Aftereffects of the toughest job you will ever…

I am an Oregonian, specifically a Portlander.  If you have ever seen the show Portlandia, you know it means something sort of odd.  I jaywalk unabashedly, I wear sandals as long as I can, I recycle and feel guilty if I don’t.  And when it gets cold most Portlanders are mostly oblivious.  Some have nice coats, like the professionals, or the outdoorsies, but most get by most of the year in a windbreaker and sandals.


Hippy Portland.  Why am I wired to like it?

Because here, for whatever reason, we can kind of get away with shorts and sandals and a jacket even when its cold.  Sometimes someone puts on a sweater, or wears pants.  My husband for instance, who wears his sandals even to walk in subzero temps, mostly because his sandals are comfortable.  He never wears a sweater.  Or a turtleneck, or a hat or a scarf or anything like that…

But if LEFT AMERICA, and if you went to a cold place, where the cold is pretty much a part of the culture, like, say, RUSSIA,  something strange happens.  If you don’t wear a hat, you are likely to die in the fetal position in a pile of snow waiting for your bus to come as it grows dark.  Next to an old woman properly bundled and selling garlic, scolding you.  All because you could not tell if it was a 2 layer day or a 5 layer day.  And because you didn’t eat your kasha.


And for 2 years, one of the more important choices you made daily was to ascertain by sunlight or cloud cover, hoarfrost or snow or rain just how much clothes was necessary without the aid of a weather report or a thermometer (no, Peace Corps volunteers didn’t carry cell phones even 10 years ago)

babushkaThis is how Babushki dress when it is warm, so perhaps you can imagine cold weather.

So when you return to Oregon, and it gets cold, like say, it is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (because these numbers make a lot of difference), a little bit of Russia somehow nostalgically also comes with the cold weather.

You might not wear a shapka, but you darn well better have a decent coat that looks respectable on the street.  And if you haven’t got a decent sharf to wrap round yourself, well that is just irresponsible.

And you must look put together.  Even if you aren’t wearing deodorant, because really, they don’t in Russia either, so that is sort of just normal.

So you can be fragrant, but you must look sharp.  And for God’s sake, you must have a decent hat.

But, reality check, we aren’t in Russia, we are here in here in Oregon–the Willamette Valley no less.   Hats aren’t really necessities, they are more like fashion statements.  It never gets to 10 below, (all the cold temps are measured in CELCIUS, of course if you lived in Russia and have PTSD related to very cold temperatures for long stretches of time).  Even if it did get that cold, in Oregon, people seldom walk anywhere near as much as Russians, any outdoor activity would be purely recreational.  So the hat you can skip, in Oregon anyway, which is a relief, especially if you have enormous hair.  Ahem.


This is what Portland people think is cold weather, notice, no snow, her jacket is unbuttoned and gloves? hat?  Hello?  This is not cold.  She will die at the bus stop in this.

And here is the Russian Babushka part.  If you see a person who is dressed inappropriately for the weather, that is a basis on which to judge them to be foolish.  But here in Oregon, people just don’t get it, they don’t CARE.  So, by the measuring stick of a Russian Babushka, every Oregonian is a fool.

It is hard to adapt to, seeing so many people improperly dressed for cold weather, the former Peace Corps volunteer might just be inclined tsk tsk the lack of proper pants, shoes or warm weather attire.

However, it is not at all beneficial, useful or otherwise productive to wage a war of disgust at improper weather preparation against your fellow humans.  Nor is it going to add a minute to one’s life to imagine superiority because one’s fellow Oregonians don’t know what it is like to live for months in the enduring cold where the weather never gets much above -15 Celsius.  And, they don’t care.  Insert Miss Piggie sound here.

And as an Oregonian, you have only learned because you were foolish enough to volunteer to be sent to Russia and because you believed sincerely in your heart you might just die in the dark next to the old lady selling garlic at the bus stop on account of not wearing a decent scarf.

Somehow, the volunteer must slowly learn to let go of a sense of superior knowledge because they know what it is like to have their nose filled with ice and shake uncontrollably (forgot to eat the kasha).

Oregon’s mild climes simply don’t create the opportunity to stand in mock superiority at the obscure knowledge of how to dress properly in the cold.  Hmph.  Proper cold weather dressing might have saved one’s life on the steppe, but it will not get one a job, and it will only make ones children embittered by being forced to wear a snowsuit when it is only 50 degrees out.

“mom, why can’t I wear my flip flops like the other kids?”

Because they are fools!  Fools!  I bet they haven’t even eaten their cream of wheat!

Well, proper cold weather dressing and a knowledge of golden age Spanish literature I suppose are 2 things I might never get paid for, but might look for every opportunity to cash in on.  Wish me luck!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Zhenya says:

    Ha, ha! So true! I have been trying to debunk some of the myths to my fellow countrymen related to colds too— I don’t think I will ever succeed! The big one of course is that drifts cause colds and back, neck, shoulder, etc. pain and that a child gets a cold by playing outside (all bundeled up of course) in colder than usual weather!

  2. Heather says:

    One of my favorite stories from a fellow volunteer was how her host mom started wrapping a giant sharf around her bum because she believed a wind from behind had made her sick. :o)

  3. Joe P says:

    Oh this all sounds so familiar Heather :). My Russian babushka is here with us right now, and we have the constant battle between her, Katya and Gary our 16 year old. We’re in VA, not that cold, and babushka wants Gary to dress like it’s 20 below outside. No one here dresses like that of course. He doesn’t even wear a coat most times because he’s just going from the car to the school 🙂

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