This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.
Matt "Sunman" Kagan
Photos by Vit "Gimperial" L.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Russia is a country that is sometimes a little hard to comprehend by someone who hasn't been there. In fact, if you ask 100 random people around the world such a basic question as "What Continent is Russia in?" you will get two different responses. And both would be right. Because of its enormity, Russia possesses such coveted titles as "Largest Country in the World by Area" and "Easiest Country to Pinpoint on a Map When Drunkenly Showing Off your Geography Skills to your Friends".
The only thing that's larger than its size is Russia's history. The majority of the time, Russia was ruled by a delightful set of monarchs, one crazier than the next. From Ivan the Terrible, who passed his time by throwing public impaling and hangings of his servants to a pleased crowd, to Peter the 3rd, who decided to "tone it down" and passed his time by throwing public impalings and hangings of his pet rats (I could not make this up).
Most of the people who ruled over this great land would make emperors like Nero or Caligula seem like just and brave rulers. Of course, when the salvation that was "Communism" came to this country, things didn't change a bit. In 1991, when we finally got the long-awaited shipment of democracy from the USA on our front porch, things did not change either. Our first democratically-elected president Boris Yeltsin liked to demonstrate the closeness to his people by getting drunk before every speech, and then not showing up due to falling asleep. Our current president isn't nearly as eccentric; however, he combines the creepiness of your neighborhood pedophile with the danger of an ex-KGB spy.
The city of St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 by its patron and leader, Peter the Great for very noble reasons, the biggest one being to "stick it to those fucking Finns". Ever since, the city tended to be impassable and indomitable, from thwarting the attempted blockade by the Nazis during World War II, to rejecting the potential booming tourist industry that could have flooded the city if not for the city's incredibly incapable leaders.St Petersburg is also the city with the most bridges - a property that is rather mundane, unless of course its combined with the fact that St. Petersburg is also a very large port city so the bridges sort of... get in the way. Because of this , the city's bridges get parted in the night, creating a popular sight, as well as a huge obstruction of those drunkedly staggering home late at night.
St. Petersburg also prides itself with being the "cultural capital of Russia", due to the large amount of museums, theaters, and cathedrals. This pride, however, doesn't stop it from also being the crime capital of Russia. Crime rates in St. Petersburg are so high that its residents have gotten used to the idea that being mugged in broad daylight is a distinct possibility and nothing to be surprised about. Homelessness is also a big issue in St. Petersburg, however this problem was solved when during St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary, all of the homeless people were literally escorted beyond the limits of the city in trucks and left there.
The Russian's perception of Americans hasn't changed much since the good ol' times when anyone who thought that Americans were nothing but a poor struggling country begging to be rescued by communism were deemed crazy. The new Russian opinion of America has a very "7th grader-trying-to-fit-in" mentality. Since amongst the majority of European countries it is "cool" to hate America for its disregard of the world around it, Russians tend to try and follow this mentality.
Russians see the average American as the usual "fat, McDonald's-loving, Bush-praising, Britney Spears-listening moron". This sincere and noble disgust that Russians have for the Americans, however, has never stopped them from having McDonalds and Pizza Hut on every street corner, streaming Britney Spears on the radio, and stocking the stores to the brim with American products.
Russians, unlike most people think, don't have the ability to withstand any low temperature surrounding them or high amount of alcohol poured into them. We don't have bears walking around our streets and we don't play chess to keep warm. But, for those of you who don't want their world shattered too much - yes we do like vodka. A lot.
Spasibo! From Russia we're off to Switzerland, where the Jews definitely don't control the banks and the people refuse to take sides on anything other than the Pope.
After years of being misunderstood, I had hoped we finally had "our" story. I was wrong.
He had a yellow inflatable tube around his waist, the kind with a comical duck head. There was a tiny fish in one of his hands, and a trident in the other. In the background a squirrel wearing shades was water skiing.
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