Saturday, November 26, 2011

We went to St. Petersburg last week.  Russia is a very, very different place than Finland.  In Finland, the societal pressure to follow all rules is so strong that if you don't take a number at the cashier in line at the department store EVEN THOUGH you are the next and only person in line, some ruthless old lady will come up and cut in front of you and not feel sorry about it because you're the idiot who didn't follow the rules to the letter.  In Russia, the rules are either ignored or absent entirely.  People were crossing the street in the middle, taking photos right in front of "NO CAMERA" signs in museums, parking three deep on the sidewalk (not kidding), and generally behaving like they didn't give a shit.  Which makes sense because, as far as I could tell, Russians don't give a shit.

People were openly drinking duty-free vodka at the customs checkpoint at 9 o'clock in the morning.  There were four booths open but none had lines; everyone seemed to think it was a better idea to push forward in an amorphous blob.  Once we were through, we rode the shuttle bus (read:  van with a paper sign in the windshield) to St. Isaac's in the touristy area of town.  St. Petersburg is a beautiful place and I enjoyed being there, but it really gives Terre Haute and Lafayette a run for their money in the competition for World's Smelliest City.  And in contrast to these cities in Indiana, I don't think the smell in St. Petersburg is due to any industry or factory, unless it is a factory that produces raw sewage.  We'd be walking down the street and suddenly it was like everyone in the whole city farted at the same time.

Anyway, on a more cultural note, we went to The Hermitage (not to be confused with The Hermitage) and followed the crowd through an entrance that was marked "exit."  We walked through an incredibly ornate entrance hall and some dude was vacuuming the carpet, patiently waiting for groups of tourists to move on so he could get the carpet beneath their feet.  The art was amazing, the building itself was amazing (it's a palace, after all), but the museum seemed to run according to what I was beginning to think was the typical Russian style of having rules for the simple pleasure of ignoring them.

The next day we had an American Thanksgiving party where we tried to show our Finnish friends the finer points of this excellent holiday.  Only one of them got a stomach ache by the end of the party, so I guess we mostly failed.  It was still fun, though.  There was pumpkin pie, chicken and dumplings, glögi (Finnish mulled wine), and all kinds of other awesome things that I will leave to the reader's imagination.

Tonight I am going to a mixed martial arts training session with my friend Tommi, which I agreed to do while apparently drunk.  He assures me that I "most certainly will not get kicked in the face."  I mostly believe him, since I have yet to meet a Finn who would be impolite enough to do such a thing.  Either way, I haven't had a black eye in quite awhile and I think even if I get beat up it'll make me feel like a bit of a badass.  My goal is to either knock someone out or get a visible injury that I can show off.

HOW will I fare against the most fearsome fighters that show up to beginner's MMA lessons on Tuesday nights in Helsinki???  WHERE on my body will my visible injury be???  WHAT was I thinking agreeing to do this???  Tune in next week for the exciting answers to these questions and more.

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