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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Advice Delivered Freely In Land of the 'Soviets'

Personally, I reckon it's quite safe enough -- at plus 19 Celsius, according to my balcony thermometer -- to peel off a few layers of Soviet wool, pack away the snowsuits and get a bit of breeze through the children's hair.


Not all Russians agree, however. "His ears are completely unprotected," screeched one babushka this week who clearly hadn't yet received official instructions to take off her own headdress.


Since first producing children nearly two years ago, I have suffered a grand selection of passersby, dezhurniye, relatives, motorbike couriers, street cleaners, dozing drivers as well as welcome and unwelcome guests recommending how, exactly, I might better care for my offspring.


Stretchsuits give babies blisters. You should hold their nose while they're feeding to keep them from falling asleep. Western products are bad for nursing mothers. Sugar is good for babies' brain development. Or, that children should be asleep, awake, feeding, not feeding, put down or picked up.


The worst occasion was when a woman peered down my shirt and told me that I couldn't possibly be producing enough milk -- forget the fact that she was looking at what has to be the biggest baby since growth charts began -- "with those breasts."


So the other day, I finally flipped and rounded on the old women who sell vegetables outside our flat and feel it part of their job description to point out that my baby is not sufficiently swaddled. I delivered, with the best Russian I could muster, a defense which might politely be translated along the lines of, "Whose child is it anyway?"


Sasha didn't help at all by humorously pointing out that such behavior was proof I have finally actually turned into a Russian myself: The nice English girl he once met wouldn't have dreamed of such street-level caterwauling.


But why is it Russians feel free to march into your flat, announce it is "far too cold" and promptly close all the windows themselves?


Whereas in England we'd just sit and huddle a little, pull our cardigans a bit tighter, and only possibly -- in case of extreme hypothermia and where the host was a good friend -- venture so far as to enquire, "May I just close this one window for a couple of seconds as I think I might have a cold coming on?"


For us, this borders on the downright rude. If we saw a child starving to death, we might just pluck up courage to suggest a teaspoonful of milk. But none of this: "I've never met you before but I'd just like to tell you exactly what you should be doing."


"It's not for nothing," explains Sasha, "that we're known as the land of soviets." "Soviet" of course, can also be translated as "advice."