Friday, November 9, 2012

An American in Russia - Breanna from APU

Moscow
Moscow is home to over eleven million people, and is the current capital and largest city of Russia. Moscow hosts the most billionaires in the world, and apparently boasts the most expensive cup of coffee. Moscow has such a unique hustle and bustle to it-unlike any city I've visited before. The people, culture, architecture, and history certainly make it an unforgettable place.
As we got off the train in Russia, we started our long walk to the Godzilla Hostel. It was quite the journey to our hostel, considering all the snow on the ground was turning into slush from the downpour of rain. Despite my careful and strategic efforts to dodge puddles, my shoes were soaked by the time we reached the hostel. Lesson learned: always bring waterproof shoes, and more socks than you think you could possibly ever use.
The Moscow Metro is the best metro system I've ever seen. We traveled in 4 groups of about 8 to 9 students to avoid getting lost and drawing too much attention as tourists. My favorite game to play was the "Don't-look-like-an-American" game. We tried to blend in whenever we got on the metro. Our pre-departure tips of don't speak too loudly, don't smile, don't look lost, and don't stare proved to be good instructions. To semi blend-in, requires a silent entry, no talking during the ride, and picking a spot on the floor to stare at for the entire duration of the trip. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the metro, as it is illegal to take them; unlawful activities seemed like a bad idea. 
McDonald's. Photo by Breanna
Within the first 5 minutes of being in Russia, I could see how much Americans stand out as tourists. Before even reaching the hostel, two different people asked us if we were American--and we weren't even speaking English. Locals just know. As the week went on, I started to take note of the things that label us as Americans. First, we dress differently. Our clothes are brightly colored, while Russian fashion is primarily dark colors. The next thing I noticed is how loudly we talk. As Americans, we talk in nearly every setting. We can never simply be silent. On the metro, it was rare to see Russians talk, even if they knew each other. The train could be packed, with no seats left, yet still be completely silent. We also point and wave excessively. If a friend is in sight, we wave--no matter the distance. 

The Russian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet, not the Latin alphabet. Hence, reading Russian was quite the task. The three weeks prior to departure we had three short lessons on basic Russian. We learned the alphabet, common phrases, foods, and greetings. I spent the entire week staring at signs, trying to decipher just one word. It was surprisingly entertaining. On the rare occasion I could read a word and actually comprehend the meaning, it was very exciting. Even places like McDonald's, Starbucks, Cinnabon, and Wendy's are spelled using the Russian alphabet. Hopefully you recognize the iconic "Golden Arches", but in case you need me to translate--a picture of McDonald's.

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