Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Universal Nod and the Similarity of All Humans

Hey everyone,

So I just home from hanging out with some friends at a bar and I decided to write a post about something I have been thinking about for a while. There exists the stereotype that Russians are either mean to each other on the street, that they don't care about anything outside of their own apartment, or that they just are not friendly to strangers. This stereotype has been mentioned to me by Russians and Americans alike and, as far as I can tell, pretty widespread. At first, I agreed with its existence and would have supported someone who said that, in public, Russians seem colder and not to care about people other than themselves. That being said, upon coming here, I was not ready to completely abandon my habits. Throughout my time here, every time I have seen a little old lady struggling with groceries, every time I have seen an old man drop a couple coins, or anything like that, I have immediately and instinctually jumped and asked the person if they needed help. According to the stereotype, the average Russian would not do the same on the street, however, my experience here has supports a somewhat different theory.

In public spaces there exist two types of people: those who are aware of what is happening around them, and those who are not. Amongst those who are aware, exist those people who actively help those in need. That last group of people exchange between themselves a certain nod, a speechless and silent nod that symbolizes either gratitude or acknowledgment. If a person recognizes that you have done some deliberately to benefit them, they may nod at you as if to say, "Thank you for doing that. You did not have to go out of your way to make my life easier, but you did, and I thank you for that" or, if you have done something deliberately to make someone else's life easier and they notice it, you may nod at them to say, "Here you go." This phenomenon, as I have learned from my time here in Saint Petersburg, is universal between our two cultures.

I was sitting near the back of the bus on the way home tonight when a couple got on. The man was carrying their sleeping child, and the woman was wheeling a suitcase and carrying her purse as well as some grocery bags. There was not enough space near the front, so they also approached the back of the bus. When they reached the last row of seats, the man juggled the child around to get his wallet out, which he handed to the woman. The woman put the grocery bags and her purse down in temporary positions as she got the bus fair out from her husbands wallet. She then walked to the front of the bus, paid the fair, and turned to return to our last row of seats. While walking back, she realized that there was nowhere to sit, although there was an empty seat next to me on the opposite side of them. I also noticed the discrepancy and, naturally, moved over to allow the woman to sit next to her bags and her husband, instead of having to stand or sit on the opposite side of me. I would say this instance is "nothing really" and was something so minuscule but when I changed seats and looked at the man, he gave me the nod and I knew, in that instant, what it meant. I nodded back.

Several days ago I was standing on the bus and the doors opened, revealing a young mom wish an enormous baby carriage. It was immediately obvious that there was no way she was going to get the baby carriage on the bus by herself and I, automatically, stepped forward and grabbed the front axel of the carriage and lifted it onto the bus. I am not sure whether she said anything or not, because I was wearing headphones, but I nodded at her and she nodded in acceptance.

As my final example: I was sitting at a bus stop once, zoning out thinking about the book I am reading, when an old man standing next to me dropped his cane. I was completely unaware that anything had happened and really just did not notice what had happened. Coincidentally, a young man was walking past the bus stop, noticed that the elderly man had dropped his can and picked it up and handed it to him. After helping the man, the young passerby came up to me, got my attention, and practically shouted, "What's your problem!? You don't feel like helping an old man who drops his cane!?" He scolded me for not picking up the mans cane... something I would have gladly done, had I only noticed! Not only did he care enough to help this random man on the street out, but he also felt it necessary to basically ask me what my problem was for not doing the same.

All-in-all, I have come to the conclusion that, regardless of what was or what may have been, today, in Saint Petersburg culture lives the concept of helping people on the street just as much as in any city I have ever lived in. Furthermore, this nod of the anonymous philanthropist is also alive and well and practiced regularly, as I see it on a day to day basis.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

He's BACK!

Hey everyone,

So yeah... sorry I have been mia for so long. I kind of... got caught up in everything and started to neglect poor "Peter and I."

Anyway... man, where should I even start now?? Hrm...

I guess I will start with my internship. So, during the second semester here (although I started back during the first semester, along with a handful of other students) we have an internship everyweek. I was assigned to the Saint Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Machanics, and Optics at the Center of Design and Multimedia - quite a mouthfull, I know. People call the school ITMO for short. The Center (that's what we call our office) is on the third floor of one of the ITMO buildings and consists, basically, of a decent sized office with about 6 different workstations. Each workstation has a computer (always with two monitors, which makes me miss home) and various other pieces of audio-video equipment. I work, usually, at the only mac in the office, which means I am spoiled because I sit infront of two beautiful 30" mac displays. For the most part, I have doing animations for different videos we have produced. We did a short video about a fortress near Saint Petersburg: Kopore, in which I did all the animations except the intro graphic and the gate closing. We are currently working on an infographic for a fundraising company called Fund-IT, which I cannot show you guys just yet, and I am pretty much doing all the animations for that. I have to say, I really love my internship. The people here, i.e. my coworkers, who are all students, and my boss, who is in his early 30s I think, are all super nice and our relationship is really good. It is definitely interesting and useful to see how Russians carry themselves in a professional setting but, more importantly to me, it is just nice to meet more people from different backgrounds and talk to them. One of the guys I work with, Sasha, is currently working on a video project that he and a friend are going to then submit to a television station, hoping they will like it and offer them some sort of contract for a t.v. show. He asked me if I would be willing to help them out, mainly with animation, and I said, "Of course!" so I will also probably start working on that pretty soon too.

