“Вы видели тараканов еще?”

I looked up, confused. I had shaken my landlord’s hand many times by this point, but this was the first time our greeting had been accompanied by these four words.

“Have you seen any cockroaches yet?”

I turned to my passing translator, then back to my landlord. In one single utterance he had completely and irreparably altered my perceptions of my accommodation. I’d rather he’d asked if I’d seen any ghosts.

That was three weeks or so ago, as we relocated the school to the new premises.  I told him that I had not, no, but I’d be sure to let him know if I did. That evening I returned home to investigate every nook and cranny of my flat for traces of wiggly wildlife.

I haven’t had the best of luck with infestations, you see. While other people seem to move from bug-free zone to bug-free zone, I — along with my poor, unlucky flatmates — seem to move without exception from one writhing ecosystem to another.

First there were student halls, a concrete (lack of) concentration camp on the outskirts of Aberdeen. While other university societies had mascots and icons, we at Hillhead Halls Of Residence had silverfish. Lots and lots of silverfish.

Leaving halls behind with four of my cohorts, my next flat — a sizeable five-bedroom affair just off of George Street — was cursed with carpet beetles. After months of blissful ignorance, we returned home after some holiday or other to find one of our number digging into the carpets with a fork. They were everywhere.

Next was a more expensive (and considerably smaller) flat nearer work and further from campus. I had moved in with a colleague and somewhat desperately hoped that the two dead woodlice found in a drawer in the bottom of the fridge was a one-off. Needless to say that this was not the case. Not when the sun inevitably set, anyway.

Hoping that we’d left the creepy crawlies behind, we relocated to Edinburgh in search of a fresh start. While our flat was indeed insect-free, we soon realised that there were worst things to share your kitchen with than a few tiny slaters. I came home one evening to find my flatmate in a panic; we had mice.

Therefore, I wasn’t exactly surprised to discover that this trend had followed me all the way to Russia. And for three weeks I went about my business all-but convinced that it had been some sort of false alarm. Alas, while boiling the kettle last night and clutching my empty hot-water-bottle to my chest, I noticed something small and slithery scuttle into hole in the wall.

With less than one week to go, however, I’ve decided to let the little critter be. After all, he’s quieter than the tiger, and if the world does end this coming Friday he can have the place all to himself.


8 thoughts on “Decemberbug

  1. I have an idea that I’m currently applying for the job you’re leaving – are you a language assistant at a school? I hope it’s not weird that I found your blog, I searched Syktyvkar on Twitter in an attempt to suss out what it’s like there, and clicked on a link for your blog.
    I’d be really interested in having a chat with you about your experience, as I am in two minds about it (mostly it sounds amazing, but have no idea what the city is like, and I have no teaching experience or Russian language experience).

    1. Hi Emily,

      It does sound like it might be the same position. It’s no problem at all, I did similar internet searches myself when I was first considering coming out. I had similar concerns about my own lack of teaching experience and non-existent language skills, but everyone’s been really great and it honestly hasn’t been a problem. I only have days left and I’m really going to miss it here. If there’s anything specific you want to ask, you can comment here, contact me through twitter or at popcornaddict(at)hotmail(dot)co(dot)uk.

      1. Fantastic. I’ve been reading through the archives of your blog and it sounds like you’ve had a great time – I really like your writing style! I’ve recently returned from a 3 month work placement in Slovakia and have been getting itchy feet and feeling very bored with the UK so when I saw the advert for the language assistant position I had to check it out, even though I’ve never worked in a school before. For some reason, though, Russia seems much more intense and scary than Slovakia!

        I have a Skype interview (of sorts) tomorrow morning, so depending on how that goes I might drop you an email with some more questions and wonderings, if you don’t mind me pestering you some more 🙂

      2. Not at all, fire away! Good luck tomorrow, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Slovakia?! Wow. How was it? Russia scared me a little too, but my preconceptions have changed completely since I got here. I know what you mean, I have the same relationship with the UK, but I’m still pretty excited about getting back to +temperatures and the English language. I have had a great time out here though. Also, thanks for reading (and complimenting) my blog. I hope there’s been the odd insight amid the waffle.

      3. Slovakia was great! I was doing writing and editing work for an NGO so I really enjoyed my placement, and I really enjoyed living in Bratislava. They had a lot of the same peculiarities as you’ve mentioned there are in Russia – specifically straws in lattes, and there being a tray next to the till where the change goes. Odd but I suppose quite endearing! Must be a Soviet thing 😉

        I was super excited about coming back to the UK before I returned, but now that I’m back and my job prospects are looking no less dire I can’t think of any good reason *not* to take this opportunity if it’s offered to me. I am actually hugely apprehensive about the minus temperatures – presumably I’m not likely to actually die of cold while I’m there? Because these are the thoughts flashing through my head!

      4. Don’t say that! I was hoping I might actually HAVE some job prospects when I got back. It’s definitely worth trying – it’s only three months, and you won’t be out of pocket at the end of it. It really is very cold though, particularly if you’re looking to come out early next year, but I’ve survived and I’m hopeless even in British winters. I’ve had to buy a new jacket and new boots since my arrival, and I’m still not exactly warm, but Syktyvkar’s small enough that it’s not too much of a problem. I passed a woman wearing tights today. I couldn’t quite believe it.

      5. Well with any luck you might, but I don’t seem to! 😦 Admittedly I haven’t looked very far and wide as I spent almost a year searching to no avail before I went to Slovakia and it was really quite soul destroying so the idea of starting The Job Hunt again properly has been quite uninviting.

        It’s reassuring to hear that you’re usually hopeless in cold weather – I am too. I suppose if I do go, I will have to invest in a decent coat and pair of boots before I leave and just wear all the things all at once. It would be a good excuse to wear one of those stereotypical furry hats as well! I think Russian women must be hard as nails, an acquaintance of mine lived in St Petersburg and said women would go out in short dresses and no coats in the middle of winter.

        You say I won’t be out of pocket – there is a living allowance involved, yes? Is it adequate? I know talking about money is vulgar so I understand if you don’t want to answer this question.

        Thanks so much for bearing with my ramblings and questions, hopefully I shall speak to you again soon. Enjoy your last few days!

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