I had imagined that Krasnoyarsk would be really cold but my mind had conveniently blocked any thoughts about the severe reality – that we would easily hit -40°C or below at some point. And if even your colleagues and people in the shops warn you of going outside on Day X, you know that the snow is going to hit the fan. So here’s what actual Siberians recommended to a naïve foreigner like me:
As one person said to me: “Become a fashionista – put on your whole wardrobe!” Whereas I would call it the onion style, here people seem to refer more often to the ‘cabbage style’ when talking about putting on layers, layers and more layers. People also explicitly mentioned thermal underwear as well as woolen socks and mittens. If you wanna make sure you get the highest quality, it was recommended to buy hand-made socks and mittens from the babushkas on the streets or even to “find a babushka who will weave all warm clothes” for you. (Shout out to all gamers – somebody suggested covering your face with a scarf like Subzero!) Now let’s move from outdoors to indoors…
- Stay at home. Just like with clothing, there was quite some agreement over the necessity to simply stay at home. This is of course very reasonable. Homes here are very well-heated as energy is cheap. If you rent a place, then you’re never expected to pay for heating. In some older buildings like mine, you cannot even turn off the heater but you have to open the window instead, in case it gets too warm. Even so, one person I asked urged foreigners to “put on ALL warm and non-warm clothes and continue sitting at home!”
- To drink or not to drink…? In general, drinking alcohol during the freezing cold was strongly discouraged by my interviewees. Especially when you’re outside, you could end up losing your awareness of the cold, with all bad consequences which might follow… If anything, it was suggested to have some mulled wine or 50ml of cognac (not more!) to warm up a bit. But most people I asked firmly believe in the warming powers of tea, for instance spiced up with some good ol’ ginger!
- Love. The cutest advice. Hug each other. Give out “Eskimo kisses – the best way to express your feelings in the cold.” Of course, doing that to strangers here in Russia might not have the desired effect (although we would need to conduct an experiment to find out). Hence you might wanna feel the “warming love for your homeland” instead, as one person said.
- The power of wood. I don’t know how many people in Krasnoyarsk have actual fire places in their home but one person recommended to sit down at a fire place. Or you can get the full Siberian experience: Chop some wood to heat up your body and then go on to heat up the banya! (Ideally, there’s some frozen like nearby. But a decent amount of snow should also do.)
- Eat. One person pointed out that you will have to eat more and heavier in Siberia just to keep your body operating at a normal level. (See here for the experience of an exchange student.) While meat would be the food of choice, vegetarians can also resort to sweets or cream cheese. Seriously, you cannot escape cream cheese.
To me the funniest suggestion but it does have some merit: “Don’t come to Siberia during frost!” “Fly to warmer regions to survive this freezing cold.” “Don’t come here in winter.” There’s definitely some fair share of life experience expressed in this advice. But I, for one, have to admit that I quite enjoy my first ever winter in Siberia, and I can only urge you to come over next year and experience it yourself!