Saturday, November 12, 2011

On winter, cold, and snow.

Today was rather mild. It was about -5C, or 23F.
The same cannot be said about last weekend, when the temperature dipped to -16... or very close to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Did I mention it is only November... and therefore not even actually winter?

The first snow fell on October 18th and has stuck around ever since. The entire city is covered in at least three inches of snow and it is not going anywhere until April.
This doesn't bother me, though. This is what I expected. It's RUSSIA. Russia has a COLD CLIMATE. Sometimes Russians will try to tell you that it's all a stereotype, that Russia is not actually all about snow and cold and fur hats... but in reality, 9 months of the year, it IS.
Even Sochi, the vacation place, the "warm" climate there is about the same as New York. In the winter, it snows there too. The south of Russia is no Florida... it's not tropical... and when you consider the high altitude there... forget it.

My dear home, Chelyabinsk, is exactly your typical cold Russian city. In January, it can get as cold as -35, and has gotten as cold as -40 (the convergence temperature, it doesn't matter whether it is F or C).

Now we have the debate of whether or not I am in Siberia. Technically, I am, since in the broad definition, Siberia is the land to the east of the Urals. If you ask most people, however, I am most certainly NOT in Siberia, I am in the "South Ural" region.. Siberia would begin in Tyumen or something.

This reminds me of another geographic oddity... Russian relation to mountain ranges. I guess that, Russia being an enormous country, everything is all relative... so, even though it takes a three hour drive to see any mountains, Chelyabinsk is "на Урале" (literally, "on the Ural"). I remember that Maykop (Adygeya) is considered на Кавказе, even though you can't really see any mountains from the city, but I figured this meant that it was undoubtedly Caucasian with respect to culture....but really, to call Chelyabinsk a city in the Urals would be like saying my house was in the Berkshires (again, a three hour drive away). Even so, everything, from  хлеб (bread) to banks to snowboards to shopping malls/you name it.. is "Ural'sky". Nobody calls this place "Siberia."
A friend the other day said that technically, the border of the Siberian Plane is actually located in Chelyabinsk Oblast, about an hour East of the city.

Siberia or not... it doesn't matter. This place is COLD. And it's only getting colder.

Along with the cold weather comes some perplexing cultural differences... and привычки (habits).
So. Last weekend it was -13.
Me: It's time to wear the dublenka (Fur coat. sometimes I call it a shuba, although its not actually a shuba... a shuba has fur on the outside, a dublenka has fur on the inside and the hood)
Russians: It's only November, it's too early to wear a dublenka.

Yesterday. It was only -3.
Me: I still wear the dublenka, but over only a short sleeved dress and without a scarf or mittens. I'm fine.
Russians: Aren't you freezing? You have no scarf!

Yes, outside it's cold, but inside it's still room temperature, or even warmer.
Me: I'll take off my warmer layers. If it's warm inside, I can wear short sleeves like normal.
Russians: Aren't you freezing? It's so cold outside!
Me: But I'm inside!
Russians: And why do you walk all the way home in the cold? Why don't you take the bus? You are going to get sick!
Me: Cold weather doesn't make you sick, being around sick people makes you sick!

Let's not even go there with the babushkas that see me in my running clothes. My running clothes, these days, consist of:
Spandex pants
A short sleeve shirt or sports top
A long sleeve Under-Armor running shirt
A shapka-ushanka (looks goofy, but something has to prevent frostbite on my ears)
A sweatshirt, which I remove when I get to the track.

But no scarf or gloves and especially no fur coats are necessary when running.... but I'm not even going to try to explain to the babushki how when you run, the temperature feels ten to twenty degrees warmer.

It's never a good idea to argue with a babushka... but we'll keep score this way. (The score being the argument over whether or not exposure to cold weather is the actual cause of getting sick) People are getting sick left and right. Everyone I know who works or goes to the university has been sick at least once.... but not me (knock on wood). Not even a cold. My guess is because I live alone (and not in a dormitory), I don't spend all day in the university around sick people, and I walk usually instead of ride buses or marshrutkas crowded with germs. I maintain a healthy lifestyle... and it has nothing to do with whether or not I wore a scarf today.

Don't get me wrong... I'm not saying that being around people is gross, or that people or gross, or that I don't feel bad when someone is sick. I just think that it has much less to do with the number of layers you pile on both outdoors and indoors than people want to think.

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