Friday, November 24, 2006

Notes from the Underground*

* and other modes of transportation...

More about the metro

The metro is a good place to observe Russians in the wild... First of, they seem to have no concept of personal space. Okay, that's probably true to some extent of people in any big city - there's just so many other people around all the time. However, in, say, London, people are eager to move away from you as soon as they possibly can. Yesterday, I was squidged up thigh to thigh with a girl on the metro bench-seats. When the person who had been sitting on her other side got up, she didn't budge an inch. What's with that? And the other day, a woman (not one of the skinny minny Russians) chose to squeeze herself next to me into a space that was maybe wide enough for half a person. I'm sitting there all rigid and uncomfortably upright, my shoulders hunched forwards in an attempt to take up as little space as I possibly can - the Russians are laxed out, probably with their eyes closed (a good strategy to fend off angry babushkas who want to take your seat).

Another fun thing about the metro is that they are all guarded by a double rank of swinging glass doors. These are heavy and have a real kick on them when they swing back into your face. Which they do a lot, since (most) Russians don't bother to hold the door open for you. Which is fine if I'm a yard behind, but if I'm directly behind, it swings back in a manner which is hazardous to my dental health.

Talking about doors, the doors on the metro trains clap shut with such force that you'd think they'd take off an arm should you get trapped in them. But fear not, I know from experience that this is not so. They will close on you and they won't open again until you physically force them open, but you'll survive the experience with all limbs intact.

Another instance of Russians' lack of social skills now springs to mind. The other day I was standing, holding on to the overhead rail. Now, to my mind, the most vital time to hold on to said rail is when the train is starting and stopping. So, when we were pulling into a station, I wanted to keep holding on to the rail, despite the fact that I realised the woman next to me was planning to get off shortly. Now, the woman had, I believe, three options: Option A - wait until the train came to a stop, and I'd remove my arm. Option B - say 'excuse me'. Option C - walk around behind me (there was plenty of room). Which option do you think she chose? Trick question - she picked Secret Option D - simply walk into my arm and knock it off the rail. Thanks very much!


I have to walk back and forth to the metro through this little wooded area. Last week, it was a veritable winter wonderland - beautiful, albeit hazardous. I've actually got quite good at walking on ice/snow - you quickly learn little tricks like walking off the path where the snow isn't packed down into slippery ice. I don't know that I'll ever achieve the true Russian skill of traipsing about on the ice in mini skirts and knee-high stiletto boots... Anyway, this week it's been above zero all week, and drizzling quite a bit (at night, I assume, as there's always puddles, but before today I haven't been out in the rain). So, the snow has melted, revealing that there is, in fact, grass in Moscow (yay!), but that below most of the paths there is a whole lotta mud - hazardous to the health of all my pants, safety-pinned up as they may be.

The Bus

Loyal readers will remember that I'm not overly fond of buses. So it's great news that I have to catch one to one of the schools I work at. The buses in Moscow have something I've never seen before - turnstiles on board, so that you can't get on without a ticket. Weird! The buses are often crowded and awful, and Muscovites will happily push and fight to get on them first (as with the metro). Yesterday was my first attempt to catch the bus to the school by myself (on Tuesday, I was met and escorted). I got on and thought it was a good idea to stand by the doors, so that I could identify my stop (get off after the McDonald's!) and be ready to spring from the bus, quick like a bunny (hi Scott!). So there I was in the stairwell, when it suddenly dawned on my that it might not be the best place to stand should the doors open inwards. Okay, so I tried to get up on the step behind me. The only problem there was the guy who was standing behind me didn't move an inch (see above, Muscovites and lack of personal space) so I had to awkwardly hover on the very edge of the step. Hmmm, I thought, maybe I'll just step back down. After all, if I'm shortly to be crushed to death by the doors, surely my fellow travellers will warn me? I think you can guess what comes next... Yes, I overestimated the social skills of the Russians once more, and the doors did indeed close on me, leading to a miserable end to the journey dancing about trying to avoid the doors at each stop...

PS Thanks to Heather for inspiration on the post title, with her musing 'Would Dostoevsky have been a blogger?'


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Another mention! I am the blog mention queen.
    p.s. Hang in there with the whole teaching stuff. Just remember how cool you sound to people reading your blog...


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