December 01, 2019

11 Reasons to Be Grateful for Russia

11 Reasons to Be Grateful for Russia
We <3 all of Russia, not just Vladimir. Katrina Keegan

This Thanksgiving, Russian Life readers are surely giving thanks for many of the same things Russians do: family, happiness, success, and – Russians’ favorite – health. However, we are also surely grateful that we encountered Russia in our lives. Here’s just a few of the many reasons for that. 

1. Trains

Despite (or because of?) being the world’s largest country, in Russia it isn’t hard to get from point A to point B in an affordable, environmentally-friendly and fun way by train. Trains provide an opportunity to meet Russians you might not otherwise encounter, get a good night’s rest in a sleeper car, and enjoy sipping tea while watching greenery rush by.

Russian train with rainbow
You might even see a rainbow en route to your destination. / Katrina Keegan
2. Forests

Russia is one of the few places in the world where you can enjoy endless expanses of wilderness. Forget Siberia; even between the two largest cities, Moscow and Petersburg, there are plenty of birch and pine trees. Russians make good use of their natural surroundings (who’s up for some mushroom gathering?), often with a dacha in the countryside where the grandkids can spend a tech-detox summer while babushka grows her vegetables to pickle for the long winter. 

Pavlovsk park in Russia
Can you spot the lovers on the bridge enjoying the scenery in this park in Pavlovsk? / Katrina Keegan
3. The concept of gulyat

The Russian verb gulyat means “walk around.” It’s not just a word, it’s a lifestyle. Everyone in Russia, from college students to young mothers to the elderly, put a high value on going for walks. It is an excellent way to get some fresh air and a little exercise, contemplate life, and chat with people. While Americans might meet up for a coffee, Russians are likely to ask you to go for a walk. The wide sidewalks, architecture from many eras, and high park volume found in pretty much all Russian cities make walks comfortable and interesting. 

Moscow sidewalk with pink lights
Moscow's pedestrian streets are perfect for strolling. / Katrina Keegan
4. Book markets

It would be too obvious to laud the Russian classics: the entire world is already well-aware of the genius of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, and so many others. However, while their words will certainly enrich your mind and heart, the physical tomes can also enrich your shelves. Used book markets in pretty much every post-Soviet city are guaranteed to have gorgeous, hardbound Soviet editions of all your favorites for just a couple dollars. 

Soviet books
A selection of 20th century Russian writers in Soviet editions from used book markets in St. Petersburg / Katrina Keegan
5. Poem memorization

Pretty much everyone who has studied Russian was required to memorize poems at some point.  While the practice may seem cruel and unusual at first, those Russian teachers know what they are doing: poems are the perfect platform to master difficult phonetics and internalize grammar structures. Besides, the Russian poetic canon is unspeakably rich in beauty and meaning. Who remembers Pushkin’s “Я вас любил”? Spontaneously reciting those verses about past love with a fellow Russian learner I just met led to future love. Not a bad idea to keep a few poems in your back pocket. 

Russian classroom
This Russian classroom in Kazan was witness to several poetry recitations. / Katrina Keegan
6. Pancakes

So many Russian dishes could have made this list, but pancakes are a favorite of Russians themselves and tourists alike. Thin blini, equally delicious filled with creamy mushrooms or sweet-tart berry jam, can be found at ubiquitous chains like Teremok and in family kitchens. Look for them especially during the holiday right before Lent, maslenitsa. But those are just the beginning. Less well known but equally delicious are smaller and thicker oladi, made with kefir, and syrniki, which are made with farmer’s cheese curds called tvorog

Homemade Russian blini
Enjoying some homemade blini with honey and jam / Katrina Keegan
7. Babushka scarves

How can you survive a cold winter? In babushka-chic style, of course. Wrapping a scarf over your head keeps your ears and neck much warmer than a hat. Try it! Russian-style head scarves are not limited to old women; young ladies on the fashionable streets of Moscow are just as likely to wrap their hair with colorful flair. 

Babushka outside of the Kremlin
This babushka outside the Kremlin isn't cold! / Katrina Keegan
8. Anekdoty

We at Russian Life enjoy poking fun at Russia’s lovable absurdity, and we aren’t alone. Many Russians are incredible storytellers, especially adept in the genre of short anecdotes with a dry punch line: anekdoty. Those well-versed in Soviet history are especially well-served with an endless supply of cynical humor. 

Soviet arcade machines
The Soviet Union could be fun! Just listen to some Soviet jokes or play on Soviet arcade machines / Katrina Keegan
9. Tea time

Whether grabbing a cup in a cafeteria with your lunch or lingering over a mug while chatting in a Russian’s home, tea in Russia is guaranteed to warm you up. Their remarkably clever trick of making concentrated tea, zavarka, to which they add boiling water, kipetok, ensures every cup has a smooth flavor at your preferred strength, and that tea is ready to go as soon as anyone walks in the door. For bonus points, heat your water in a samovar.

Tolstoy's house with samovar
Tolstoy approves of the samovar method / Katrina Keegan
10. Metro stations

The former Soviet Union, and especially its capital Moscow, might just have some of the world’s most beautiful metro stations. Originally designed to be a “monument to the people” commuting to work every day, many stations are centered around a theme related to their name or location, full of stained glass, marble designs, statues, and mosaics.  

Moscow metro station
Technically, no pictures allowed in Russian metro stations. Which is clearly quite a shame. /
11. Honesty 

Want to know what someone really thinks of your new haircut or potato-peeling skills? Ask a Russian. Or even better, don’t ask, just wait for them to tell you. Russians won’t hesitate to give you constructive criticism. (Many of them, especially the current babushki who have experienced a great deal of change in their lifestyle since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have truly excellent life advice – listen up.) You always know you can trust a compliment from a Russian, because they don’t give them lightly. 

And so, with Russian honesty, we can all say that we are thankful for many aspects of Russia this holiday season. What did we miss? Share what you are thankful for in the Facebook comments section embedded below!

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