Corporate Evil, Christmas Preparations and a Comparative Analysis…

November 27, 2011

With three weeks of classes left, academic work is ramping up – as in, I actually have to do work on weekends again. The Starbucks a block away from my apartment is my library – unfortunately, I do have to buy tea or coffee every couple hours, but I can sit in comfort for as long as I want, without waitresses glaring at me to leave. There are bright lights and the most horrendously cheesy Christmas music I’ve ever heard. My acceptance of Starbucks here has not been easy – in Vermont, Starbucks is generally associated with corporate evil, driving out all the locally-owned coffee shops. And as an American, I always feel guilty coming to Starbucks, as if I’m not brave or something enough to branch out and go to Russian cafes. Note: If I could sit in a Russian café for more than an hour to read or take notes without being harassed to leave, I would. Besides, if it’s a Russian corporate chain or an American one, I think the corporate evil question becomes less of an issue. And, honestly, if all you want is a big cup of regular Joe, it will cost you a mere $3 in Starbucks. (A ginger-peppermint latte will set you back more like $10, but hey – based on the steady stream of customers, there are plenty of people in Moscow who can afford it.)

I also must admit – in the U.S, the commercialization of Christmas bothers me: I strongly dislike the cheesy music and the kitschy decorations that dominate the entire month leading up to Christmas. In Moscow, those same things are just comforting. This year, Russians decided to put up decorations earlier, so within the past week, giant ёлки (evergreen trees) have appeared on the major squares and boulevards, brightly flashing blue electric lights have been strung up across the main street. For Russians, these decorations are associated with New Year’s, the more important holiday here. Religious Christmas in the Soviet Union was quite prohibited, so ёлки and present-giving were transferred to the secular New Year’s, which is a big deal. Russian Orthodox Christmas is now celebrated, this year on the 7th of January (due to the change from the old calendar), but for Orthodox Russians, Easter and the rising of Jesus from the dead are more important than his birth. That doesn’t mean I won’t try to attend an Orthodox Christmas service!

I’m feeling quite accomplished after this week, having

  1. ridden my first trolleybus (illegally) – I was with the Russians on my soccer team, and we were late to our game, so without time to buy tickets, I just followed their lead and ducked under the bar…
  2. edited my foreign policy professor’s latest book text, which she wrote in English and asked me to proofread.  I felt quite honored, but it’s just so interesting what constitutes “good” writing in English versus in Russian. In Russian, there is practically no such thing as a run-on sentence, the bane of the English teacher’s existence. Passive voice shows intellectual refinement and don’t even get me started on comma usage. (There are a rather large number of very specific rules regarding the usage of commas in Russian writing – I’ll let you know about them this spring, when I take a course on stylistics). I’m still a little nervous my professor will get slightly offended by how many marks I made on the text (I used a blue, not a red pen!) but we’ll just see about that in class on Wednesday.
  3. Scored two more goals in our last game – after the game I told my coach that my only thought after scoring the first goal was, “Whew – now Vitya can’t yell at me!” That (thankfully) produced a laugh.
  4. Thanks to my generous grandmother (thank you again, Grandma Ames!) I bought a ticket for Swan Lake at the Bolshoi, a performance in February. Ballet is unbelievably popular in Moscow, not surprisingly, so tickets are expensive and sell out quickly. The Bolshoi has also just introduced new rules for buying tickets, hoping to combat scalpers, who represent a significant problem for the Moscow theatre scene. Starting this weekend, theatre-goers must order tickets more than three months before the performance, and provide their passport number, which will be printed on the ticket. Predictably, lines at the Bolshoi were incredibly long this past week, as Muscovites rushed to purchase tickets before the rule change. News on reactions to these new rules to come…
  5. Come up with a new goal for my year in Moscow! (I mean, if I’m checking off the items on my first list, it makes sense to start another). I want to see every play currently on at the Studio for Theatrical Art (СТИ, Студио Театрального Исскуства) – my host mom’s ex-husband is a theatre critic, and she said that it is one of the best theatres in Moscow. We saw Chekhov’s “Three Years” there last week, and tonight are headed to “Brother Ivan Fedorovich,” a take on one of the brothers in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
  6. (almost) finished reading three master’s theses for my final paper for my Russian foreign policy class. (For those interested, it is called “Russian Energy Politics in Relation to Ukraine and Belarus: A Comparative Analysis.” Don’t be too impressed yet – I came up with the theme, but my professor drafted the title, suitably pretentious for a political science paper). My main goal with Russian language progress for this year is to be able to discuss, read, and write about politics at a level somewhat approaching my abilities in English – so it has been incredibly exciting to be able to read these Russian texts at a reasonably quick pace. Next step, writing ten pages of similar complexity to hand in…

Off to finish the last thesis,



One Response to “Corporate Evil, Christmas Preparations and a Comparative Analysis…”

  1. sarahinthegoldencircle said

    I was so proud of how productive I’d been until I read that post! 😉 Oh my goodness. You’re awesome, Hillary. I can’t wait to see you!

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