To many Americans, Russia is synonymous with cold. From the cold climate to the Cold War, it’s an understandable association. So when I tried to explain to my friends and family back home how hot it has been here, there was some confusion. With the exception of our first weekend here, the daily high temperatures have ranged, on average, from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Where I’m from in the States, that’s normal for late June and early July. I feel like I should be used to this sort of weather. Except I’m not. In fact, so far the heat has been one of the biggest challenges about my summer in Moscow.
Part of the problem, I believe, stems from the fact that Russia is indeed a very cold country, on average. When a place has upwards of 8 months of winter, everything from the culture to medicine to infrastructure emphasizes keeping warm. Which means that there is no air conditioning on the Metro (a problem, in one of the busiest metro systems in the world). There’s also no air conditioning in most apartments, including my host family’s. For me, that means a choice between mosquito bites and stifling heat. I’m one of the lucky students, however – at least my host mom lets me open the windows.
One of the things I was told time and again before I left the US was that for Russians, the root cause of any illness is a cold draft. It’s one thing to be told something by advisors and professors and program staff, and another thing entirely to live it. My second week here, I got sick, like many of my classmates. A cold, perhaps, some virus my immune system wasn’t prepared for. My host mom, on the other hand, was sure that I was sick because of the one time I forgot my тапочки [ta-pach-ki] in my room and ate dinner barefoot. She also explained to me that people get sick in summer because they let their guard down and open the windows because it’s hot. She insisted that I not eat ice cream or drink cold water. That weekend was, of course, the weekend we discovered the Фестиваль Московское Мороженое – the Moscow Ice Cream Festival.
This belief that cold things will make you sick makes it difficult to find ways to cool off. The realization that the drinks at the McDonald’s in Russia have ice in them sparked a small celebration among our group. Some of my favorite things are the vending machines in the university, because the drinks are refrigerated. Early mornings and late evenings have become magical times when the air is cool and the sun not so bright.
My host mom assures me that this summer is hotter than usual for Moscow. It might not be hotter than usual for me, but the differences in the culture around something so simple as cooling off have proven to be a challenge to navigate. Nevertheless, I have learned a lot, most memorably жарко [zhar-ka] – hot, a word I doubt I’ll ever forget.
By: Anna Welsh
Term: Summer 2016