What else is new....

I have been seeing a lot of theater here, which is pretty awesome too, cuz I love the theater. I have enjoyed most things I have see, although there was this one play about love in the Soviet Union, which was kind of hard for me to relate to lol. Last week I saw a showing of Dostoevsky's "The Idiot" and it was.... SUPERB! I am a pretty big fan of the D-Man anyway, but this performance really took me by surprise. It was about 4 hours long but really did not feel like it at all. It was one of those performances, where just the sheer level of energy of every single actor in the entire cast gave such life into every word and action of every sceene and made it quite difficult to look away for even a second. On top of that, the play talks about the idea of an ideal person and temptations... how more perfect could that be for me! I loved it, in case you couldnt already tell.

Another notable thing that is happening is my "thermal-regulation training", which some of you already know about. Basically, about two months ago, I decided that I wanted to test the capibilities of the human body... my body. I wanted to see how much I could train my body, or how much my body could adapt, to withstand and, eventually, become "immune" to feeling cold. It started with not wearing  a winter coat, but wearing a lighter coat, which became wearing just a sweater. That turned into wearing just a longsleeve shirt, which evolved into just a t-shirt. Currently. I go to school in shorts and a t-shirt, although I do still wear a beanie and a skarf (which are really just so I still look stylish). I should mention it is about 15 degrees fahrenheit right now, and snowing quite a bit. It is pretty cool how much my body has started to take, meaning when it is around freezing and even down to about 20 degrees, I really do not feel cold. Once it gets beneath that, after an extended period of time on the street, I start to get chilly. I can tell that it is cold but... I just don't feel it anymore. Naturally, everyone stares at me on the street, pretty much literally every single person. Some people smile at me or even tell me that it's cool what I am doing, and then some people yell at me or look at me like I am crazy. Multiple times now an elderly woman on the bus has gotten up out of her seat and told me to sit down. About a month ago a different woman offered me 5 rubles (about 18 cents) to go buy a jacket.

I have been interested, since I got here, to find any concrete and distinct differences between "Russian" culture and "American" culture, which I mentioned in a couple previous posts. I'm not really sure if I have found anything TOO satisfying, but I have noticed some consistant things that really are "Russian" and, as far I am concerned, not "American". For instance, this is kind of hard to explain, but I think all of you who have been to Russia will understand and all of those who will go to Russia or spend sometime with a real Russian family will find out: the way Russians talk to each other at home often seems way more aggressive and combative than what would be normal for Americans. Let me think of an example... ok so my host mom is in the kitchen and my host father is in the other room on the computer, mom looks for a particular pan but cant find it, "Do you know where my favorite pan is?" she yells. "Papol (that's what she calls her husband, its cute), do you know where my pan is!?" he responds, totally calm. "It's on the stove"... "Papol, no its not" "Yea, it's on the stove" and then she like screams "WHAT STOVE, there is nothing on the stove, dear god, hes telling me its on the stove, there is nothing on the stove - shouting to the other room - THERES NOTHING ON THE STOVE" and then he comes into the kitchen and points to the pan on the stove... "Oh yeah, my pan... it was on the stove"... and the tone that that was all said in, the first couple times something like that happened, seemed really aggressive to me, argumentative and combative. Meaning, if I were at home and someone asked me a question once and I answered and then asked me again and I answered again and then just like started yelling at me... I would be kind of upset, or at least taken-aback as to why they were yelling at me, and I would most likely respond with,  "I told you, it is ON THE STOVE. LOOK! It's right there... ON THE STOVE" but a Russian would just calmly walk in the kitchen and say, "there it is, like I said :)" After 2 or 3 instances, however, I understood that it is completely normal and afterward, and even during, the conversation, neither of them are even the slightest bit angry. I also know that it is not something specific just to my family because I have seen it in different apartments with different families.

Another small thing I have noticed is how Russians use the world "нормальный" ("normalniy"), which pretty much means... "ok". For instance, when I am at work and I finish working on something and show it to my boss, if she says "Это нормально" ("That looks 'ok'"), I know it means that he likes and it looks GOOD, not just 'ok'. At first, of course, I could not tell if he was never really impressed with anything I did, or what until one day, when he accidently said "Woa, that is perfect!" caught himself, and then said, "I mean, that looks 'ok'".  Hehe, so yeah, now I really have a feeling for what the word means and it makes me happy when he tells me that my work is 'ok'. I am anticipating feeling like a total allstar when I come back to the US and someone tells me something I have done is anything better than 'ok' :P

Ok, I am logging off for now but I wanted to let everyone know that I had not forgotten about the blog! just... got derailed for a little bit.

I don't have any particular pictures to put here, but there are a pretty decent amount on facebook you can check out. We went on this excursion into a real Russian forest and it was SOOOO pretty!