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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crash Course: Good Health, Russian Style

The Russians have a saying: "What's good for a Russian is death to a German". This is supposed to show how tough the Russian people are, able to withstand things a more delicate nation cannot. But apparently the reverse is also true -- some habits and practices we take in stride cause severe trauma in our Russian friends.

Last week my car was sideswiped by a rather large truck. As I climbed out of the door on the passenger's side (the driver's side was bashed beyond usability) the driver of the other vehicle looked on indifferently. I surveyed the wreckage with shaking knees and aching muscles, and headed for a nearby stone wall to collapse. At this point the truck driver rushed to my side, put his arm around me and screamed: "Don't sit down! You'll catch cold! "

He continued, embarrassed and nearly tongue-tied, "You're a woman. You'll catch cold. You won't be able to have children". I remained standing, more in deference to his tender feelings than in fear for my unborn progeny, until the GAI traffic police came to investigate the accident.

I called one of my friends, Sasha, to tell him about my mishap. He was sympathetic, but he had troubles of his own: "Someone has given me a radio telephone", he said, "and I don't know what to do". "You mean it won't work? " I asked. "No, he replied impatiently. "It's very convenient, but it's not good for you. All those waves going in your ear. . ".

Who knows? Maybe my landlady is right when she tells me that you must eat 200 grams of butter every day for your skin. Another Russian I know, Zhenya, laughs indulgently when I try to explain about cholesterol -- he thinks it's a quaint Western superstition. "You're worried about this cholesterol thing", he scoffs, "and then you run every day". This had me stumped, so I asked for clarification. "Running is bad for your heart", he explained patiently.

I was recently told by our night watchman, Volodya, that birch sap, a favorite springtime beverage in Russia, prevents cancer. A tour guide, Vadim, complained that his growing bald spot was due to having not worn a hat when he was little.

Last Sunday I spent a delightful day in the country with my good friends Sonya and Yury, part of Russia's Western-looking intellectual elite. After a two-hour tramp through the woods, we went back to the dacha for a light meal. When I tried to serve ice cream for dessert, Sonya looked at me aghast. "But I have a cold! " she cried, "You can't eat cold things when you have a cold! You'll get a sore throat! "

I must confess, I did indulge when I got home -- a healthy portion of chocolate-chocolate chip. The next morning I awoke with a sore throat.