It is not any colder than a normal winter in Chicago or elsewhere in the midwestern United States, but there is definitely an air of abnormality about the current temperatures, which range from low teens to mid-twenties (Fahrenheit). It seems that everyone else does not particularly mind the cold even if their faces constantly have a half-frown. I have gotten relatively good at trying to look like a Russian by mastering this demeanor. I would wear my ushanka ("hat") with the Soviet star on it around just as the militsiya ("police") and others wear, but the Americans already stand out like sore thumbs and I really do not want to draw any particular attention to myself as a token foreigner wearing a token Russian hat.
The sun only shines about seven hours per day despite the constant dusk that inhabits the city during the winter months (November to March/April). Every little second of sunshine that we see is a leap of joy, and I feel like I am almost transported to another country.
The snow is beautiful when glistening in the shadow of the city lights. Tonight we were walking back to the metro station on Nevsky Prospekt when we stopped like deer in headlights at a beautiful church, stuck between new high-rise expensive clothing stores and other souvenir stores. It had a few simple lights showing off its magnificent features, but it was enough to renew my thankfulness for the beauty that architects and officials devoted to building exquisite houses of God, as well as gratefulness that the Soviets did not use it for a potato silo as another magnificent church in the city was!
If you lit a lighter in the air, you may be able to set fire. A thick combination of cigarette smoke, diesel gas, transportation fumes, and factory smoke overwhelms me every time I walk outside, although I am unfortunately getting used to breathing in Gary-like air.