Friday, 13 June 2014
Rolling like a local.
I am always impressed by people's honesty. More so when that honesty is demonstrated despite temptations to the contrary. My father was a very wise man. It took me more than half my life to realize it, but that's fine as he used to say the same thing about his old man. Another thing my father used to say was if you can buy someone for a hundred dollars you bought them cheap. I use this wisdom when buying things in Russia.
The value of goods in Russia fluctuates more than in North America, unless you're talking about fuel. It was weird to see fuel prices the same over the entire twenty five hour bus journey across this vast country, a dollar Canadian for a liter of fuel. Food, vodka, and cigarettes however fluctuate quite a bit. One of the things I do when arrive in a place I'll be staying a while is test shop owners close by to see if they take advantage of the obvious tourist that can't speak the language. I do this by buying something I know the price of and then handing them more than required or simply opening up a hand full of change. They say the amount in Russian and I apologize for not knowing how to speak Russian and offer the money. To date, in Russia, I haven't had a single person take more than they were supposed to. In fact in one case the sales girl got up from her chair and went and got a second bottle of wine as they had a sale buy one get one for half price. I obviously had the money for two as I had opened my hand with more than enough. While this level of customer service is rare in Russia, honesty is not.
I am not sure if it is because English language training starts in grade three or why but almost all the younger people I've interacted with seem to feel they should speak better English. I am a tourist, and I should speak more Russian than I do. I try and I am apologetic when I fail but they too seem to feel like an apology is owed. This is a very strange concept coming from a country that has the attitude; "Speak English or get out." Some may take offence or at the very least umbrage at that statement but come on let's be honest. We feel, or know someone that feels that way and has expressed it and we have either agreed, or said nothing and that is the same as agreeing.
So I have been in Anapa for a few days now and the feel of the place is starting to settle in a little. It has not been without a few challenges, but this is to be expected. TIR or This Is Russia has replaced my usual phrase of TIA or This Is Africa. Similarities between the two are constant, at least in my assessment. Lines to get things done and ways around lines to get things done quicker. Not being as culturally aware as I perhaps should be I've been standing in a few lines.
We both have phones now. These require a Russian Passport to acquire if you want the price the locals pay. I am not sure what the difference is in price but suffice to say the regular rate is cheap and the price for locals cheaper than spit. This is probably a very good thing as Russians spend a great deal of time using cell phones. The prices of individual phones themselves are very cheap. Iphones are about the same price as in Canada. Compared to the average salary this makes them very expensive. Oddly lots of Iphones on display have little cards attached saying made in the USA. Iphones aren't made in the USA but because Russians on the whole don't trust products from China no one wants to part with five months salary for a product from there.
I finally have a direct line connection to the internet now. It works sometimes, when it does work it has incredible fast speeds up and down. But it is hit and miss. Many things are hit and miss in Anapa. When they hit they knock it out of the park and when they miss well…It is something I as a westerner has to accept.
We had our first power interruption last night. They don't call it a power outage here. They say power interruption or "sending kids to camp." The local inside joke is that they turn off the power in certain areas to save money for social programs. I think it is part of Putin's plan.
Mr. Putin is trying to increase the birth rates in Russia. It's working as there are many women, young and old, pushing children in carriages. Financial incentives are offered for second and third children as well as women over forty that have a baby. Big incentives, one million rubles for women over forty. So if the lights go out and we send kids to camp what else is there to do? When in Rome…
Another neat thing about Anapa is the buildings. They are not architecturally exceptional in design but in construction. The interior walls in all original builds are solid concrete or brick. This makes for very quite spaces and very strong buildings. A far cry from the thin steel stud walls sheeted in gypsum wallboard popular in Vancouver.
I saw a building yesterday and it had two-foot thick brick walls between the suites. The floors and ceilings are at least six inches and some as thick as ten! The downside of buying a suite here is you buy the space. No finishing, no lights, and no plumbing past what is roughed-in. If you want to make a room bigger, you have a great deal of concrete or brick to cut out. But I think this is how you buy large commercial space in the US and Canada.
Because of this practice the average Russian is capable of doing a great deal of finish work. Perhaps not an expert at plumbing or electrical, but with so many people having to finish their own places everyone "Knows a guy."
So this shorter blog brings to an end my second week in Anapa Russia. I have to be honest I love it. The language barrier is a problem and Inga is getting tired of being the official translator all the time. I am learning the language gradually and while I will never be able to read it, speaking is coming slowly.