in which chivalry is alive and well in russia, and katie fails at technology

Day 1 in Ukhta was completed successfully on Saturday, September 19, 2015. And by “successfully,” I mean “with chocolate and a chick flick, and without any broken bones or lost passports.”

Saturday began with a knock on my door from the komandant of the dorm, who proceeded to interrogate me in 50mph Russian. Luckily for her, I’m good at faking like I understand what’s going on. I did understand that she wanted me and Vickie to come to her office later in the morning to sign some papers. We did that. During this interview, she talked to us in more 50mph Russian, for about an hour. That means we made it 50 miles, which is probably further than you’d be able to go if you laid all the streets in Ukhta end to end.

Both Vickie and I were by this point ready to have contact with the outside world (48 hours in a foreign country is a long time for a millennial to have no internet access), so our main concern for the day was to set up internet and phone service. These are things I struggle to do in America. But I figured the worst thing that could happen is we would have to wait till Monday, when our university contact (Anton) got back in town, and as a result I marched forth with (foolish) confidence.

This confidence was boosted by a trip to the “Everything for 47 rubles” store in the morning, where I made off with a trash can, a month’s worth of trash bags and paper towels, purple clothes hangers, oven mitts, dish soap, hypoallergenic laundry detergent, towels, and yogurt for the equivalent of $11. A yummy lunch of chicken noodle soup (and free wifi, hey) also helped the whole “I can function” delusion.

Then we went to Svyaznoy, a technology store with no clear American equivalent. Basically, you can buy all the technology you want, but no service for anything. But we didn’t really know that. So we showed up, like, “Zdes’ mozhno kupit’ internet?” (“Can we buy internet here?”), and the salesman just looked at us quizzically and goes, “English?” and we were like, “Okay.” That salesman turned us over to Evgenii (Zhenya), a less-experienced and less-English-proficient but more-enthusiastic employee. Fast forward through a few confused bilingual exchanges and some “I’m a helpless foreign girl trying to do technology” glances through the eyelashes, and Zhenya is on the phone with an internet service provider. Next thing we know, he’s using his smoke break to walk us over to the provider, where he negotiates for us in that uniquely mumbly and unintelligible language I call “Man Russian.” A few minutes later, I’m signing a contract for $11/mo internet to split with Vickie, and a few minutes after that, Zhenya is walking us over to the place where we can pay for it. When we returned to Svyaznoy, Zhenya helped us choose a router, rang us up, and sold Vickie and me each a SIM card for our phones. (All the while flirting with us enough that his manager was giving him a hard time for it, which was amusing.)

My first comment on leaving the store was, “Can you imagine trying to do this… as a man?” That’s kind of my feeling about most of the last few days. Guys have literally taken suitcases out of our hands to carry them for us, and now one basically set up our internet for us, and I have to wonder if we would have received the same level of attention had we ourselves had a Y chromosome.

After all that, we went back to the dorm, strangely exhilarated to be SO FUNCTIONAL, or at least so capable of recruiting help. And then we tried to set up the router.

(insert tragic sound effect of your choice here)

Long story short, we aren’t as functional as we thought, and the only recourse with the router is to call the hotline, which we can’t do till Monday, and when we do will be in Russian. Probably Man Russian. But we’ll be fine.

Of course, in order to make a phone call, you have to have a working phone. But I think Vickie and I both missed something essential with the whole SIM card deal, because it’s only kind of working in my phone and not at all in hers. So we will probably ditch them in favor of those from a different provider, recommended by the guy who picked us up from the airport last night and checked in on us later this evening.

But now to the good part of the evening: we successfully reheated the pirogi we bought at lunch in the used-to-be-a-frying-pan-but-is-now-a-circular-baking-pan I found in my apartment. We did not set the dorm on fire. We even did the Celsius-Fahrenheit conversion correctly! And then we ate that, and ate chocolate, and watched Runaway Bride.

And then I cut my hair.

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