Tanks for the memory...

>> Thursday, 18 February 2010

You wouldn't think, would you, that filling up your car with petrol would ever be a challenge? (Unless of course you've read 'Wife in the North's book when it seems it is beyond her husband's capability on multiple occasions). But yesterday, as I sat in our car looking disbelievingly at the dashboard which read 'Miles to empty tank; ---' it certainly seemed to be.

Now don't get me wrong; petrol stations in Moscow abound, and with prices of around 50p a litre neither availability nor cost are a problem. It was more that a) I had to drive approx 2.5km on vapour through heavy traffic and b) that I had no knowledge of how 'the system' would work when I got there. What 'system'? There's a system for everything here in Russia, and it doesn't always work in the way you might expect...

However, nervous as I might be, the fact remained that we needed petrol, so after a fortifying hot chocolate in the school cafeteria (never let it be said that I get my priorities wrong) Boy #2 and I set out on our mission to 'tank.' (Spot the Expat American English creeping in to my vocabulary...)

We were parked at the bottom of small hill. My trepidation at this point was such that I was sure we were going to run out half way up it, so I called Husband to alert him that I may be requiring his phone-based translation services in the next half hour or so. Safe in his office, he was sympathetic but amused at our situation - nice.

I started the car, desparate that something might have changed on the readout, but no, it still showed those intimidating dashes, although the engine turned over, thank god. We nosed slowly out of our parking spot onto the road and crept up the hill. Muttering curses under my breath about every obstacle in our path, we reached the highway. Boy #2 sat in the back seat, exhibiting an air of quiet expectation every time we slowed down.

"Are we going to stop, Mama? Will the police come?"

Damn. The highway was practically at a standstill - but it was the only way to get to petrol station. And Boy #2's concern was not unfounded.

Russian highways can be - how can I put this? - a little dog eat dog. Back in the mid-90's when Husband first lived here, I used to scoff at his tales of how a 3-lane motorway would become a five-lane car park in the rush hour as drivers simply created their own way of dealing with slow-moving traffic, driving mirror-to-mirror through the heaving throng. It couldn't be true, could it?

Of course, now I know differently. I would like to think that the problem might partly be a result of the fact that the road markings disappear under the muck and dirt caused by the snow and the chemicals used in the winter, but I suspect that this is a standard hazard of driving in Russia.
As are; the unlicensed and uninsured drivers (driving tests are seen as optional over here, and I'm told many people simply bribe examiners to get their certificates); the high level of traffic accidents (official statistics - not necessarily trusted by many Russians - listed the number of fatalities on the road as 30,000 in 2009. That's THIRTY THOUSAND DEATHS, in case you missed a nought or two); and the traffic police who are regarded by many with fear and suspicion. Add to that the fact that if you do have an accident you are required to leave your car exactly where it was at point of impact - even if that is slewed across the road with little more than a scratch - until the police arrive to investigate (which may be 2 - 4 hours), you can understand why the thought of running out of petrol in the middle of the motorway was not something I was totally enamoured of.

However. It had to be done; we had to get some petrol. So I entered the fray and set off on the remaining kilometre or so to the petrol station. In the back seat, Boy #2 sat wide-eyed and wondering where the nice lady on the sat-nav's voice had got to. I didn't like to admit that I had switched the sat-nav off in the ridiculous notion that somehow by doing so I was decreasing our petrol consumption (I know. That's crazy. But it was that or pull out a rosary at this stage; superstition strikes in the oddest situation).

So, crawling on, sweating cobs, and praying to the saint of new expats (there must be one, surely?), we inched towards the petrol station.

Thank god. We made it.

Oh, and the petrol station 'system'? Not so hard to handle. Well; not if you're able to sketch out numbers in the air, have no fear of looking like a complete and ignorant idiot, and the kiosk has the total cost for differing quantities of petrol displayed on the window for just such eventualities, anyway...


Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy 18 February 2010 at 09:21  

Oh, that wait for the police if you car has so much of a scratch on it, sod the gridlock behind you thing. INFURIATING! And then they have to take photos of every little spot, with little flags and numbers on them. Takes HOURS.

You'll be driving like a Russian before you know it. I'm a bit concerned about re-entry in the UK driving etiquette, people don't like being tooted at the lights do they?

dulwich divorcee 18 February 2010 at 11:23  

Ouf, I don't envy you. I have enough trouble here now I have a diesel car. I start chanting 'diesel, diesel, diesel' to myself before I even drive in as I live in fear of doing the petrol jam-up thing ...

Pig in the Kitchen 18 February 2010 at 13:50  

sounds v. stressful pottym, I hate the thought of running out of diesel. and re: brit in bosnia talking about having a prang (i think), I also live in fear of that, all that bloody paperwork and long convoluted conversations with insurers, etc. another lesson learned. and by the way, i'm thinking, how hard can this expat thing be when you have a cafe in your school????

nappy valley girl 18 February 2010 at 14:05  

Sounds terrifying. There are so many very stressful things about being an expat and I applaud you for doing it on your own the first time.

I actually love the petrol station experience in the US because they always fill it up for you and you don't even have to step out of the car......very lazy I know but ever since I squirted diesel over my new boots in London I have had a bit of a phobia about doing it!

Potty Mummy 18 February 2010 at 17:48  

Brit, you sound like you have experience of this accident situation?

DD, I just know I would be exactly the same - on the rare occassions I've driven a diesel it's often been a close call.

Pig, you got straight to the crux of the matter as ever; I'm currently living the Expat-Lite lifestyle. And thank god for it!

NVG, well who wouldn't have a phobia having ruined a pair of new boots?

Muddling Along Mummy 18 February 2010 at 20:07  

It sounds like driving in Dubai - I remember them introducing the rule that you had to drive the right way down one way streets ...

So impressed with how you're coping

Anonymous,  18 February 2010 at 21:23  

Oh holy crap I have no idea how you are managing such a culture change. Getting petrol must be the least of the challenges you're facing!

Sparx 19 February 2010 at 00:03  

God, woman, you are SO brave...

Anonymous,  19 February 2010 at 00:52  

I take my hat off....will never take Tesco for granted again, I presume you will now keep more than a 'weather' eye on that petrol guage ;0) Chris

http://reluctantmemsahib.wordpress.com 19 February 2010 at 08:33  

saint of new expats? there must be one, surely? how's your russian btw? and does sat nav lady speak russian or english. the one in my car speaks japanese. in african outpost. which is not, as you can imagine, remotely useful. x

Potty Mummy 19 February 2010 at 17:09  

MaM - you're kidding, right? Well, actually, probably not...

MoreThan, well, there are good days and bad - but today was OK. Which is great, actually!

Sparx - and this from the woman who's son shouts 'I want Snatch!' on a crowded street?

Chris, you read my mind!

RM, my Russian is practically non-existent but improving, and whilst the sat-nav lady speaks English, all the maps etc shown on there are in cyrillic. Which is doing wonders for my understanding, obviously...

Iota 20 February 2010 at 00:27  

A saint of new expats. I like that. Saint Christopher does journeys, I think. He could hand over on the tarmac to... Saint Anthony? He's patron saint of lost things. That sounds about right.

(Actually, not being Catholic, I am really really badly educated about saints. Those two are pretty much the only two I know. I do mutter sometimes to St Anthony when I've lost something, and it's remarkable how often he helps me out. He can't be very busy.)

Potty Mummy 20 February 2010 at 06:28  

OK Iota, now you've set me a challenge; I will investigate saints and see who's best suited to the job, then update you!

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