International Women’s Day is coming up on Sunday, March 8th, so I thought I would use the occasion (a few days early) as an opportunity for Throwback Thursday. Back to the early 90s, to be specific. At that time, I was living in St. Petersburg, Russia, and, while there, I celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time. This holiday is a big deal in Russia. Among other traditions, it’s very common for men to give women gifts in honor of the day.
I was in St. Petersburg from June 1993 – April 1994, teaching English and leading an after-school club on American culture. Before I arrived, I was told that I would be assigned to the youngest children in the school. Upon my arrival, these were the students who greeted me in my classroom! I can still remember my student, Dima, on the first day of school, asking me if I will be teaching the class “American English” or “British English,” because he would definitely prefer “British English”!
The three things that made the greatest impression upon me when I was in St. Petersburg were:
The beauty of St. Petersburg
The city was founded by Peter the Great in the early 18th century and meant to rival the great cities of Western Europe. Much of Peter’s Baroque architecture in the center of the city is still intact and stretches along the Neva River and multiple canals. A few of my favorite buildings were the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, the Winter Palace, and Peterhof Palace. I wasn’t a shopper, but even their department store, Gostiny Dvor, was beautiful, despite needing a little facelift. Notice, too, the old Soviet Ladas.
The resilience and spirit of Russians
Many of the people I met had endured quite a lot of hardship over the years, particularly in the transition to a market economy at the beginning of the 90s. Instead of having a fatalistic attitude, they made the best with what they had and forged on.
The absolute warmth and hospitality of friends and strangers
Building upon impression #2, many of the people I met had very little to give and yet they were incredibly generous with what they had.
One of my favorite pictures of my whole time in Russia is of this babushka, who came up to me at a station platform, offering to braid my hair (which was the longest that my hair has ever been!) while we waited for the train to arrive.
Happy International Women’s Day to all of the babushki out there and to you too!