Made in Russia

Arts & Culture

It seems you know everything about this country. Are you sure?

You’ve been living in Russia for a long time, traveling a lot over its cities, visiting famous theaters and classical ballets, reading many books by outstanding Russian writers… It seems you know everything about this country. Are you sure?

In this article you will learn about some peculiarities, which were born in Russia. The things, which you won’t meet in the travel guides. However, they will help you become a little bit closer to Russia and try to understand why “you will not grasp her with your mind, or cover with a common label”.

Made in Russia

Subbotnik

In spring of 1919, two years after the Revolution in Russia, during the Civil war the Bolshevik party leader Vladimir Lenin appealed to people to help improve the rail roads. In reply there were those who volunteered to work extra hours on Saturday without pay. Since ‘Saturday’ in Russian is ‘subbota’, such a day was called a ‘subbotnik’. The tradition continued till the end of the Soviet era, up to the beginning of 1990-s. If at the start it was really based on enthusiastic volunteers inspired with revolutionary ideas, subsequently it ended up being an obligatory social event held every year in April as dedicated to Lenin’s birthday. Subbotniks were mostly about cleaning the neighborhood, planting, construction works and fixing public amenities. However, very recently the idea of subbotniks built on a volunteer spirit has been revived. For example, a couple of springs in a row Moscow successfully carried out “The Clean City” festivals. Anyone who wishes to participate is supplied with a uniform and cleaning tools to help clean parks, streets, trading centres, libraries, museums, residential buildings, etc.

 

Dachas and dachniks

‘Dacha’ is a country house for an urban family to stay in and, as a rule, it is not used for permanent living. In Russia it is a common conviction that dacha is a purely Russian phenomenon and it cannot be compared with summer houses in other countries. The notion Homo Dachnik can be referred to any person who owns or rents a dacha.

So, what does make dacha living style so significant and attractive for Russians, and why do they prefer it to other types of rest in spite of all worries and troubles connected to it? Dacha is seen as a shelter where life has more meaning than in town. Here one really feels at home and close to the Mother Nature. Work at the dacha – gardening, building and fixing - is done for the owner’s own good, hence it may be hard but still enjoyable. A real dachnik is also an excellent expert at gardening – a babushka-dachnik with no special education would promptly teach you, a dacha-less city dweller, all the tiniest details concerning soil, fertilizers, seeds, sprouts and plants.

As per Yandex and Google statistics, the highest number of online searches in Russia goes for such as ‘how to embellish a dacha house and the area around’ or ‘ideas for your dacha – how to make it most comfortable with your own hands’.

Dacha

Balalaika

This Russian stringed musical instrument was most likely invented by bondservants, or serfs, back in Russia’s medieval times in order to embellish their life, bring a little bit of joy to it. Balalaika has a characteristic triangular body and three strings. Its name origins from the old Russian verbs ‘balagurit’ or ‘balabonit’ which means to chit-chat, have a small talk. So, the essence of balalaika is to be an easy and funny instrument to clink and bang the music on.

Balalaika was very popular among skomorokhs – wandering actors-minstrels and peasants. Skomorokhs used to entertain people at the fairs earning their meals and drinks. They did not have a slightest idea that the instrument they were playing could seem odd to those at power. However, the Orthodox Church considered all folk musical instruments to be devil’s vessels. So, the Great Russian Duke ordered to gather all of them and burn. For a while balalaika was forgotten, although in the countryside the peasants kept practice of playing it. But everything changed thanks to young noble man Vasily Andreyev, who heard the balalaika once. He was amazed at its remarkable sounds. To his surprise, Andreyev who considered himself an expert at folk instruments, knew nothing about balalaika. He decided to improve the instrument. Moreover, to make it popular. Since that time a new rule was introduced in the Russian Army: in the beginning of the army service all new soldiers received balalaikas which they could take home after the service was over. So, thanks to Vasily Andreyev, the balalaika did become extremely popular, and not only in Russia but even abroad. Its musical sounds were noticed by Russian composers, and balalaika began to be used by classical orchestras. Nowadays, it is a symbol of the Russian people and culture.

 

Dark (rye) bread

There’s no meal without bread in Russia. Since the old times, the foreigners who have visited Russia are invariably amazed at how much bread Russians can consume. Dark rye bread is one of the symbols of the country. It is richer in fiber than white (wheat) bread, often stronger in flavour and darker in colour. That’s why they call it dark, or black. It is baked without yeast, but with special ferments. Back in old times, the cultivation of rye was much more practiced than wheat due to the weather unstable conditions in the central part of Russia – short hot seasons, poor soil. In those circumstances rye grew richer in harvest. 70% of bread was black until the Soviet time. No wonder that wheat bread was meant for rich people, while ordinary Russians consumed black bread.

One interesting historic fact shows what could happen if the Russian lacks black bread. In 1736 during the Russian-Turkish war 54,000 Russian troops entered the enemy’s territory. Rye flour supplies got stuck somewhere on the way to it. So, bread had to be baked from local wheat flour. Consuming flat flavour white bread caused lots of sicknesses among the Russian army as they were so used to eat rye bread with its characteristic sour taste. In the XIX century the famous Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, wrote once about his friend who, upon his return from France, mentioned, “Living in Paris is bad, dear, nothing to eat, there’s no black bread”. Pushkin also noticed that Turks, the prisoners of war he had met, complained about meals just because of the dark Russian bread they were not used to eat.

There exist many sorts of black bread - Darnitsky, Rijsky, etc. There’s no much difference among them except for one sort – Borodinsky. It has quite special sweetish taste. The main difference is in addition of coriander. They can also add sugar, honey or syrup. Rye (black) bread made on ferments can definitely be considered a purely Russian product. It is very healthy as it contains lots of vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium and many other useful substances.

Balalaika

Galoshes (Rubber Overshoes)

“It’s not a good idea, gentlemen, not to wear galoshes in such a weather, - said Filipp Filippovich in an admonitive tone. – For one, you might catch cold, and for two, you’ve tracked my carpets up, my Persian carpets I should stress”. As one can see, this phrase taken from the famous Mikhail Bulgakov’s book “Heart of a Dog” conveys very well what importance the galoshes had in Russia with its changeable and moody weather.

Galoshes are not typically unique for Russia as they were also used in the US, Great Britain and other countries of Europe. However, it is in the tsarist Russia that galoshes turned into an integral part of felted boots, or valenki, hence becoming an indispensable footwear throughout severe Russian winters. Nowadays, galoshes are replaced by various types of rubber boots.

 

Footwraps (portyanki)

The army fit-out is, first of all, about utility and traditions. Footwraps called in Russian ‘portyanki’ combine both. Worn in the Russian Army since the time of Peter the Great, these rectangular pieces of cloth wrapped around the feet in a special way help to protect them from chafing and absorb sweat. Compared to socks, the footwraps are cheaper and simpler to make, quicker to dry and are more resistant to wear and tear: any holes can be compensated for by re-wrapping the cloth in a different position. In winter the Russian Army wear flannel footwraps while in summer their cotton type is used. As mentioned by a general, “Footwraps, they were, they are and they will be. Sure, the Russian Army tried socks, we are not living in a stone age. However, the footwear the troops use, i. e. tarpaulin boots, cannot be combined with synthetic. And if it’s not synthetic, thick socks need to be tailored on an individual basis, otherwise they will cause blisters or, at the very least, lots of discomfort when crumpled. Therefore, socks invariably fail here”. Besides, a young man’s skill to instantly make socks out of two nose wipes may attract young ladies' attention and deeply impress them. 

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