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Notes on living and working in Russia

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Beginning of spring in Moscow

Above photograph was taken on the 5th of March in Moscow after a two-day snowfall. Today is March 7th and it’s -10 outside, snowing again, looks and feels like winter. Weather forecast shows negative temperatures for the most part of March and somewhere around 12th of March, right after Women’s day holidays, it starts to warm up a little.

March in Moscow for the most part is a winter month. It’s a normal course of spring here, to start with lots of snow and winter cold. It’s not unusual to have a big snowfall end of March, say 31st of March.

Clothing for March in Moscow.

Weather in the second half of March can be humid and quite unstable, with frequent wet snow or mixed rain and snow or just rain. Outside temperatures rise slowly, fluctuating between slightly negative to slightly positive. It will be mostly cloudy in March, with some occasional bursts of sunny weather. Huge piles of snow accumulated throughout the winter will be melting slowly. This means lots of sludge on streets. You need to have waterproof footwear preferably on a thick sole. Warm raincoat with umbrella or hooded waterproof jacket would be a good clothing option.

Snow will melt completely by the middle of April, although in some parks snow can stay up until May.

Enjoy last days of winter and start preparing for the upcoming spring in April!

March 8th Women’s day in Russia

March 8th is a Women’s day in Russia. Women’s day is a public holiday, March 8th is a non—working day. March 7th working day is shortened by one hour because it precedes public holiday. For 2018, government decided to make March 9th, Friday a non-working day as well. Thus upcoming weekend will be 4-days long.

Official name of March 8th is “International Women’s day”. I do not know if it is observed anywhere else outside former ussr, but some former soviet republics still have it as holiday. Women’s day, as a holiday, was established in soviet times. Very few people know why observance of this holiday started back in 1921. Originally March 8th was observed as a day of gender equality and rights of women. Nowadays this holiday is celebrated for reasons irrelevant to its historical background and therefore we will skip the history here.

Russia has multitude of public holidays in Russia, some have real importance and celebrated on a family and private level, while other holidays treated just as another day off. Among all Russian holidays, two of them seem to be celebrated the most: New Year and Women’s day.

Roles of women in Russian culture

Modern Russian culture implies clear separation between genders. People of each gender ought to follow specific society assigned roles. Gender roles are one of those most deeply and firmly rooted in the Russian mindset. This is why any deviations from what is considered “normal” in terms of gender roles, are not tolerated well, as they threaten the core of Russian cultural mindset.

Unlike many other cultures, striving for gender equality, Russian culture embraces gender differences. In Russian mind being born of a specific sex is either a privilege or a burden.

Role of women in modern Russian culture is dualistic. On one hand expected behavior of a woman is “femininity”, which sometimes is taken to an extreme. Women are supposed to be beautiful and gentle. This is where high hills, makeup and dressing up along with flirtations manners come from. In Russian men’s eyes woman is sort of a precious creature, that is hard to get hold of because she is very demanding in choosing who she will spend her (life)time with. Men are supposed to fight for the women, by attracting her, pleasing her in different ways. Women sort of expect this, but they are supposed to be mysterious and unapproachable. Gifts, diamonds, flowers, restaurants, romantic gestures, but nothing seem to please her, and she wants more signs of appreciation of her beauty and womanhood. She knows, as a woman she has birth right of having everything from men around her. “What a women wants?” — you hear everywhere in Russia, rhetorical question emphasizing unresolved issue of making woman happy. She is given special rights and privileges of all kinds just because she was born a woman. These are not legal privileges, they are mindsets about treating women as a very special gender. Women are supposed to have a man by their side and for that matter depend and rely on them. Women are not supposed to work and provide for themselves, her man’s role is to fully support her.

The other side of woman role involves responsibilities to bear in life. Women are supposed to be good housewives. Women are supposed to give birth and raise children. Women are supposed to be smart and wise, keep harmony in relationships and family. Women are supposed to take good care of their men. If their man is a lousy husband, woman is supposed to take upon his role and responsibilities. Men cannot do without a women in their life. Women are to be loved, adored and praised not only because of their beauty, but also for all the hardships they are bearing in life.

These are typical and very traditional roles or women in a modern Russian culture. Even if they seem a bit exaggerated, in many instances they work out exactly this way. Obviously not every woman fully complies with standard roles. More and more we see independent, self-sufficient and free of stereotypes women in Russian society.

So what is March 8th?

March 8th is a celebration of womanhood. Women’s day is a praise for gender inequality, celebrated in a full swing. It’s a celebration of femininity as a cultural value by itself that separates genders and makes women unique and very special. It’s a holiday where traditional women’s roles are acknowledged and appreciated. Official names for women in Russian cultural context are “weak gender” (which in a brutal reality of daily life appears more like a “strong gender”) and “beautiful gender”. And since in everyday life women do not always receive appreciation of their gender uniqueness and role, March 8th is the day when men have a chance to make up for all the words unspoken and care not given. When words are not enough, gifts become real handy.

March 8th holiday themes evolve from notions of beauty of women, women uniqueness, spring (well, calendar spring), beauty and freshness of the nature waking from a long winter, flowers, kind men, love, relationships between men and women.

