Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Russian emergency

I was helping the kids in the orphanage with their homework, when suddenly a siren began to wail.

“A fire has been detected. Go to the basement of the building,” said a voice over the loudspeaker.

Then I woke up, but the voice was still there. It sounded over and over again.

I roused Zhenya.

“Zhenya! What are they saying?”


“What are they saying?”

“They’re saying….there’s a fire…please evacuate the building.” Continue/-

“So…should we leave the building?” I already had my bathrobe on, ready to follow instructions.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, how can we find out?”

“Call someone?” I gave her the phone, but she was drifting back to sleep.

“What should we do?” I repeated. We tried to figure out where the loudspeaker even was. Our window was open and it seemed like it was coming from another building.

I looked out the window to see if I could catch a glimpse of fire trucks and people fleeing in terror. There was not a soul to be seen. Nobody had business to do this early on a Sunday morning, when they had doubtless gone to bed just a few hours before.

The signal stopped.

At any rate, if it really had been an emergency, someone would have tried harder to get us out…

I got back in bed. The sun was up but it was only about 5:45.

I dreamed I had an attack of vertigo and was falling down the stairs.


  1. This reminds me of the time we were in a rather crummy hotel in downtown Cincinnati when a fire alarm rang. I ran into the hall, noticed no one else seemed to be evacuating. I stuck my head out of the window; I smelled no smoke, heard no sirens, etc..... So, though I obviously stayed awake for quite awhile, I decided to stay put.

    We were there for a dance competition and another mother later chastised me rather publicly for not evacuating... I guess SHE did and she and her girls with a few other less cavalier souls stood outside for quite a lengthy period of time before it became official: drunk person pulled alarm.

    I felt rather cleverer than her, but I suppose she was right. Really. Somehow it just SEEMED like the sort of place where drunk would pull an alarm.

  2. Isn't it a federal law in the States to evacuate the building? I think I was just being an American and wanting to follow the rules. But here I wasn't about to go running around in the middle of the night when I didn't see any signs of a disaster.

    It seems like it is usually the best policy to call the local authorities and make sure they know the alarm is sounding and to ask them to check it out. Or to just inform them that it was an accident. Or maybe go back to sleep and just have the maintenance check the alarm to make sure it is working properly.

  3. We Russians are unflappable people. Foreigners (except the British who are a paragon of unflappability) tend to be much too excitable.

  4. Disagree. It just takes one little old lady on the street in Russia to start a rumor about a shortage, and the whole country goes into a panic.

  5. Elizabeth, I admire your talent to invent things as you go along, or so it seems in this case :-) What little lady on the street? What shortage? What panic? Do I need to go out more? Have I missed something? Enlighten me, please.

  6. Okay, Vitali, most recent examples are: 1) No flu masks in stock in drugstores because everyone was scared that they would all get swine flu 2) Everyone going out and buying rubber boots being of rumors of a spring flood in St. Petersburg (didn't even come close).

    I don't need to invent anything if I'm an eyewitness!

  7. V..........................June 13, 2010 at 3:32 PM

    Liz, I didn't post these things if by Vitali you are referring to me. The only time I posted recently was when I was still in Russia (something about Euro-style). I am back in the US and on the 11th which was Friday I was pretty busy.

  8. Sorry! Hard to tell when people don't use actual names...

  9. V..........................June 13, 2010 at 7:10 PM

    I don't think that Anonymous is a Russian. Just my observation. I don't understand why someone is disagreeing with you so very strongly for no apparent reason. Kind of strange.

  10. Liz,

    Just a few comments.

    "1) No flu masks in stock in drugstores because everyone was scared that they would all get swine flu"

    ROFL :-) This says more about you worrying as an American than it does about the Russians. You mean you actually went there and asked for a flu mask and they told you they'd run out of stock? Were there any flu masks available? I don't know, couldn't care less. On balance, Liz, I didn't see a single person wearing a flu mask in Russia the only exception being a group of Chinese tourists :-)

    "2) Everyone going out and buying rubber boots being of rumors of a spring flood in St. Petersburg (didn't even come close)."

    What rumour? I didn't hear any. Yes, you're right a lot of people bought rubber boots this spring but no one I know bought them for fear of floods - everyone seems to have bought them because they supposedly looked cool. You might have noticed that it was not your common or garden farmer Giles kind of wellies it was mostly 'designer' ones. Simple wellies would have been cheaper and a lot more practical at keeping your feet dry and this is exactly the kind of boots they would have bought if they had had genuine fears of floods in St Pete.

    Liz, you have made the right observations but you have drawn all the wrong conclusions. I think you have a long way to go in understanding this culture. But that's OK, it's not an easy task.

  11. What is your name and where do you actually live? In Russia or somewhere else?

  12. Liz, who are you talking to?

  13. V............. (aka Vitali)June 15, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    Liz, I think you can see the IP addresses of each post(er) in the dashboard thing. Copy and paste the IP into something like: and it will show you the country it originates from.

  14. Not that important, just curious. :)

  15. V....... (aka Vitali), that is what I would recommend. However I would also keep in mind things like VPN tunnels that are in fact rabbit holes from anywhere to anywhere ;-)

    Liz, *my* name is Ricardo Ibragimovich Lundkvist and I am a frequent resident of St Petersburg.


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