I didn’t pack enough shorts for a Russian winter
Whenever I told people that I was going to be studying abroad in January their first response would always be positive, but then they would have to ask where I would be studying. When I told them I was going to Russia, often their enthusiasm would be markedly forced. Inevitably it would be followed by the part question, part reality-check, “So, St. Petersburg…in the winter?” as if to make sure I hadn’t confused Russia with Australia, or January with June. One of my favorite responses after I confirmed that I know what hemisphere Russia lies on came from a classmate who said, “Well, Napoleon tried it. Hitler tried it. I suppose you just had to have a go at it, too.”
The way I see it though, I won’t repeat Napoleon’s and Hitler’s major mistakes (concerning Russia); I’ve come with the intention to befriend Russians, not kill them. In my experience, there’s a pretty impressive difference between the two. Mostly because the warmth and friendliness inside a Russian apartment is directly proportionate to the cruel harshness of their winters. One of my first observations was that living in Russia is going to teach me how to shed clothing at record speeds, considering you have to peel off two or three layers to step inside.
There’s no getting around it: I have yet to be as cold in St. Petersburg as I have ever been in California. This is strange to say, considering the absolute coldest it might get in my part of California is 30 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature here in St. Petersburg that is cause to break out the summer furs. The major difference between the two places’ attitude toward temperature is that in St. Petersburg there is no such thing as turning down the heat to save money on the energy bill. It would be like the aquarium keeping the piranhas in the local swimming pool to save money on fish food. Also, in most parts of California, you can make mistake of spending a winter evening out without wearing a heavy enough jacket or waterproof shoes. In my experience, it’s a mistake you can make over and over again for years on end. In winter in St. Petersburg, it’s a mistake you would make only once, either because it was so harrowing an experience you would never forget it, or because you wouldn’t ever be making any mistakes again.
My first few days in St. Petersburg gave me cause to reflect on all those rainy Bay Area nights when I stepped out in Converse and a cotton sweatshirt, then spent the evening miserable and shivering, only to repeat the process the next week. Here in Russia, I’ve walked through rain and snow under layers of down and wool, and never once shivered. True, taking off your hat or gloves outside would cause near instant regret, but once you walk inside you feel overdressed in jeans. All those people who worried about me freezing to death (this is for you Mom and Dad) just don’t know how to be cold.
It’s an art form, and the Russians have perfected it.