On March 8th every women gets all attention, gifts, nice and kind words and treatment. Gifts, flowers (flower business makes half of its annual revenues on March 8th), food fixed by her men (family or boyfriend) especially for her, entertainment specially for her.

Ways people celebrate March 8th are countless. As an unspoken rule, every women has to receive flowers from all the men around her. Most women receive gifts on March 8th, mostly from a spouse, kids, relatives or other men they deal with daily.

Guide for men on giving gifts on March 8th.

For any woman you just happen to know gifts and flowers are not must unless you would like to show special attention and appreciation. Saying words of congratulations is a must. “Pozdravlyayu s vos’mim marta!”

For women you deal with daily, small gifts and/or flowers is a must. This includes female co-workers, perhaps business partners. Chocolate or something practical like gift certificate or perfume samples make a nice gift. It really depends on a number of woman you have to buy gifts for and your budget. Some men simply buy a flower for every woman in their team. Sometimes all men from the office put some money together and buy identical gifts for all women. These gifts do not quite replace personal gifts from you, so consider something from yourself anyway. As an option you can make a little celebration with food and champaign. Gifts and celebrations in this case are symbolic and it’s about attention, so act accordingly.

For women you do not deal with daily, but know really well and have good personal relationships with. This category include female friends and relatives. It really depends if you intend to show special attention to them. If so, buy them a gift or flowers. If you see each other regularly (for whatever reason) buy her a small gift or flowers next time you see her. If you do not see each other too often, just give them a call or write personal email with some nice words in it.

For your girlfriend or spouse. On March 8th Russian woman normally expects at least flowers (absolute must) or a gift of some kind. It does not necessarily have to be something real expensive or material. Treat this holiday like a second birthday or occasion to show your feelings.

February 23rd — men’s day in Russia

Aside from Orthodox Christmas that is buried somewhere in a 10-day long winter break, all other public holidays in Russia have soviet or post-soviet origin. February 23rd is no exception, it was declared in 1922 as a “Red army day”. In soviet times it was celebrated as “Day of soviet army and navy”. Nowadays February 23rd is officially called “Defender of the Fatherland Day”. Since all men in Russia are considered those “defenders”, this holiday is widely celebrated as “men’s day”.

February 23rd is a public, non-working holiday. February 22nd working day has to be shortened by one hour, because it precedes public holiday, this is the law.

February 23rd has no firmly established celebration traditions or rituals. Normally this holiday is observed by people in active military service or retired from military. Those serving in government security services of all kinds also consider this holiday as theirs. As usual, there will be some official events, in government organizations and agencies related to the military, holiday-related TV concerts and programs. There will be on-street events in larger cities, including Moscow: concerts and performances, exhibitions, holiday markets and so on — all military themed. There can be exhibitions of weaponry and free military-style food in some spots of larger places like Moscow.

On a private level if any family members or close friends have to do with military they might celebrate. Celebration is nothing special and happens in a typical Russian way: serving table full of food, eating, drinking, chatting.

Because February 23rd considered as “man’s day” it is quite common for women to express some congratulations to all men they happened to know. This is not like mandatory type of thing and if you forget someone, that’s no trouble. Gifts are not necessary, although some women use this as an opportunity to buy or do something for their men (close friends or relatives).

Some office-type businesses will celebrate February 23rd, normally the day before holiday. Female employees would put some money together and buy gifts for every male employee. As an option it can be some food organized to share during lunch time. Or it can be absolutely nothing, but just a verbal/email type of congratulations. Not every company would celebrate, but I would say in typical Russian companies such celebrations are common.

If you are a female expat, or member of an expat family, what you need to do for February 23rd?

If woman in your office are planning something, you wanna be a part of it in some way.

If you are in managerial position, do not forget to say few words of congratulations to all the men in your team. Does not have to be something official, any informal way would do fine.

If you know someone in your circle of friends or partners who have served in military on contract (important distinction), do not forget to express congratulations and maybe buy a gift if they are an important figure for your business or personal relationships.

Sometimes if your supplier or important customer business has predominantly male population of employees, you may consider buying gifts to key people of that business.

In general, February 23rd is less formal and celebrated more casually compared to other public holidays in Russia. I will be writing about all of them as they come, stay tuned.

Maslenniza

February 12th through February 18th is a celebration of maslenniza. Celebration dates change every year, thus 12th to 18th of February is for 2018. Celebration is a week-long and it starts 56 days prior to Orthodox Easter (48 days of Easter lent and 7 days of maslenniza celebration).

Nowadays not many people, even locals, understand origins, history and meaning of maslenniza. Originally a pagan holiday, maslenniza is one of a few ancient cultural artifacts survived Christian and soviet eras of Russian history. Maslenniza is actually well blended into the Orthodox Church calendar and accepted as a traditional holiday (but not religious therefore not celebrated officially by church).

Maslenniza is a celebration of welcoming spring and saying goodbye to winter. Main symbol of maslenniza, for which it known the most, is a pancake (blin). Blin represents the sun, because of its roundish shape and yellowish color. In pagan times, before Christianity people worshiped Yarilo, the god of sun. Pancakes, blini were the symbol of Yarilo. It is very much simplified meaning of maslenniza and its symbol, but enough for understanding the concept.

