The art of a day at Banya

by RA Jr. on January 20, 2014

 Some days are cold and some days are hot… but the best days, involve a banya stop!

Recently we asked ourselves this very profound question: what shall we do today? It was a Wednesday that happened to have coincided with Christmas. Us being the non-Christmas observing type, we had to decide on what oh what to do. There was the obvious movie/ Chinese cuisine, but we’d already seen ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ ( love you, Leo!) and polar vortex was kicking in. So we pushed ourselves out to the only logical destination: the banya, holy grail of Russians. The only place we gleefully sit around half naked among a crowd of strangers and sweat together in unison until we feel like family. And so began our day of sweaty perfection:

  • Bathing suit – check.
  • Bikini hair in check, check — ummm… [10 minute bathroom break]
  • Ok now check.
  • Tapachki … don’t touch the floor. Ever.
  • Seriously, don’t ever touch the floor.
  • A hat.
  • No, that’s the wrong hat – a wool one.
  • Do I look like a smurf in this hat?
  • Money – no, cash.
  • Save a seat in the common area. It’ll be me + Masha + Alina + Marina + Alina M + Irina + Alina Y
  • Forgot to grab some towels.
  • Got 10 so I can save a full table.
  • Tea. Need tea.
  • Taranka + tea. Need taranka + tea.
  • Go sweat.
  • Sweat.
  • Sweat.
  • Sweat.
  • COLD WATER!
  • Never doing that again.
  • More tea.
  • Kartoshka sounds good right about now.
  • Beer time.
  • Kartoshka arrives. Kartoshka + beer.
  • Go back to sweat.
  • Sweat.
  • Sweat.
  • Ok it’s too hot.
  • COLD WATER!
  • Shit, why did I forget how cold the water is?
  • Back to table.
  • More food.
  • Taranka and beer… so good. Why would I ever eat anything again?
  • More sweat.
  • Does this place have a hot tub?
  • Why am I hungry again?
  • More sweat.
  • No, pool this time.
  • OMG how did 7 hours pass already?
  • Why am I so sleepy?
  • Sleepy, yet so happy.
  • Locker-room to change.
  • Wow so that’s what she looks like naked. Wish I hadn’t seen that.
  • Wait, is that girl thinking the same thing about me now?!?

And that’s our perfect banya day. Did we miss anything? Tell us in the comments… or else!

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Americans come to Brighton (“Little Odessa”) for primarily three reasons:

1)    To spend a day at the beach/Coney Island.

2)    To get a taste of “authentic” Russian cuisine.

3)    They are lost.

Few come here to shop (though granted, the produce is cheap). As a Brighton Beach local, I shop around here on a regular basis. Some of the things I’ve witnessed have been too hilarious to not share with the world. So world, here you go:

Brighton Shopping

Net Cost Market is the mecca of Eastern European produce. Russians come here from afar to buy their sunflower seeds and other miscellaneous Slavic goods:

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Net Cost Market (or colloquially, “the Baza”) offers you many conveniences. For instance — when shopping for kielbasa, have you ever been overcome with the insatiable urge to buy/sell precious metals? Of course; we all have! At the Baza, you can pawn your grandmother’s jewelry and do her grocery shopping, all in one place.

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But that’s not all — now you can shop for produce, jewelry, and affordable custom kitchens, all in one place! They are literally throwing in everything and the kitchen sink to get you to shop here:

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But wait — there’s more! Where else can you buy antiquated remedies and slutty pirate figurines, all under one roof?!?!?

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Finally, the Baza knows what you’ve secretly desired all these years. The opportunity to clean your teeth — IN RUSSIAN:

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Just a few blocks away from the Baza, you can shop at Best Buy (no, not that Best Buy), which boasts not only the best food and the best taste, but the best feeling, too.

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how is this not trademark infringement….?

Here on Brighton Beach, we have no shortage of pharmacies and Chase banks. If one doesn’t suit you, there’s bound to be another within sneezing distance — maybe even across the street.

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On Brighton, we have the finest quality designer clothes, imported from exotic places like China.

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And our prices are unbeatable! Where else can you buy expired apple juice or sunbaked yogurt for the low low price of $1?????

