Sun, 31 May 2020

15 unwritten rules of life in Russia's Far North

RBTH
17 Feb 2020, 18:55 GMT+10

When you are surrounded by endless night, you try and adapt any way you can. 1. Seeing no daylight in winter and no dark of night in summer

When you are little, you have a lot of questions. "Why am I being taken to the kindergarten at night and brought at home at night too?" "Why am I being told that the toy store is closed if it is broad daylight outside? Am I being lied to?" However, with age, you get used to it.

A polar night means that the night lasts almost 24 hours and the sun (a muddy yellow spot) appears in the sky for hardly more than half an hour and "shines" through what looks like a blueish veil. The polar night is darkest from December to January. You wake up, it is night outside; you go to work or to study, it is dusk; and finally when you are free in the evening, it is night again. It is, therefore, not surprising that you begin to feel that polar days - during two months in the summer, when nights are almost as bright as days - is the best thing in life.

2. Not sleeping in the summer

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You cannot sleep at night, not because it is light outside, but because you cannot waste the precious nights of the polar day on sleep. Cafes, too, switch to working round-the-clock in the summer, since they have customers to serve. To wander through an empty city flooded with sunlight at three in the morning - this is what you have been waiting for throughout the endless winter, and you will not give it up for anything.

3. Taking 2-3 years' worth of paid holiday at once

Flights are a pain. You are situated so far from anywhere that wherever you want to go, first you will need to fly to a big city and plan the rest of your journey from there. Which is expensive. Thus, going on vacation every year is a luxury that few can afford. That is why you accumulate your annual leave allowance, until you get 4-6 months' worth of it, and go on vacation once every... three years. Going to the beach for 10 days and back to the office is not an option here.

4. Feeling depressed

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Your mood is governed by cyclones and anticyclones, with their fluctuations in atmospheric pressure: one day, you are ready to move mountains, and the next, you feel drained of all energy. Add to this the endless darkness in winter and gloomy snowy landscapes, and you get perfect conditions for depression. In the north, sliding into depression is as easy as sliding down a sledding hill.

5. Eating raw fish

It is called stroganina. The ingredients are fish and salt. You take a large frozen fish, cut it into thin slices and eat it, dipping the slices in salt. Nice and easy! Until the fish starts melting. If you live in the north, you love it.

6. Spending all of your salary on food

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In the north, salaries are, on average, higher than in other parts of Russia - due to northern allowances for severe climatic conditions. Yet, this is little consolation once you start going to the stores. Prices with a 300-percent mark-up? Easy. Since very few foodstuffs are produced in the north, almost everything needs to be brought there from elsewhere. And delivering stuff to the north takes time and trouble and is not always possible. Incidentally, utilities, services, plane tickets - everything is more expensive in the north. Thus, a "generous" northern salary will start disappearing before your very eyes, and very soon you will have to start saving.

7. Coming here for a short while to earn a bit of money and staying for good

One in two inhabitants of the Russian Far North has a personal history that goes like this: "I came here for 3-4 years to make some easy money, and got stuck for 30 years. We're not planning on leaving anywhere." Many come here to work for a while, but end up staying for good. It turns out, the north is addictive, despite the obvious drawbacks. It is not entirely clear how all this cold, isolation, and darkness can become so close to people's hearts, but somehow they do. Many say that it is all about the people, who seem more open and kind here.

8. Growing something on your window sill

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As you walk along the street, you can see something green growing in almost every window. People here use every opportunity to make up for the "shortage of greenery", so they grow something wherever possible.

9. Constantly wanting to sleep

The lack of sunlight and a piercing cold make one want to hide under a blanket and go to sleep. During the eight-month-long winter, one constant, overwhelming feeling is the desire to sleep. If you do not take vitamins and eat fruits, you can fall into a somnambulistic (sleepwalking) trance.

10. Having to deal with slow Internet

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Technological progress has reached the Far North, but with certain limitations. Unlimited Internet is available only at night (if you are very lucky), and it is incredibly slow. So browsing social media is out of the question. Usually, it takes a couple of hours just to download a movie.

Losing Internet connection because cormorants birds pecked at the fiber optic cable or it was bitten by Arctic foxes is a common story here.

11. Taking summer photos on ice

In summer, it surprisingly can get quite hot, but permafrost does not go anywhere. You can find huge ice floes on river banks, which offer great photo opportunities. Everyone has a photo like this one, which was taken on June 5.

12. Warming up one's car

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At 40C below zero (-40F), the engine will not start unless you warm it up. Previously, motorists simply left it running all through the winter: they would start it in October and switch it off in May. These days, there are all sorts of various devices available, from auto blankets to block heaters.

13. Wearing several layers of clothes

Wearing ski pants on top of your jeans to get to work? Easy! A sweater on top of two others, mittens on top of gloves, jeans on top of thermal underwear. The more layers you have, the cozier your journey will be.

14. Hanging food out of the window

If what you have outdoors is a natural refrigerator, what do you need another one for? Many have a "freezer" niche under their window, where they store purchased meat and other items.

15. Sending your kids to the "mainland" for summer

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"Mainland" is the rest of the country that is not beyond the Arctic Circle. Usually, people have some relatives there, often grandparents, to whom they send their children over summer, away from the permafrost. This is a treat that kids usually really look forward to.

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