Maslenniza is a week-long holiday, starting on Monday and running until Sunday. Each of seven maslenniza days has its own name, significance and specific traditional celebration activities of the day. Nowadays no one really observes each day of maslenniza in a traditional way. Probably the most known day of maslenniza week is Sunday, or so called “forgiven Sunday”. On “forgiven Sunday” people ask their friends, relatives and acquaintances for forgiveness for whatever wrong they might have done. On Sunday, as a part of celebration, there is ritual of burning straw dummy, which is a culmination and the end of maslenniza.

For people following Orthodox calendar and obeying all church traditions and requirements maslenniza if a last week to eat non-lenten food. Monday after maslenniza is over great lent starts that continues until Easter.

In Moscow as well as in other cities there will be lots of public holiday events (especially on weekend of maslenniza week). Most businesses and public organizations organize celebration of maslenniza in their own way. Restaurants and cafes put pancakes on the menu if normally they don’t serve them. There will be special events in Moscow parks, downtown pedestrian areas, squares. For expats and their families maslenniza celebration is a good chance to go out and have fun, learn a bit of Russian culture.

If you wanna stay inside, baking pancakes at home can be a fun family activity, especially if you have kids. Traditional Russian pancakes must be very thin, larger in size, with little holes, which look like a needlelace. There are many different recipes of pancakes and each household has its own recipe. Look up on the internet or ask Russians about a recipe they use.

Kitty wants a pancake too.

Maslenniza

Russian chocolate

What people think of traditional Russian staple food is vodka, caviar, black bread, “Russian salad” all these kinds of food. However, there is one product that is very often gotten overlooked — Russian chocolate.

Russian chocolate industry has beed developing since pre-soviet times. In soviet era development and production of chocolate was limited by inefficient government system and declining economy. It was difficult to buy chocolate back then, because everything, even food, was limited and in deficit. After Russia had become independent country, chocolate industry started to flourish. Aside from already well-known large manufacturers, new chocolate makers started to open their businesses. Nowadays chocolate companies make hundreds if not thousands of different types of chocolate products.

The most old well-known manufacturers are “Krasniy Oktyabr”, “Rot Front”, “Babaevskiy,” and some others. Their products are considered “classic” Russian chocolate — the most popular. However, a multitude of other manufacturers is on the market, supplying thousands of varieties of chocolate products. The picture above is just an example of very few.

Russian chocolate is of an excellent quality and testes real great. It is different from chocolate you find in other parts of the world, because recipes are all unique and locally developed. Quality wise Russian chocolate is on par with worldwide known chocolate makers such as Swiss ones. However, Russian chocolate and candies are different from everything you have tried before. If you are into eating chocolate, I suggest you give it a try.

Some vocabulary explaining types of chocolate to assist you in shopping.

Karamel’ — Candy. This is a product made of crystallized sugar in variety of styles and tastes. Karamel’ (the “l” is very soft in pronunciation) comes in small pieces, each wrapped individually and usually sold bulk or pre-packaged.

Konfeta (Konfety — plural) — Small chocolate bar. This is what’s on picture beginning of the article. Each konfeta is wrapped individually in paper and sometimes foil. Comes in hundreds of styles, fillings, and tastes. Each Konfeta is roughly 4-5 centimeters (1,5 — 2 inches) in length. Same as karamel’ it is sold bulk or pre-packaged.

Batonchik — Chocolate bar. Same type of product as Konfeta, but comes in larger size (same size as western brand chocolate bars). This type of product has much fewer varieties compared to konfety and karamel, but still widely popular.

Plitka shokolada — Chocolate bar. This type of chocolate is usually thin, larger, flat chocolate bar made of pure chocolate, sometimes with some basic filling. It comes in fewer varieties, but it has more cocoa in it. This product is what Russian people refer to as “shokolad” (chocolate).

There are other types of chocolate products, but mentioned above are the most popular ones. Russian chocolate makes an excellent gift. For this you can buy konfety in gift packaging. Usually, these are large carton boxes with one type or mix of konfety inside. The boxes are nicely painted in traditional Russian style and box alone often is a true piece or art.

You can buy chocolate in any grocery store or better go to a specialty store. (Please send me a message via Facebook or Linkedin if you need a specific recommendation on places with better choice of Russian chocolate in Moscow). Grocery stores stock limited variety of chocolate (mostly pre-packaged) while specialty stores have large selection of different products. In specialty stores, you can buy a little of everything to try and decide what you like the best. Specialty chocolate stores are self-service, and staff is very helpful.

There is one interesting soviet traditions remains today. For New Year, kids would receive a gift: a sack full of varieties of karamel’, konfety, batonchik. In companies very often parents get some money together to buy such gifts for all their kids, or company would pay for those gifts. This does not cancel other holiday gifts. But this is something like symbolic or maybe truly traditional that people adore. Those gift sacks with chocolates is one of New Year symbols that gets passed from soviet generation into today. So, do not be surprised if you kid brings such sack from school or some event.

Russian chocolate