After spending nearly two years in Belarus, I’ve started to notice slight changes in my habits and behaviours. I’ve recalled just a few of numerous ways how Belarus has altered me and this is my candid story of gradually turning into a Belarusian.
Living in another country impacts you in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the language. Mors (морс), dacha (дача), gopnik (гопник), morozhenoe (мороженое), devushka (девушка). All of them found their way into my English/Swedish vocabulary.
Turns out they are more suitable or better describing than their analogues in Swedish or English. Over time, I have noticed even more complex linguistic acclimatization.
When talking to a local I find myself unconsciously replacing the H’s with the G’s, and pronouncing names in entirely new ways. I hate Gitler instead of Hitler, turn Bahamas into Bagamas, drink alcogol instead of alcohol, and plan to visit Gamburg and Gawaii.
Будь здоров! Bless you!
It’s not common in Sweden to hear somebody say ‘bud zdorov’ or ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes, it happens, but it is on completely different level in Belarus.
In accordance with Belarusian custom that prescribes a mandatory ‘будь здоров’ to anyone sneezing – and I NEVER miss the opportunity to say so now. The phrase seems to be more than just a polite phrase people say, it creates a part of something bigger, a kind of way to knit people together in a larger social fabric.
Swedes are not the most expressive people, we rather keep things brief and short, whether it be small talks or arguments. And birthday wishes is no exception, we keep them extremely short.
I grew up using a default Swedish birthday phrase “happy birthday – have a good day”. I soon realized that this is nowhere near how you congratulate someone in Belarus.
My standardized birthday wish was not applicable here, it seemed very rude and unpersonal. Belarusians idea of a birthday wish is something more of a short poem.
It should contain glimpses of humor, wishes for health, happiness and luck – all the things I tried to squeeze in a simple six words sentence.
Dollar on my mind
In the beginning, when I was walking past a long line next to a currency exchange office or a bank, and I could never understand what the commotion was all about.
And here we are, almost two years later, I find myself standing in the exact same line, watching how tourists confusingly pass us by.
And I can see in their eyes what they are thinking. They have no idea, there is no way they could know, that on this particular day the dollar exchange rate is very good.
Food for thought
Hard to say how many times I found myself sitting at the dinner table in Belarus, staring at the table setting, trying to figure out how on earth I will eat this chicken without a knife.
I admit it wasn’t easy in the beginning; it was a struggle to master the Belarusian way of eating without a knife but I had no choice and I did it in the end.
Besides a knife part, I got introduced to a whole new world of culinary, with a vast number of new tastes and products. Buckwheat, salty cucumbers, salo, kefir, kvass.
I now consider them all a staple food, but none of them can compete with the crown jewel of the Belarusian food culture – smetana (a sour cream in English or gräddfil in Swedish).
Explore the topic:
Simon is not the only one who adores one of the most popular dairy products in Belarus. “In the States, I hate sour cream. Here, I would bathe in it and then still eat it,” writes Jocelyn Pihlaja.
And even the former ambassador of the United Kingdom admitted her soft spot for a local sour cream. “I have a great love of smetana which has required large amounts of sport to compensate.”
More and more foreign visitors are coming to work, live and have family in Belarus. Watch an Italian, American, Indian, Iranian and Guinean explaining why they decided to move to Belarus.
Chiara Sammarco who moved to Minsk to work as a developer; Boris Boignard, a French who bought a country house in a small village to treats locals with delicacies or an American who set up a hospitality business.
Text by Simon Öhman