Forgive the lack of transitions/flow in this post. I’m really unconcerned about stylistics at the moment. Probably things will improve as my brain and life become less fragmented an messy.

This morning, we met Oksana for the embassy security briefing. Topics included the following, plus examples of each from the personal experience of embassy and Fulbright staff: “turkey drop”, a common scam where pairs of people frame foreigners for stealing money, homo-/gyno-/xenophobia and resulting attacks, gangs, pickpockets, difficulties with police, date-rape drugs, and political demonstrations/publicized expat get-togethers (Avoid them. Always). We all knew that these were the dangers of Moscow/city life, so really it was helpful to get advice on how to avoid or deal with them. Still, I can think of less alarming ways to spend a Monday morning.

Roofies are probably no more common here than in the US, but they seem to be used differently. In the US, we only ever talk about women being roofied; there’s a strong association with sexual violence. Here, on the other hand, men really have to be on the lookout. People will drug their drinks to disarm them so they can rob them. The main thing that I took away from the seminar was that women should do all the same things we always do to stay safe in a city. The only difference is that here, men need to do them, too.

Apropos danger, you may remember my telling you that surgeon general’s warnings (are they still called that?) are much more direct in Germany than in the US. While we say noncommittal things like “Smoking may lead to respiratory diseases” or “Pregnant women should not smoke,” the Germans write “Rauchen tötet”–“Smoking kills.” The Russians, however, take it a step further, saying (roughly), “Smoking may lead to a slow and painful death.” Perhaps in the future, each carton will say the warning aloud in the voice of a person with a tracheotomy.

So far, one of the best things about Moscow is the public transit. Not because it’s convenient (which it is) or comfortable (which it isn’t) or beautiful (intermittently), but because you can never really be lost. You’re never more than a few feet away from a metro station, so if you ever get turned around, you can just duck into the metro station, and for a paltry 28 rubles magically find your way back. It’s like the cloud in MarioKart that rescues you from water, lava, and driving the track backwards. It saves my booty routinely.

The average speed, by the way, on the Moscow metro is about 25 mph. Top speed is 45 mph` for passengers, although the trains can go somewhat faster if they want to. The Moscow metro can–and does–move faster than the New York metro, which was a point of pride in Soviet times. #wikipedia

Nathan commented yesterday that he needs to stop thinking of rubles as “funny money.” Apparently he has trouble seeing it as actual currency (30 rub. :1 usd will do that to you), so he spends with abandon. Well, today he chanced upon a solution: in a street stand, one can buy a sausage pirog, which Nathan seems to think is God’s personal gift to him. Nathan’s love can now be bought for a mere 30 rubles on any street in Moscow. Thanks to this, Nathan’s finally discovered a way to make sense of Russian money. Example: Today’s dinner cost 100 rubles. To Nathan, 100 rubles≠3 usd; 100 rubles=3 “fancy pigs in a blanket.” It turns out that although a dollar isn’t worth very much in Nathan-land, a fancy pig in a blanket is very valuable, indeed.

Around the time that I discovered this peculiar approach to economics, we encountered a little babushka “playing” (i.e. inhaling and exhaling through) a harmonica. She was cute. She got my money. If I see her again, I’ll take a picture; I didn’t have my camera on me today due to embassy security rules.

In general, I’ve been surprised by my ability to get around. I don’t understand much of what is said, but about 50% of the time I understand enough to get the main idea and respond in an appropriate way. This is far, far better than I did the first time in Berlin (ironically, I felt much more confident about my German then than I do about my Russian now). I had some slight difficulties ordering coffee today (we splurged on a fancy cafe, knowing that it might be the last real coffee we have until next year), and Nathan burst out laughing the minute the waitress left. He said there’s a very clear delay between when a Russian says something, and when I understand it, and in the interim I wear a look of sheer terror. Nevertheless, I’m proud of my several successful exchanges today. Three times I understood the (spoken) price of an item without having it repeated (all three times I bought the item), and I got a Döner seller to tell me what they call Döner in Moscow. Unfortunately, my usually strongish accent is exceptional on a few key phrases, such as “How do you say…” and “Please speak slowly.” This puts me at a disadvantage: since it’s not necessarily obvious that I’m not a native speaker, any linguistic difficulties are seen as signs of stupidity. Nevertheless, I now can ask for “Schawarma” rather than just saying “one” and gesturing vaguely at the food on the counter. Improvement!

Another amusing sign from Nathan’s hostel: “Dear ladies: Please do not throw up the always, tampax, pampers, etc into the toilet sink.” I would hang up a more correct sign, but it’s so much more charming this way.

Street lights in Moscow have an interesting feature: a few seconds before the light turns yellow, the green light starts flashing in warning. 

Tonight I lost my metro card. Turns out it was in my other hand. In light of that–bedtime.