4 weeks in Russia: Turning off the heat and deciphering the butter

I’m in St Petersburg for just over four weeks to see my son, work as normal for Moodle and study Russian with the possible aim of taking another exam.  I’ll be blogging occasionally with my cultural experiences and observations, starting with Day 1

I arrived without any hitches yesterday afternoon, Ist March. I am staying in a (now very ) familiar apartment on Nevsky Prospekt, almost palatial, and extremely convenient. The building is one of the very old ones with no lift but fortunately a young workman decided to show off his strength by carrying my 27kg suitcase up the four floors – who was I to protest?

One thing I have noticed previously about Russia is that, when it is unbearably cold outside, they seem (to me) to make it unbearably warm inside! And not for the first time did I struggle last night trying to find the heating controls so  I didn’t spend all night perspiring in bed. I usually end up opening a window, which then brings in very chilly air and is most environmentally unfriendly.

Additionally, this morning I decided to figure out the oven. I can’t spend four weeks living off microwave or one ring hob meals; I want to stew, roast, bake. While the apartment itself is decorated in a beautiful 19th century style, the kitchen and bathroom are hi-tech, which meant the electric oven had an array of settings and a manual in Russian, Turkish, Polish and Slovenian… I never read manuals anyway, so by trial and error I managed to turn it on and set the correct temperature. Great. But then once I had decided my experiment was a success, it seemed impossible to turn it off. I turned the dials back to zero – waited for the fan to turn off and the oven to cool down – no chance. In despair I turned to the manual, deciphered the Russian, tried the suggested settings – still nothing doing. I had a very hot oven in a very hot apartment! After about an hour and a half, I gave up and went to the shops, resigned to contacting my host, Olga, for enlightenment. Lo and behold when I returned, the oven had finally switched itself off. While that does mean I won’t have to swelter any more, it also means I have no idea which of my attempts actually worked, so that when I do use the oven for real (“in anger” as Moodle developers say) I won’t be any the wiser how to turn it off!!

My trip to the local supermarket, перекрёсток  reminded me of the confusion I feel when trying to buy simple products in Russia such  as milk or butter. I just wanted something to spread on my bread – but which butter should I get? Is there no olive spread, which is what I buy  at home? I spend ages looking and ultimately buy based on price, telling myself I am not fussy anyway fortunately. I have bought something spreadable in a tub, though what it consists of I have no real idea. Milk is the same but I am not over concerned as long as it has a picture of a cow on it. The one I chose called itself правильное молоко, which I interpreted as “correct milk” – so that must be the one!!!




One comment

  1. Welcome back!
    The main characteristic for milk products is the percentage of fat (МДЖ = массовая доля жира) in them . Good butter is 82% fat, and milk is typically 3.2%
    People tend to be a bit suspicious of things with vegetable fats (растительные масла) in.

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