The Culture of Relaxation
posted by Nina Jankowicz
posted on 09.26.2012
As my time in Russia is coming to a close, I find myself comparing life here with my life in the US. I can’t find palatable pizza or coffee here, but I can enjoy tvorog every morning for breakfast. The summer weather in Saint Petersburg has been dreary and rainy, but I’m not sure if I would prefer the humidity and heat that Washington D.C. has been experiencing lately. While these comparisons often end with a diplomatic tie, there is one area where I believe Russia has a firm upper hand: relaxation.Return to List
There is an entire culture associated with relaxation in Russia; during the summer months, most Russians head to the dacha where they can escape the demands and hubbub of the city and tend to their vegetable gardens, gather berries in the forest, and enjoy nature. The fact that many Russians have a specific place at which to relax speaks wonders of their relaxation culture; only the richest Americans can boast of summer homes (where they likely spend many hours on their mobile devices, distracted by the office demands that follow them wherever they go).
But the culture of relaxation does not stop at the dacha, and in fact, infiltrates many parts of everyday life. My host mother will often yell to me while I am knee deep in homework, “Time to stop working! Let’s go to the park!” I am obligated to put down my pencil wherever I am on my homework assignment and throw on my park clothes. To which park we’re going isn’t yet clear, since our apartment is a short distance from two of the city’s largest parks, where you can walk on trails that weave through forests and across rivers, feed revered Russian squirrels, rent a rowboat, or simply sit on a bench (usually with some ice cream) and enjoy the fresh air. While we have our fair share of parks in America, I would say that Russians value and take advantage of their parks to a much greater extent than Americans. To Russians, the park is not only the slightly more pleasant part of their walk to the office, it is a destination.
Yesterday, on another semi-compulsory visit to the park with my host mother, we came upon a clearing where about 150 pensioners dressed in their Sunday best were gathered in groups of 20-30, playing and singing typical Russian folk songs and dancing. My host mother explained that every Sunday at this time, many pensioners from the neighborhood gathered here to sustain traditions, to meet new friends and romantic interests, and simply to relax. Though many of those gathered were likely well over 70, they moved and laughed like much younger people, and their eyes still sparkled.
The Russian culture of relaxation, which is more an active search for the elusive state than simply enjoying life when our schedule allows, is certainly something from which Americans, always on the go and always planning every minute of the day, could truly benefit.