In my 36 years I have moved 19 times. While I've been fortunate to experience different places and make friends all over the world, the process of moving is stressful. Our most recent move to St. Petersburg, Russia has been no exception. More complicated and confusing navigating the language and cultural differences, my husband and I have managed to quite beautifully #fail our way through our first couple weeks.
Day 1: Today
on the train from Finland to Russia, my husband and I are caught by customs smuggling chicken, sausage, booze and one lone tomato across the
border. Fortunately, the inspector turns a frozen cheek and mutters “глупые
американцы” or “stupid Americans” as she walks away.
Day 2: Our
taxi driver asks in broken English if I believe Michael Jackson is still alive. I laugh. He
glares at me through the rear view mirror and violently slams the brakes at the
next red light.
Day 3: After
being dropped off in the parking lot, it takes us twenty minutes to find the
entrance to IKEA. We get lucky and find a discarded map. It's written only in
Russian. We wander around for another ten minutes before entering into the
store midway through the kid’s section.
Day 4: The
first heavy snowfall blankets the city. Our coats, hats and gloves are in a
moving truck somewhere. We get our first colds of the season
Day 5: We
need to pay the Russian government to get our goods through customs. No credit
cards or personal checks are accepted. The Russian bank rejects our attempt at
a money transfer. We are instructed to pay in cash. We take out the equivalent
of eight thousand dollars in rubles and return to pay the fee. The Russian
customs official smirks and informs us that they do not accept cash from
American citizens. We walk back to the hotel dejected and with a backpack full
Numerous family members and colleagues comment about hearing a repetitive
clicking sound on telephone calls with us. Some suspect the KGB may be
listening. Conversations become shorter and less frequent.
Day 7: On
our apartment walk-through we notice that all of the drains and toilets emit a
smell similar to that of a rotten skunk carcass and the shower knob groans like an
old man when twisted. The landlady explains this is standard for Russian
Day 8: Our
furniture and goods are delivered to the new apartment. Fortunately, all is
accounted for and nothing is broken; unfortunately, I walk in on a man
assembling my bed who is not wearing any pants.
Day 9: We
become acquainted with the special features of our new living quarters:
ridiculously slow dial-up internet, continually flickering lights due to
power surges, the two minutes it takes for the television to come on,
and the radiant heating system controlled by the government.
Braving the elements with a purse full of change, I attempt to procure
groceries. I learn the hard way that ruble coins don’t go as far as euros. The
cashier shakes her head with hands on her hips as I slowly count out 560
in 5 and 10 ruble coins in exchange for O.J., milk, bread and eggs.
After unpacking we carry the empty boxes and paper down the
four flights of concrete steps from our apartment, out the door, around the
corner and down the street to the dumpster. For some reason today the dumpster
Day 12: To
unwind after a long day I set out to take a bath in our new claw foot bathtub. I start the
water and go to find towels. Upon returning I find the tub filled with a
disturbing liquid the color and opacity of chocolate milk. My husband instructs
me to add some bubbles and it’ll be just fine.
Day 13: A
pigeon flies into the apartment.
Day 14: My
husband travels three and half hours back to Finland to go grocery shopping finding
it easier and more fruitful than navigating the metro and underground shops
here in the city. He comes back with four bags of Doritos and more contraband
Day 15: This morning following my shower, I walk to
the window in a towel to see how hard it’s snowing. To my surprise what appears
to be an entire middle school of children is standing across the street
in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral peering back at me. I wave. A few wave back.
Must be tourists, I think to myself. Way too friendly.
Life in big city Russia is not for the faint of heart.