Winter, Colds, and Healing

Moscow in winter is quite an interesting place to live. Russians have lived in Moscow for centuries, so one would think that Russians would love, or at least tolerate, the cold. From my experience, the reality is quite the opposite; Russians passionately hate the cold. Of course, this is a broad generalization. I think they often enjoy winter because of the many wintertime traditions. However, the Russians that I interact with have a deep fear of the cold.

More specifically, they fear becoming sick from exposure to the harsh winter. Therefore, departing the apartment is often a time-consuming process. You MUST have a hat and gloves. Failing to wear a hat in winter, especially if it is snowing or sleeting, will likely result in unpleasant conversations with babushki. I was the unfortunate victim of my neighbor’s wrath when she saw me departing the apartment building without a hat in mid-November. I quickly learned to wear a hat. However, I still do not wear a scarf, which results in periodic scoldings from my host mother and my Russian friends. That being said, one quickly understands why Russians are adamant about wearing proper winter attire. It rains or snows often here, and walking around the streets of Moscow in the cold with a wet head is not advisable.

This leads me to a related topic – getting sick in Russia. I caught a cold in late November (my host mom blamed it on me not having a scarf), which kept me in bed for a few days. Every student studying in Russia should get sick once, just to experience Russian home remedies in action. It is a great way to become indoctrinated into Russian culture. My host mother’s remedies were surprisingly very similar to those in America. The basic premise is that one must rest and consume vast amounts of vitamins (primarily C). My host mother made me special tea with, what I think were, pomegranates. Moreover, lemons were necessary with every cup of tea. To treat my sore throat, she made me gargle with a disgusting concoction consisting of vodka, possibly mint, and who knows what else. Not surprisingly, it did the trick; my sore throat was gone by the next morning.

Nursing me back to health became a collective effort, with teachers providing me with a full supply of advice and oranges. Aside from sincere concern about my health, the interest in my health was also rooted in concern for the group. When people are sick in Russia, they are strongly discouraged from “toughing it out” and going to school or work. The thinking is very logical. If one shows up to school sick, they will not perform well and will contaminate others. Therefore, it is best to stay in bed until thoroughly recovered.

With Christmas around the corner, I do not have to worry about having a white Christmas this year. It snows regularly in Moscow, although in November and early December we often had freezing rain. It is impressive watching Moscow function in the snow. The city does not slow down. To the best of my knowledge, schools are rarely, if ever, delayed or closed due to the snow. Stores and places of employment remain open, and people continue with their normal routines. Moscow employs a small army of street sweepers who begin shoveling the sidewalks and streets early in the morning. Despite the lack of sunlight (it does not become light until about 9:30 or 10 in the morning), Moscow is an idyllic wintertime city. From skating on Red Square, to enjoying the New Year festivities, winter in Moscow is possibly the best time of the year to experience the richness of Russian culture.

By: Scott Bohn

Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program (RLASP)

Term: Fall 2011


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