Russia is definitely a tea culture rather than a coffee culture. This is fine with me, although they tend to drink their black tea black which takes a little getting used to for me. (I succumbed the other morning and found myself an Americano with hot milk – perhaps not quite the most authentic of authentic things, but I justify it on the basis of a longstanding addiction and a desire to stave off a headache.) On the night train we took to St. Petersburg yesterday, they had teabags in with the little meal you get in the morning – you have to go down and fetch yourself a glass of hot water – a real glass, in a little ornamented metal holder. Ours had an image of the Bolshoi on the front. I don’t have a picture of this, unfortunately; the light in the train cabin was bad.
Since I don’t speak Russian at all most of the people here I’ve interacted with have been other Americans and western Europeans – I certainly have an impression of American academic expat life in Moscow! We went out to dinner with a friend of S’s yesterday and his roommate, who live in a much less central area of the town, not a place where you’d go just to stroll around. (As they put it, their flat was built in about fifteen minutes in 1956 and has not been renovated or repaired since. But they like it.) We had dinner at a Georgian restaurant (I had a dish involving a great deal of egg and melted cheese and it was very yummy) and drinks at a bar afterwards where – you guessed it – a bunch of Anglophone historians tend to hang out together. So we sat there outside picking bits of this cotton-wood-fluff-like tree/seed fluff out of our hair and occasionally out of our beer (that fluff is everywhere at the moment – it’s like snow, it just sort of drifts around) and talking about . . .academia. It was somewhere between predictable and surreal.
I am not sure whether I was surprised or puzzled at Moscow or not because I’m not really sure what my expectations were. The impression that I got was of a city that is scrupulously clean – at least in the center – with a lot of space in it. Things in the center are quite close together, but (except during rush hour on the metro) you are not crowded in elbow-to-elbow with a lot of people. And the care with which all these Russian ladies dress up all the time! High heels, makeup, expensive purses – I can’t compete and would never attempt to. (Not everyone looks like this, of course. But if you compare Moscow to say, New York or Seattle or Boston, the other women my age are on average far more dressed up in Russia than in the US.)