If anyone knows how to survive a cold, harsh winter, it’s the Russians. They somehow manage to stay cozy and alive even when the temperature dips below the freezing point, but sometimes they do it in unconventional ways. It's still uncertain exactly how or why some of their methods work, yet they continue to be passed down from generation to generation.
Even though I was born in Russia and lived there for a big chunk of my childhood, I have spent more than half of my life in the U.S. and have grown used to relieving minor issues with OTC treatments and serious ones with a hospital visit.
However, a phone conversation with my family never fails to give me a quick flashback to the frantic attempts to fend off a cold that I experienced as a child. A meek cough was interpreted as a battle cry, which immediately transformed the warm, gentle people that I knew into robust germ-fighting Spartans armed with a set of “foolproof” solutions.
If you tell a Russian (especially a grandmother, or “babushka”) that you have a cold, here are the responses you might get:
- “Did you wear a hat when you went outside?...No?....That’s why. Wear a hat.”
- “Did you go outside after showering? Your hair was damp. That’s why.”
- “Did you stand outside in the rain? That’s why.”
- “What shoes are you wearing? They’re probably not warm enough.”
- “Are you walking on tile without slippers?!”
- “Do you have a fever? Come here, I want to touch your forehead”
After about 20 minutes, the most logical question will finally surface...
- “Everyone’s been getting sick. You probably caught this from someone.”
...and it’s shortly followed by…
- “Wear a hat.”
After another 10 minutes of discussing whether or not clothing is to blame for the cause, you might get some common treatment suggestions…
- Drink a lot, especially tea with lemon and honey
- Eat soup
- Eat light, bland food
…along with some not-so-common remedies…
- If you have a sore throat, gargle with salty water twice a day
- Steam your face for about 15 minutes over a pot of boiled potatoes
- Mash some of the hot potatoes, cover them in plastic wrap, and put them on your chest
- Alternative: if you don’t need to get rid of any potatoes, use a regular heating pad
- Apply something hot to your nose, like a tea bag. Or potatoes.
- Eat a mixture of honey, garlic, and onions (and try not to throw up)
- Take a hot shower
- Soak your feet in a tub of hot water
- Check your temperature once every hour. If it’s higher than 36.6 degrees C, cancel all of your plans. Possibly for the month.
- If you have a fever, take medicine
If ALL else fails:
- Call the doctor
I marvel at the vast cultural differences in the approach to the treatment of one illness.
As ridiculous as home remedies may sound, I can’t deny that some of them do seem to be effective. Even the horrendous honey, garlic, and onion mixture was surprisingly soothing for my sore throat, but I will NEVER admit that to my mother. So, maybe trying out some home remedies really is worthwhile before rushing to the emergency room.
After all, I somehow made it to adulthood, but I rarely saw the doctor for anything other than a check-up when I was younger.
Of course, I will always have my medicine cabinet stocked and my doctor’s phone number saved, but before I reach for either of those, I still drink a cup of hot tea.
Cover image source: Pinterest
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