2) Toilet seats are unpredictable. Before I explain that statement, I need to say that our hotel in Novosibirsk was overrun with cleaning ladies. I am pretty sure for our floor there was one cleaning lady per tenant. (Our hotel was clearly not at capacity, but still...what could they possibly be cleaning to require so many helpers?) Also, they were at it all the time. They had an office mid-way down the hall, and they were always in there watching TV or dragging a vacuum into the hall, or whatever, literally whenever I got up—be it 2am or 3 in the afternoon. But one thing this “Spic-and-Span Brigade” was not cleaning was toilet seats. Our hotel did not have any. We had WiFi in our room, a TV, a refrigerator, functioning elevators, cash and drink machines in the lobby, an in-house travel agency, and an ironing room (where I had no business, being a field biologist.) But not a single toilet seat in any bathroom. In contrast, we stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, and guess what—it might’ve been a showroom model. I was tempted to eat my lunch in there, it was so immaculate, complete with what I have come to find is something of a luxury—a toilet seat. For some reason, and other writers have also devoted time to this issue (particularly Ian Fraser in Travels in Siberia), Russians don’t take particular interest in bathrooms, their cleanliness, or offerings, as do many western cultures, such as my own. But, the gas station example may suggest that this is changing. (Here is one who hopes it is broad-sweeping and overnight).
3) There are 24 hour flower shops EVERYWHERE! (This includes major and small cities.) Within a two block radius of the Darwin Museum in Moscow, there were probably four. Having never purchased flowers at three in the morning, I can only wonder at how an around the clock market for flowers could be sustained. I suggested to Lena that maybe Russians needed a consistent source of flowers to apologize or propose at any time of day. She countered with that labor is simply cheap and the convenience of 24 hour flowers outweighs the economics of it... I still think it’s more to do with apologies for words set free by vodka, but who am I to say?
4) Seatbelts are worn in the front seat, but NEVER in the back. Olga’s dad (Oleg) drove us to pick up our heavy bag from the hotel on the way out of Novosibirsk. I was in the backseat and, out of habit, fastened my seat belt. Oleg heard the click, turned to look at me and then just started laughing. “Haha. You are definitely not Russian,” he said, as he shook his head and started the car. “Nobody uses the back seatbelt.” The word ‘Why?’ momentarily popped into my head, as it is wont to do of late, but I shook it off. Better not jump down that rabbit hole.
5) Before you get on a minibus, the mode of transport to many places outside the city center, nobody takes your money. Instead, you go ahead and get on. Then it’s on you to figure out the fare, tell the person next to you the quantity and hand them the money, which is passed forward several times to the person sitting shotgun. The change is then passed back, dutifully, as Russians have come to expect. I, however, who have been trained to distrust any exchange of money between more than two pairs of hands, was shocked that this system worked at all! This suggests to me a level of trust within Russian society which I would never have suspected and also brings me to my next observation.
7) People always complain about how low the wages are in Russia, but everybody seems to drive new cars. Looking at the parking lot outside Alex and Yelena’s place after a rainstorm, I thought how much it looked like a dealership. Most of the cars were within the last five years, and many of them looked brand new. Despite coming from The States, which is notoriously materialistic, Liz and I both noticed how new and nice (a lot of beamers and Mercedes) the cars all were. Yelena’s brother suggested this was because the Russian winters destroyed cars quickly and they needed to be replaced after a few years. Having lived in Colorado, Chicago, and New York between us, we both agree that “That ain’t it.” (Well, that’s how the southerner in me phrases our consensus.)
8) Once something has found a place in Russia, it tends not to move, or to get moved back. This applies to people, as well as objects. We’ve been told by many people we’ve met in our travels that they were born, grew up in, studied, and now work in the same city, be it Moscow, Yekaterinburg, or Novosibirsk. If someone studied or worked abroad, they are now back home. For example, Georgy (who you haven’t met yet, but will hear a lot about) grew up in Krasnoyarsk, did his PhD in Novosibirsk, and now lives again in Krasnoyarsk. This is not uncommon in The States, either, but here it is almost a natural law. (We were told, in fact, that moving between cities used to involve a lot of trouble and paperwork in Soviet times, and now people are reluctant to move around much.) This rule also seems to apply to objects, though. For example, last night I moved a row of stacked seats which were blocking access to some very comfy armchairs in order to sit and type up some emails. Tonight I found that somebody had moved them back, though they weren’t blocking anything but an unadorned wall on the other side and I have yet to see a single other person use the room at all. Oh, crap! Here comes that word again, inexorably popping into my head: “Why?!”
Well, I have to admit, I can’t answer that, so I’ll just leave you with this little byte of Russian culture for now. (If you get that pun, maybe this IS the blog for you.) As far as I can tell (and based on Georgy’s assurance), the only true solution to the riddle is: “It’s Russia!”
btw, if you think you’ve solved the Green Glass Doors riddle, please post a comment with an original statement (e.g., “Beyond the Green Glass Doors there are pillars, but no columns.”)