I decided to leave on break my daily life, in order to take a new one in my arms and only when I started living here, I understood that ‘Russia’ is not written on the walls. The well-known Italian saying, ‘between saying and doing, there is a sea’, was right. I just assumed that, given the short distance which separates Italy from this country, there weren’t enormous differences. However, in a very short time, I figured out how everything was totally dissimilar: not nicer, not uglier, simply belonging to a world of its own. This country is definitely the bridge between the West and the East: Russia is a convoluted rebus, where half — measures do not exist and I can’t explain why, while I was looking at the Church of the Savior on Blood, I felt how a bond had been cemented.
An Italian in Russia will be definitely impressed with the different cultural code: since my first day, an extensive series of contradictions and news welcomed me. From the car window I scanned the landscape; the houses all looked the same, the sky was incredibly grey and our way was traveled with great speed. Minute by minute the Russian driver told me about his culture and habits, creating in me a sort of curiosity and many expectations.
‘Never judge a book by its cover’! The typical Russian house has a big inner courtyard and the rusty playing field is unfailing. If you are Italian, looking for a specific address, leave the usual cliché of the entrance clearly visible from the street, because a side one is more common. At the beginning of my stay I couldn’t find the entry of a beauty salon due to this habit and two weeks ago happened the same for a local tavern, but I was aware of this habit and I asked for information.
In Saint Petersburg a tourist is surprised by the several subways, which reveal real underground cities with exposures, stands and musicians and, generally speaking, we are suspicious of them and we would boldly prefer to cross the street.
In winter they are comfortable, hiding from the cold and creating a special atmosphere.
The Italian is upset by the non- potable water; we are failing to realize how such a big and amazing city hasn’t this service, but it’s simply due to the old water system and day by day it becomes ordinariness. This is not a real problem, since you can find supermarkets open 24 hours. I could write an entire book about them; Russians call them ‘produkty’ and I could find many more differences than in the supermarkets located on the other side of the world, but you know ‘this is Russia’ and I like it just the way it is.
The first impression for a foreigner is a mixture of shock and ‘I would like to try it’. We are curious about the pressed pink salami (what it tastes like?), the dried fish in plastic baggies, the gum Orbit which after 20 seconds stop tasting, the dried fruits and candy you can freely take using a paddle, the fresh cream cakes typical of a bakery, the thousand types of tastes of kasha and so on. The variety of provision is so great, that it’s impossible not finding something to your satisfaction!
If it’s late and the public transport is closed, no worries, download the app of Uber and order your cab. In Italy taking a taxi is so expensive that it’s absolutely not common; once again I could not believe how the whole city was connected thanks to this private cheap car transport and, speaking to the drivers, I discovered how this was a second job. One of them was a cook during the day, the other was a carpenter.
An Italian will never get over how there are not blinds or shades in bedrooms, considering that going towards the summer there are 18 hours of daylight. Here it’s common using curtains, which force you to buy a mask if you don’t want to wake up at 4 every morning. Between the gold of the domes, the city belches history and contrasts, and you can notice how Russian women are more groomed and, please, remember that here, if you enter the house of a Russian friend, you have to take off the shoes.
If I had to define Mother Russia in a word, it would be: slishkom.
This means ‘too much’, because Russia is like a peacock which suddenly opens its beautiful tail, creating an extraordinary chaos. Russia has too much suffering, too much personality, too much power; it goes to infinite directions, from the wood of the traditions, to excesses of the luxury.
This country is emotions and feelings, it is a mystery and life itself won’t be long enough to let it all out.
Author: Lara Marelli, Italy