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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sitting on the Suitcase: Balm Before Departure

Divorce. Death. Moving. The three most stressful things that can happen to you in your lifetime, or so it's been said. Or so it's been said in my personal motherland, the United States, where things like air-conditioned moving vans and Las Vegas one-minute marital dissolutions have been created to make busy lives just that tiny bit easier.


Try any of these things in Russia and the concept of stress enters a new dimension.


Lots of foreigners in Moscow have been taking on the moving challenge lately, packing up two or three years of possessions into cardboard boxes and hoping that they and their things will someday be reunited on native shores. That final moment, when everything has been taped shut and the only thing that stands between you and the first day of the rest of your life is a Russian customs officer, is surely as stressful as it gets.


If you had the presence of mind to presest' pered dorogoi before you set out for the airport, though, you can just relax. Everything will be fine. Of the countless national traditions to be encountered in this great land, the one that dictates that all journeys of any consequence must be preceded by a moment of silent, seated reflection is perhaps the greatest.


Sitting down pre-departure is not only a wonderful chance to consider whether there's anything of import you've left behind. It's also a rare opportunity for you to be the master of your own fate. Leave your apartment in a serene frame of mind, the rationale goes, and your trip will pass calmly as well. Leave arguing with your father about who's going to pay the phone bill while you're gone, and your journey is bound to be fraught with hardship. It's hard to believe that a single minute of seatedness is going to spare you hours of travel-related disasters, but at a time of utter defenselessness, blind superstition is often the only way to go.


According to the "Dictionary of Russian Gesture" by Brown University professor Barbara Monahan, a brilliant illustrated guide to the best and worst of Russian body language, the traveler is best off sitting down directly on his or her suitcase, provided the suitcase can take it. Non-traveling friends can sit on the suitcase as well, if there is room.


Should you become so relaxed during your time on the suitcase that it isn't until you're out standing by the elevator that you realize you've left something behind, don't panic. It's terribly bad luck to return to your apartment once you've left it, goodness knows, but there is an antidote. After retrieving the forgotten item, stop and look at yourself in the mirror. Seeing your reflection breaks the spell of forgetfulness, and your composure is maintained.