Things that make you go “Hmmm”: Kazakhstan Edition


Eggs are sold in packages of ten, not twelve. And there’s no sEGGrigation here (ha!): brown and white eggs are often packaged together. The interwebs has failed to provide me with a sufficient answer as to why eggs are sold by the dozen in the U.S. (or, indeed, why they’re sold in packs of ten in Kazakhstan), but the following seems most probable:

Eggs are traditionally sold by the dozen because the imperial (English) measurements were calculated in groups of twelve (i.e. twelve inches in a foot; twelve pence to a shilling). Additionally, the number twelve allows for the most packaging options as it relates to dimensions. It can be factored as 12 x 1; 6 x 2; or 3 x 4.

As for brown vs. white eggs: A neighbor’s son (also American) recently told me that, “where I’m from, there are only white eggs.”—his family is from the DC suburbs. I assured him that, having only recently come from DC, there are indeed brown eggs there, too.

But I can appreciate his confusion. Like him, I grew up eating only white-shelled eggs. It was the DC farmer’s markets (with their promises of brown-egg-laying “happy chickens”) and my misguided conception that brown eggs were more nutritionally sound than white eggs that had me purchasing them regularly. The truth is, it all comes down to the breed: white eggs come from chickens with white earlobes, and brown eggs come from chickens with red earlobes. They are equally nutritious. American farms typically house just one breed of chicken, and Americans generally value the predictability of an all-white or all-brown carton.

Milk is sold in unrefrigerated one-liter boxes. In America, pasteurization renders milk safe to drink for up to three weeks, if continually refrigerated. In Kazakhstan, we drink milk that has undergone ultrapasteurization or ultra-high temperature treatment (UHT). This process heats the milk to a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time which extends its shelf life and allows it to be stored unrefrigerated.

And while we’re talking milk, let me briefly mention that milk comes in fat percentages ranging from 1.5% – 6%. Skim milk? Fugetaboutit!

Roadside gutters. These can be gushing with ice-cold mountain water, or bone-dry on any given day. They are part of an extensive network of fountains and channels in Almaty that were designed to irrigate flower beds and green spaces throughout the city. (Mishka thinks they’re pretty great, too.) Almaty has more than 125 fountains that run from May 25th through October 25th (but not, weirdly, if it’s raining).

Oh my god, the high heels. The women in Almaty get DRESSED. UP. I have two theories as to why. The first and most obvious is disposable income paired with new money—wealthy Kazakhs need to flaunt it. (Indeed, Americans have also mastered the art of conspicuous consumption.) The second theory also finds its roots in capitalism, but it can be particularly attributed to the end of communism in this region of the world. Only within that last few decades did Soviet women have unencumbered access to more “feminine” goods—those being lighter, prettier, and less utilitarian; quality cosmetics and perfumes didn’t become widely available until the 1970’s. The modern Kazakh woman is all fem…even to the point of discomfort.

Bus boozers. Okay, so this definitely happens in the U.S., but this sort of boozing is fully acceptable in Almaty.

Gypsy cabs are the same thing as cars. Any car. With a driver interested in making a few hundred tenge. Call it semi-organized hitch-hiking—with a small fee. Personally, I’m still terrified to try it out.

Bickel’s of York. Manufactured in York, Pennsylvania, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen these delectable, gas-station-quality, cheesy-puffs-of-heaven in the U.S., but they are available in several of the grocery stores close to our apartment. God bless America.

Gold teeth. In the former Soviet Union, dental care was free to those who worked and contributed to the social insurance fund. Gold and silver crowns were not only common and affordable, but very popular. This trend faded with the dissolution of the USSR, and remains today an indicator of provincialism. In Almaty, gold grills are most often seen on security guards, cleaning staff, and market vendors.

Headscarves—not the Islamic variety. The headscarves seen on many older women in Kazakhstan simply signal that they are married. Despite a plethora of babushkas (an Anglicized version of the Russian word for “grandma”—бабушка, pronounced ba-boosh-ka), this long-standing tradition is fading fast in cosmopolitan Almaty.

Weddings happen every day of the week in Almaty. And you know one when you see one: a decked-out white Hummer limo streaming with artificial flowers carries the happy couple while an entourage of similarly decorated SUVs follows closely behind. The bride, groom, and wedding party spend the better part of their wedding day having photos taken at each of Almaty’s key picturesque settings—I am told, in an effort to keep them from getting too drunk before the ceremony.

The man in the meat market with an ax, a tree stump, and one missing finger.

Which side is the steering wheel on? Even though people drive on the right, it is not mandatory to have a left-hand drive vehicle. I would estimate that one-quarter of the vehicles driven in Almaty are right-hand drive.

Every set of stairs in Almaty has a ramp. Westerners might at first celebrate Almaty for being so progressive, so inclusive—a ramp for every set of stairs! For wheelchairs! For bikers! Nope. Look closer: the ramps are dangerously steep…and actually for strollers…and very strong parents.

Is that more than ten? In Kazakhstan, accuracy is often optional.


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