People who travel to other countries often hear warnings about the local water. It’s one thing for tourists to buy bottled water to use for a few days or weeks, then go back to their carefree habits at home. But what do the permanent residents do?

Russia, including Siberia, is one of those places where they warn, “Don’t drink the water!” The main reason for this is the presence of lamblia, a parasite that infects the small intestine. Of course, some hardy residents do drink straight from the tap and seem none the worse for it. One of our visiting professors, who traveled to many parts of the world, made a point of drinking tap water wherever he went, and Russia was no exception. He emerged from his Siberian water-drinking experience apparently unharmed.

Others don’t fare so well. Patricia had lambliasis back in 2000. At that time I asked the nurse, “Can one lead a long and happy life with this parasite?” The nurse answered, “Long, maybe, but not happy!” Patricia had to ingest some sort of bitter herb to get rid of it. I’ve known Russians who got the bug as well. None of these even drank tap water, but may have picked up the parasite from still-wet utensils or from beads of water on washed fruit.

Most Russians boil their drinking water and even the water they use for brushing teeth. Just about everyone has a teapot or electric kettle. While boiling is a simple solution, it doesn’t solve the problem of impurities in the water due to old pipes, heavy metals, chemicals, and such. These days the majority of people have some sort of water filter. This can be as simple as a pitcher with a charcoal cartridge or as complex as a large filtration system.

In addition, there are endless varieties of bottled water, some carbonated and some plain. Some people prefer this to filtered and boiled water, which they use only for tea or coffee.

In the beginning, I brushed my teeth with tap water, but eventually gave that up. Like others, I have a water filter and use boiled water for everything. For an American it seems inconvenient at first, but one gets used to it. The main difficulty I have isn’t forgetting not to use tap water in Russia, but in readjusting to the American way. Putting a glass or toothbrush below the spigot and letting the water flow goes against everything I’ve trained myself to do most of the time. Even when tapping into the good old American water supply, my inner voice sometimes still cries, “Don’t drink the water!”