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Notes on living and working in Russia

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Visiting church in Russia

One of the things most visitors notice in Moscow and Russia is multitude of orthodox cathedrals and temples. In Russian all of them are called simply a “church” — церковь [zerkov’]. When someone local talks about going to church, they usually mean going to where services take place and not the congregation.

Many of those churches are historical buildings constructed hundreds of years ago. In soviet times almost all churches were closed and religion of any kind was banned from practicing. Many church buildings were destroyed or used for purposes that had nothing to do with religion. There was a small number of churches that never stopped having services even during soviet times. After USSR collapsed in the 90s, most of churches, closed in soviet times, were reopened, restored or rebuilt. All orthodox churches have unique architecture and beautiful paintings inside.

Expats ask frequently if they can visit orthodox church.

The answer to this is simple — yes, you can go to orthodox church regardless of your religious beliefs. Many churches, monasteries in addition to its original purposes serve as heritage and historical sites and open to the public. You can go to any church however, regardless of whether is’s historical place or just a church with regular services, if you follow few simple rules, listed below.

Rules for visiting orthodox church, when service is not on.

Men must enter with heir head uncovered. Hats, hoods of all types must be taken off before entering.

Women must have their heads covered. Many woman use headscarf type of thing to cover their head before entering a church. In some places you can buy headscarf or kerchief at the entrance, but not everywhere, so better have your own if you are going to visit many places.

Revealing outfits are not welcomed. Shorts, short squirts or any other outfits that reveal larger parts your body are not welcomed and if you are wearing something that makes you look half naked, you will be asked to leave.

You can buy and light a candle, however by the church rules you can not order a service, unless you were baptized in Russian Orthodox Church or one of its subsidiaries.

Photography policy depends on a place. If it’s an official historic sight visited by many tourists, most likely you will be allowed to take photographs without special permission. In non-tourist churches you can ask staff if you can take photographs. Sometimes there are clear signs on the door indicating whether or not taking pictures is allowed. If in doubt, ask service staff, but they very likely will direct you to the priest for permission. Be aware that no one, not a single person will speak English or any other foreign language in any church you go to, so having Russian assistance would be real helpful. If allowed to photograph, do not take pictures of people in the church and it is advised not to use flash.

Rules for visiting orthodox church during the service.

You can go to any orthodox church service, no one will ask any questions. There are two daily services: morning starting from 8am-9am and evening staring 5pm-6pm. Exact time depends on a specific church and there can be two services in the morning, especially on weekends. There can be special services in between main services (those are happening primarily in the morning). For big church holidays there will be special schedule of services. Normally schedule and exact timing of services, holidays and events is available on a special board at the entrance.

During the service you can enjoy choir singing.

In addition to basic rules of visiting orthodox church, there are specific suggestions on behavior during the church service.

Stand somewhere in the corner or by the wall. The thing is that Orthodox Service rituals are very complicated. Unlike many other Christian denominations in orthodox church the congregation should standing during the service. Congregation will get on their knees several times, or sing or do other things. If you do not know what to do and what is going on, and you stand in the middle of a crowd, you will look awkward. Also people move very often and you do not wanna be on their way. Several times during the service priest will go around the cathedral with censer to fume the place with olibanum. Look what other people do when this happens and do the same.

Avoid talking during the service. If you need to say something, whisper or talk real quietly. In off-service time you can talk, but it is advised to bring voice down as well.

Switch off sell phones, talking on a phone is banned in all churches, also many people have loud and funny ringtones not appropriate for a church and this also disrupts the service.

Photographing in churches during the service is strictly prohibited.

Thank you for reading. To comment, express opinion or ask a question, please visit Russia Simplified Facebook page.

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