Thursday, November 8, 2007

Challenges

Among the challenges of living in another country, I bet you never thought the following things would cause problems: doors, windows, and beds. But they do. Before I go further, I will say that I have trouble opening doors in general, so it’s not necessarily anything related to the Russian system.

In the U.S., I lived either in a house or in a dormitory. To leave a house in the U.S.: Pull the door closed. Take your key out, put it in the lock and turn until you hear a click. In Russia, you are faced with a variety of padlocks, deadbolts, and keyholes. I get pretty embarrassed if I’ve just been a guest at someone’s house and have said all my thank you’s and goodbye’s and then I can’t get out. Some of the doors you push, some you pull, some you push something up and then slide, or down and slide, or sometimes there’s a button that you push or a knob that you turn. When you get down to the main door, most houses now have an electronic system, so you have to press a button and wait for it to beep before pushing the door open. I am constantly forgetting this and often stand at the door for a few seconds searching for a handle and wondering how to get out. Sometimes I get confused and take out my key and try to stick it somewhere. I also do this in the metro trying to go through the turnstile.

I’m not going to try to explain about windows without a visual aid, but basically I don’t get it. In the U.S. the whole window went up or down, and in Russia there’s a handle that you turn some way, but which way? I always get it wrong.

Now the bedding. My first experience with Russian bedding was at camp. You have some squeaky steel springs and then a mattress which is covered with a sheet. But the sheet isn’t fitted. And there is no top sheet. Gasp! The next layer is a blanket or bedspread, inside a duvet cover with a hole in it. I suppose it makes sense for the duvet cover to have a hole in it to be able to take the blanket in and out, but the hole is this big diamond shape in the middle, and I am always getting my foot caught in it in the middle of the night! Also, when Russians make the bed (if it’s a twin bed), they often fold the blanket in half. I was with a team of Americans at camp a few years ago, and they didn’t realize how to actually climb into bed. They were lying on top of all the covers and freezing to death, or trying to lie down inside the blanket as if it were a sleeping bag, not realizing then you could simply unfold it and spread it out. Silly Americans.

Probably the most maddening of all is when I’m trying to explain to Russians why I’ve been standing at the door/window/bed for 5 minutes paralyzed, and I tell them “things are different in America.” When they ask me “what’s different about it?” I blank out on what we actually do in America and find myself unable to explain. It’s like having amnesia. I know that somewhere in some context I was able to accomplish these tasks without looking like an idiot. But I don’t know if I can ever return to that level of confidence. Part of my brain has been deleted.

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