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was 2012 a good year for apple juice?

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sun-kissed to perfection.

Finally, here’s a little game I like to call “Count the Fruit Store Spelling Errors”:

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That’s all that we have for you today! Join us next time on Adventures in Russian Brooklyn, when we visit a Russian doctor/hypnotist’s office.

doc

opthalmology and hypnotherapy, all in one convenient location.

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Cultural differences are weird. They color our world with diversity, and in the absence of tolerance, can ravage it completely. But for the most part, they’re all but harmless — if a little funny.

…Okay, a lot funny. Extremely funny.

yes, this image is as old as the Internet.

Cultural differences and generation gaps are the source of much heated debate in my immigrant mishpucha. For example, my babushka — bless her heart — simply cannot fathom why I would not want to spend the rest of my days living on Brighton Beach.

Nu Semechka, how could you possibly want to leave?” she’ll gasp between sips of chai. “Na Braitonye, you have everything you need. Beach, family, inexpensive produkti…I just don’t understand.”

Of course you don’t, Baba. And just as she is baffled by my clearly misguided lifestyle choices, I’ve noticed that many foreigners — old and young alike — have trouble grasping certain conventions of American life.

Here are just three examples of cultural differences I’ve noticed between my Russian and American kin:

1.) Smiling at Strangers

As a New Yorker, I can see why this phenomenon might be a little off-putting. Suburban folks have this habit of smiling at you for no reason when passing you on the street, like you did something deserving of their glee. You’re minding your own business, when all of a sudden:

holy pancakes that’s creepy.

OK, Paula Deen may be a more extreme example of the fake smile phenomenon, but you get my point. Let me tell you something, suburban America — if you smile at me on the street, I am inclined to believe that you are either a) flirting or b) plotting to kill me.

Russian people don’t do the smiling-at-strangers thing. In fact, many of them are irked by this American habit, and figure that by displaying their true unfiltered emotions, they spare everyone the burden of questioning their sincerity. In other words, if a Russian person doesn’t like you, or their job, or the myriad other external factors contributing to their immediate disgruntledness, they won’t hesitate to show it. Whereas if an American doesn’t like you, they’ll at least pretend to for the sake of making your existence more tolerable. Some might note that this is the foundation of good customer service.*

*Note that the concept of “customer service” remains absent from Brighton Beach.

I can’t tell you how many times my soul has been crushed by the cold harpy stare of a Russian woman. Is she actually pissed, or simply afflicted with Bitchy Resting Face Syndrome (see YouTube link)? It’s hard to say.

2.) Casual Dress

I’ve heard Russians claim that Americans don’t know how to dress. This may very well be true. I don’t really know how to dress, but then again, I would be hard-pressed to give a crap.

Americans don’t usually opt for flashiness if given a choice. Russian girls are much more partial to the microdresses, the makeup, the designer labels, and of course:

the heels.

Have you ever tried wearing these? If you are not a stripper, there is no reason for you to be wearing foot-daggers. They do not make you sexier. They just make it look like you’d have a very difficult time getting anywhere quickly.

And then, the Juicy suits. Are these still in vogue? I don’t even know:

“Yes, I wear full makeup in my track suit. Problem?”

Notice the strategic placement of text. The carelessly sexy expression. The subtle buttstamp.

And then for the extra-ambitious…

I don’t even.

3.) Not Marrying in Your Twenties

I’m pretty sure by this point my Babushka has woefully accepted that I do not plan on getting hitched anytime soon.

My parents and aunts and uncles were all married before they reached the age I am now, which to me is nothing short of horrifying.

Wikipedia tells me that in 2011, the average age of first marriage in the US was 28.9 for men and 30 for women. In Russia in 2004, the average ages for men and women were 26.1 and 23.3, respectively.

I’ve heard many explanations of this. Either that Americans in their twenties are overgrown children, or that marriage takes a back seat to career, or that Russians are more traditional or whatever. I don’t know. I just know that getting married before 25 freaks me out, and that my Babushka should stop trying to play matchmaker to my older sister.

We’re not in Anatevka anymore.

 

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