One thing that I did not expect when I came to Russia was the tea. When people think of Russia, they think of vodka as the preferred drink. I know I did. But, plot-twist, it’s actually tea. Black tea, green tea, herbal tea, they’re all here. I did not really see that one coming. I have been living in St Petersburg for two weeks, and I have not yet been offered vodka by my host family or any of my friends here. But I have consumed probably hundreds of cups of tea. The tea consumption here does make sense from a practical perspective. In a country where summers never get above 70 degrees Fahrenheit and it rains constantly, it makes sense that hot tea would become the beverage of choice. Also, the water here is not potable until after it has been boiled, so tea is an avenue for people to consume water safely.
But here tea is more than just a beverage. I have learned that tea is the center of social life and relationships. I live with a lovely бабушка and her little dog. We start every morning with a cup of tea, listening to the news on the radio and chatting about our plans for the day. I have learned that this tea-time in the morning is essential–even if I oversleep, бабушка will literally not let me leave the apartment until I have sat down and had tea with her. We end the evenings the same way. No matter how late I come home, she will be waiting with a hot cup of tea, wanting to hear about my day (which is very kind of her, considering my Russian is not amazing and I know I’m difficult to understand). When I spend time with my Russian friends, tea is almost always involved, especially if we are having a serious conversation. The Russians I have met tend to not share much about themselves and they come across as a bit stand-offish sometimes. But chat with them over tea and suddenly they will talk to you about everything. Last week when I was on the bus a guy was chatting with me, trying to convince me to go have a cup of tea with him. That moment really impressed on me the social importance of tea here. In America, when guys ask me out, they usually ask if I want to get drinks, but this Russian wanted to get tea. And I think that is because tea symbolizes connection, closeness, and conversation. That is something that I wasn’t expecting when I came to Russia, but it is something that I have come to really love.