It has been requested by some persons in particular that I ought to document my journey in Russia. To briefly recap, I am now living and working in Moscow. Since it is regrettably rare that the English and Russians hardly encounter each other’s cultures, it may be interesting for both the English and Russians alike to find a common perspective i.e. for Russians to see their own country through the eyes of an Englishman and likewise for my English readers to see Russia through the eyes of one of their own. So, давайте! (Come on!)
What happened first? Well, the moment I left the airport I was greeted by the taxi driver whom I was expecting, and his English was surprisingly good (at least his comprehension) but within minutes the conversation switched to 90% Russian and, to my surprise, I held it! For the entire taxi ride (easily 1 hour) from Domodedovo airport into Moscow city centre we were conversing in Russian! He spoke to me about his attempts to learn English and how they didn’t come to fruition, unlike his daughter’s successful attempt to learn and speak English. He was a musician in earlier life and tried to write many songs in English, but they rather amusingly had Russian syntax. Nevertheless, I told him it sounded creative and was technically (grammatically) fine. I also told him that I do listen to Russian music, my favourite song of which is actually from a Russian TV series called Brigada (Бригада). I said, ‘Oh, you know: Ya nachal vdjezin trooshobahk rodskiik…?’ (Я начал жизнь в трущобах городских) He said, ‘Oh haha! Of course!’
So, before I even spent one night in Moscow, I was already conversing in Russian, something which gave me a huge boost in motivation, since the last time I arrived in Moscow (September 2018) my Russian was pretty terrible!
Next, I will note some small interesting things which I’ve noticed since I’ve been here, not necessarily inherently strange things, but things which are certainly different.
1. The closest thing in Moscow to western luxury is the gargantuan superstore in Red Square known as GUM (ГУМ). It has literally everything designer brand you could imagine and is a hotbed of wealth, but also of culture. The architecture is sublime and I’ve never seen anything like it, not in London or anywhere comparable. What is funny though is that despite the status of this store, it is full of tourists who come in to see the the building and buy ice cream (since that is all any normal person can afford in there!). And at every entrance there is a metal detector arch with a security guard but it is entirely meaningless! People walk through all the time, with beeps going off constantly, and the security do nothing. Perhaps it’s one of the small ways in which soviet style pretence ‘public order’ has lived on.
2. Snow! Having arrived in January, I have come at a time of snow storms. Although, walking through Red Square as the snow falls and blows heavily in all directions, with the Kremlin in sight, GUM in my peripherals and St. Basil Cathedral piercing through the blizzard ahead of me is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. I’ve now experienced temperatures of (‘feels like’) -25… which is mentally tough as well as physically. Having said that, everywhere inside in Moscow is very warm. So you experience a huge flux in temperature – great when you go inside, not so great when you need to go back outside! Also, I find it better when the temperature is roughly -10, instead of 0. When the temperature is warmer, the snow melts into masses of black sludge. Walking through that just ruins your trousers and shoes: full on nightmare! It’s also funny how in England when the temperature is 0, 1 or 2 degrees, the country stops because it’s too cold. Here? It feels really warm! Apparently, that’s one of the ways you know you’re living like a Russian.
3. Shopping! My first food shop was an absolute adventure. I was told to go to a huge store called Auchan (Ашан), of which there is several in the city. They are huge. They sell literally everything. It’s a bit like Asda and Costco rolled into one. But finding the ingredients I wanted was very difficult because although I know the names of some things, the particular variety, brand and so on which you get makes a huge difference. For example, I simply can’t live without milk. It’s literally in my blood, so I need to buy lots of it and it needs to be whole milk (in Russian this just means a fat percentage of roughly 3% or higher). So I walk to the dairy section and see bottles of milk with the right name Молоко (‘Moloko’) and think, ‘Oh, this is the right one, but the dates are shoddy.’ I look to the top of the shelf and see bottles with better dates, so I lash three bottles of them into my basket, pay and go home. Only to discover that I didn’t pick up milk, I picked up something called Кефир (‘Kefir’) which is like the sourest of sour milk, thicker than double cream, viscous and absolutely disgusting. I’ve no idea why this thing exists but I took one sip and spat it out immediately!
4. Getting around is extremely easy. Metro’s are everywhere and not only is there one coherent app with which you can plan your journey, the metro stations are often very beautiful. Every new station is like a new museum or gallery. My personal favourite so far is Mayakovskaya and it’s especially charming in the morning when nobody is around.
5. Speaking of which, it came as a wonderful surprise to me that Moscow is a very quiet city. I can only compare with London since that is the only other major city I have had plenty of experience with. Moscow is a major capital city with some 11,000,000 inhabitants I believe, and yet, on a Friday or Saturday afternoon some of the major streets and tourists attractions can be really quiet and dead! You pretty much never see huge hoards of people struggling to get through to anywhere.
6. Russian tea is pretty bad! I mean, in comparison with English tea, that is. Even in stores they sell tea with brands specifically marked and labelled as ‘English Tea’ and so on, but it’s just not the same. It’s not a deal breaker, but bringing your own tea and coffee is something I would recommend as an Englishman.
These are just some of the things which come to mind as of this moment, there’re probably more interesting tidbits but it’s only my first two weeks here so far. Plenty of time remains, and I’m sure plenty of new memorable experiences will occur, after all, that is more or less why I came in the first place.