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18. My Russian casualties

On my tour to Russia I have encountered a few embarrassing moments because of my ignorance about Russian realities.

One day when Elena picked me up from the hotel I told about my predicament about the cold water in my hotel room and that I could not complain about it to the hotel staff because they did not understand me. Also that I never drank the water from the taps because it had such an awful taste. Elena then informed me that nobody in the city currently had hot water, because that was the time of the year that the hot water pipes were repaired. The city had a central hot water system that supplied the city residents with hot water for domestic use as well as for heating purpose during the winter. According to Elena water from the taps could be used for drinking but to do so one had to first let it stand for 1 day in some open bowl, and then cook it to the boiling point, thereafter it would be safe to drink. Elena suggested that I buy mineral water to drink from the kiosk on the street corners.

I indeed did so and thought while I buying mineral water, buy some Coke as well. I told the person behind the counter mineral water and pointed my finger to it. That was quite easy and I asked him for a litre of Coke. He shook his head in disbelief and had no idea what I was talking about. I looked around but could not see any Coke on the shelf. I tried another time and said Coke again, and again got the same reaction. I was stunned. I saw some people before me that bought some Coke. Does this guy refuse to sell me coke or is it possible that he does not understand me. I thought, let me try once more. I said Coca Cola and he shook his head differently, in the way that he now understood what I was meaning and said Coca Cola. I afterwards found out that they never use only the term Coke.

Back at the hotel room I could not wait to drink some of my mineral water. I poured a glass full and took a big sip. I was severely shocked. I have asked the guy for mineral water but he gave me soda water instead. The Russian mineral water (and the words "mineral water" were written on the bottle so it was not a mistake) was salted. I was so disappointed. Later when Elena fetched me, I told her about my experiences. She enjoyed the situation and told me that was how mineral water tasted. I said no, not from where I come. It was difficult for me to drink any water for the rest of my stay in Russia. I also bought some Fanta Orange at a later stage and was equally disappointed, because it almost tasted like a lemon twist that I am used to but not actually fond of. Russian Fanta Orange is not sweet!

Another strange experience that I had was during one of my strolls in the city. I saw these people that were selling fruit and vegetables on the street corners. I approached one of them and bought myself some bananas. After I paid for it the lady handed me the bananas as it was lying on the scale without putting it in a bag. I hesitated to take it and she could see that and offered me a bag but asked me money for it. I could not believe what I was hearing. Never in my life I had paid for a bag if I bought something. But apparently in Russia a free bag with a purchase was not the part of the deal. I then paid the required money because I could not see myself walking down the street with bananas in my hands. Elena later told me that it is normal to pay for a bag if you buy something in Russia.

If you go to Russia on a tour, you will probably encounter more things that will surprise you. There are many things that Russians do in a different way than we are used to.


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Lenin Avenue, Ekaterinburg, Russia
Lenin Avenue, Ekaterinburg, Russia - The number of cars in Russia multiplied by 10 in the past 15 years, which created problems for most Russian cities that have not been built to handle such traffic. The Russian style of driving is different; they are used to taking chances but at the same time very skillful. Speed limit in Russian cities is 60 km (37 miles) per hour.

Square of Labor, Lenin Avenue, Ekaterinburg
Square of Labor, Lenin Avenue, Ekaterinburg - Nevertheless, most Russians still do not own cars and use public transport, which I must admit is quite good. Buses, trolleybuses and trams are available and inexpensive. On my tour to Russia I did not use them much because I usually had a car available but knowing which number you should take and having the name of the stop you need written on a piece of paper, you can use public transport without hesitation.

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