Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Which a Chicken Is Not a Bird, and a Woman Is Not a Person

Well, we have been in Moscow now for a year. According to the children, yesterday was our anniversary. That sure went fast. We celebrated by going to Gorky Park, but you'll have to see the photos on my Facebook page. Uploading photos on this site is too frustrating.

The days now are short, dark, and overcast, making them even shorter and darker. The temperature has been below 0C the past few days, which is a blessing only in that it guarantees no rain. No snow either, but time enough for that. Maybe. I'm starting to wonder if the whole global warming thing is going to screw with my time in Moscow. I can imagine looking back on our time here on day and saying, "Oddly, we never had much snow in Moscow."

I got a piece of mail the other day addressed to Expatresse Nopatr. My full name was in Cyrillic, last name first, then my first name, then "Nopatr."

That cracked us up. I have no patronymic. Well, only because I never gave anyone one. But I could have one.

You may or may not know how this patronymic name thing works, but the Russians use the patronymic, based on the name of their father, as their middle name. It is an official name and is used on official documents. There is a feminine version and a masculine version. For example, if the father is Ivan, the son's patronymic name would be Ivanovich and the daughter's would be Ivanovna. Since my father's name is Larry, my patronymic or middle name would be Lariovna.

To be really polite and respectful, you use a Russian's first name and their patronymic. We shouldn't call Vladimir Putin "Mr. Putin," for example, but, if we want to be polite and correct, should say Vladimir Vladimirovich (his father was also Vladimir).

Russian doesn't have the titles "Mr." or "Mrs." which I find very disturbing as there is no polite way to address a stranger. Nobody says "comrade" anymore, but they haven't come up with an alternative. There is no "sir" or "ma'am" or "miss." Apparently you can say "girl" to women of any age. It's odd, I know.

This blog title comes hand-in-hand with other Russian remarks such as "I thought I saw two people on the road, but it was just a man and his wife." There's a weird mix of sexism and chivalry here. Men will hold doors and offer seats on the metro (sometimes). I have also seen men carrying the purse of their female companion. That looks a little strange to me, and I have seen it quite often, actually. I cannot imagine The Spouse ever carrying my purse for me. I mean, he always offers to carry things if I want, but he would never think to offer to carry my purse, and I would never hand it to him on my own. He can hold it while I go on the roller coaster. But that's it.

I also hear expats relaying stories of Russian women deferring to male colleagues because "He is the man, so he is smarter." I have not experienced anything like that, and, frankly, suspect that in most Russian households the woman runs the show. It is another one of those cultures where the sexes are defined: men are masculine and women are feminine. Why would you want to be otherwise? Given how we Americans sometimes neuter ourselves, especially at work, I don't mind being allowed to be female. It hasn't gotten in my way anyhow. But I'm also not trying to run a board meeting here either. Ask me again after I try that.

As an aside, Miss Russia won the Miss World 2008 competition this weekend. Here is the winning interview. She is adorable.

There was also the Miss Constitution pageant last week, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the post-Soviet constitution. Read all about it here.

In other news, I am on the hunt for a new winter coat. Every coat I have seems to have a problem. The lining is shredding on my favorite coat. It is becoming embarrassing. I have another jacket-type coat I bought from JJill before Youngest Daughter was born. I mean, I have photos of a pregnant me wearing this coat. There was more of me then, and now this coat is too big. The wind blows up it. The good news is I can wear layers with it (always useful) and even wear my purse under my coat. But the shoulder seams hit the middle of my biceps: it really doesn't fit nicely. I have a similar problem with my lovely mink coat: it is too big for me. And sometimes it just isn't appropriate.

I looked at coats in a shop in town the other day, but what I wanted cost between 25,000 rubles to as much as 36,000 rubles (these days, 2,700 rubles = $100 US). I don't want to spend $1,000 for a down-filled winter coat.

That's what I want: something knee-length, water-resistant, down-filled. With a hood. Some fur trim would be nice, but isn't vital.

