. speak for yourself buddy. i just put up a map with two way tape AND assembled an ikea bookshelf. it had like 25 steps!

  2. Sorry to shatter your idyllic dream, but most dachas in the Moscow areas are built either by foreign laborers from the Caucasus, or by construction companies. A lot are, in fact, sold as pre-built units. Glad to know that at least St. Petersburg is keeping the Russian soul alive...

  3. HAHA!! I laughed so hard at the couples who turn into blank stares after kissing... Also, thanks for writing about this dacha tradition! I had no idea! Interesting fact: my grandfather bought a piece of land in Lake Tahoe many many many MANY years ago for dirt cheap and him and his sons built a cabin there by themselves. It is a nice tradition to learn building. I'm wondering now if I have any Russian roots in me (haha). This is Sumaya by the way.