One of the most rewarding parts of my time abroad here in Russia has been my friendship with a lovely St Petersburg native, who adopted me as her token American friend and dragged me all around the city, introducing me to her favorite sights and restaurants. What began as me simply asking an acquaintance about the best place to get a manicure soon blossomed into a lovely friendship that not only gave me an insane amount of language practice (this woman truly was a saint for putting up with my terrible Russian), but also provided me with a unique window into the mystery that is the Russian mind.
There were so, so many interactions between us that highlighted the many differences between US and Russian cultures, but one particularly memorable instance occurred at a charming Italian restaurant. My friend had taken me to this particular restaurant one evening, excitedly explaining how this place served the best pizza in the entire world. We sat down, got our pizza, and she proceeded to eat it with a fork. I followed suite, not wanting to appear rude. But, being the American that I am, this felt very wrong. I told her that in America we usually eat pizza with our hands and she just laughed at me, clearly not believing that that was the case. So to prove it, I picked up my pizza and started eating *gasp* with my hands. She was a little shocked, but after a while I convinced her to try it too, and we finished our meal with our hands, earning strange glances from the waiters and other patrons. In Russia it is considered rude to get your hands dirty by touching your food, while in America we could care less about that. Through this pizza interaction, both my friend and I became a little more familiar with each other’s cultures. I learned that Russians aren’t trying to be snobby about how they eat, and she saw that American’s aren’t trying to be rude. This interaction also helped me see this same dynamic in other aspects of Russian culture. For example, Russians never smile at strangers on the street, while Americans typically offer a smile of greeting when making eye contact, even with a stranger. But Russians aren’t being cold and stuck-up, they just are accustomed to operating at a different level of formality in public. This is evident in the way they eat, dress, and conduct themselves.
I am so grateful to my lovely Russian friend for giving me the opportunity to dive deeper into Russian culture, and for making St Petersburg feel like home.