I got a tip from a woman on the expat forum about a market ("rynok" in Russian) called Konkovo (conveniently at Metro Konkovo, for those of you following along on your Moscow Metro Map). This morning I went to check it out.

All I can say is "Wow."

It goes on and on. All indoors. Shop stall after shop stall of coats, jackets, furs, men's suits, shoes and boots, bras, evening gowns, and those over-the-top Russian women's outfits complete with too much lace, glitter, and bows.

I was too intimidated to venture into any of the shops. While some items I saw did have price tags, many things did not. Clearly, this is a place to bargain, and I am convinced that, without a Russian speaker, I will be lunch meat. Even with The Spouse, we are likely to pay the Foreigner Prices. But I'm sure I will do better with his help.

So we will go back together another time. There are, uncharacteristically, some sales in Moscow already. But Sale Season is traditionally after the New Year. It might pay to hold off until January.


Real Estate Feast--South Florida real estate blog said...

The whole man smarter than woman thing came home to roost at our house a few years ago when we were installing accordian hurricane shutters. If you've ever tried to get hurricane shutters done in South Florida, you know it's an ordeal even if it goes smoothly. Our job didn't go smoothly. It took about two months of almost daily wheedling to get the company to start the job (they had a 50% deposit, mind you) and then the big day arrived. Two formidible men and a big truck showed up. One spoke no English and the other only a little. And no, Spanish wasn't their native language, either. You'll never guess--it was Polish! The shutter company had sent two Polish guys to do my shutters. The first day went ok, but I noticed that they were a lot slower in the afternoon than the morning. When I took out the garbage that night, I found out why. These guys had been guzzling beer all day long. There were about 15 big bottles in the garbage can along with chicken bones and watermellon rinds. The next day I told them I didn't want them drinking on the job. They were very wounded. My wife came home before I did and asked them something about the job. The one who had a little English said to my highly educated, licensed, managerial wife "Don't worry, I'll tell your husband he an intelligent man." My cellphone had a peculiar tone when it rang. And I swear I could hear my wife long before I got it to my ear, which in itself was a mistake. Ears ringing, my next call was to the shutter company. Next day all was glum, but the job was finished. And of course, it didn't pass inspection and it was another couple of weeks to get things straight. But now my wife and I laugh about me being "an intelligent man."

elektrokuhinja said...

Maybe men who carry purses is not carrying it FOR women. But it's their purse. It s very common in Moscow to have a womens purse, that's very "modno" (fashionable). My colleague told me that when I laughed at a guy with woman's purse :)

Troy Markham said...

I'd just like to state that I am SO pro-woman on all of this. Can you introduce me to Miss Russia? Thanks.

Kelsey said...

It's common here in Korea (also a rather sexist country) for men to carry their wife's/girlfriend's purse as well. Given that Korea has mandatory military service, many of them are in uniform, and for awhile, I used to laugh so hard when I'd see some guy in a uniform, carrying a fancy fashion purse. Hilarious.

I have always been fascinated by the patronymic thing, personally. I'm a reenactor and one of the impressions I do is WWII Soviet (which I just posted about, actually), and when I was putting together my persona, I had a lot of fun researching all that.

- Driftingfocus

TRex said...

Ah yes, the man purse. Far cooler to have the low slung shoulder strap hip bag, the “Murse” being so old school even if you’re trying to pass yourself off as a big time businessman since everyone knows big time businessmen don’t carry anything.

When I first came to Moscow lo those many years ago what I noticed first was the fact that all the business’s I walked into were run by women. I don’t know if they were owners/partners or managers but they definitely ran the show. Most of the men seemed happy enough leaning on things or at best aspired to the level of security guard. For all the male strutting I suspect it’s the same at home.

The second thing I noticed was all the beautiful women cutting around like sharks in shallow water, but my wife kept giving me shots in the short ribs. So I bought some shades.

Anonymous said...

i'm Russian, from Moscow.
and i read your blogg for my interest. it's really funny=)
about Miss World: our Miss Russia is so stupid! it's shame!
вроде симпатичная, а такая тупая. правильно говорят - либо одно, либо другое...

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