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Moscow Health and Safety

Impressions of Moscow ...a survival guide by one of our recent teachers


Why are the bad guys always Russian? The truth is, Moscow is no more dangerous than London, New York or any other big city. Many expatriates actually regard Moscow as a great deal safer. Use a little common sense and your stay in Moscow should be trouble-free. Try not to look foreign. Dress down, don't smile at strangers, and keep your money hidden away. Take time to learn some of the language, especially the Cyrillic alphabet - this will help when negotiating the metro. The most important thing is not to speak English too loudly on the streets. Ironically it is the militsia not the criminals, who pose the biggest threat to foreigners. It is a sad fact that policemen in Moscow are not your friends. Corruption and bribery are rife, and policemen will not hesitate to take a hefty bribe from a nasty foreigner. Make sure all your papers are in order. Policemen have the right to stop anyone at any time to check documents and if you don't speak Russian they may very well claim that something is wrong with your visa, even when it is perfectly in order. This leaves the foreigner with two choices - being thrown in a cell, or bribing the policeman. Hide the fact you are a foreigner and do as the Russians do.

The mafia still exist, but you are too small a fish to have even the slightest concern. Ever since Marlon Brando rolled onto our screens as the Godfather, the word mafia has flaunted images of gang warfare and organized crime. This is not the case. They are not a family of Italian hit-men, rather a network of rich businessmen, who regulate other businesses.

There are very few legitimate taxis in Moscow, and after a night on the tiles it is extremely unlikely that you will find one. Unofficial taxis are the only viable option. Moscow drivers are more than happy to make a few extra roubles by driving you home. Getting in the back of a strangers car may seem alien to the foreigner, but here everyone does it, especially the Russians. It is perfectly safe as long as you stick to the rules. Only get into cars that look as though they are doing it for the money, i.e ladas and volgas. Why would a flash car stop just to make a few roubles? Always negotiate the place and price before you get inside otherwise the driver will name his price when you get there. As you are negotiating the price, check to make sure the driver isn't drunk...It's normally pretty obvious. Abide by the rules and you'll be fine.

Even the toughest people get sick in Moscow. It is a very difficult atmosphere to live in. The city is intensely populated, and the standard of living is generally very low. Nine million people a day use the metro system making it virtually impossible to avoid the incessant coughing of the average Russian. Everybody smokes in Russia - in bars, cafes, elevators, planes. Men especially lead fairly unhealthy lives. He who doesn't smoke or drink will die healthy - my elderly neighbor used to shout at me. Russians tend to believe that a life without bad habits is a life somewhat wasted, and prefer to throw caution to the wind in their quest for personal freedom. This is just something you'll have to put up with. It's actually a refreshing change from the health obsessed, sweet-ex will give you cancer society that we are all accustomed to at home.

Surviving the Russian winter is a challenge that you'll never forget. Months and months of virtual darkness, sub-zero temperatures and driving blizzards will at times make you feel utterly demoralized and close to insanity. This is why Russians drink so much. It is extremely important to arm yourself with a decent fur coat and fur-lined waterproof boots, otherwise the winter here will be a miserable experience. But Russia wouldn't be Russia without its legendary winter. It's reputed to make or break a person and if it's a challenge your'e looking for then look no further. Nothing stops or even slows down, especially in Moscow, and you will be surprised at how well the Russian people deal with the harsh realities of a formidable winter - a winter so strong, that even Hitler couldn't survive it. One of the most enjoyable ways to spend a winter weekend is cross-country skiing. This is an extremely popular pastime with over-worked city slickers who like to escape to one of Moscow's many parks or forests for some fresh air and peace and quiet. Ice skating is also very popular. Hide from the winter at your peril. After all, it lasts for two thirds of the year. Your only option is to embrace the winter, enjoy it, and it'll be summer before you know it.

Moscow is a seriously polluted city, and in summer when the wind stops, it gets unbearable. There is no such thing as unleaded petrol here; people simply don't care about such issues. Again, it's just something you have to get used to. The roads themselves are an even bigger hazard. Driving habits in Moscow are nothing short of carnage on wheels. People drive as if they have been given a blessing of immortality, as if chauvinistic pride will somehow keep them safe. Attempts to buckle up will be met with fierce opposition and disbelief in your inability to trust. You are going to die at some point so why bother challenging fate? Taking the inevitable on the chin is another example of Russian fatalism that you should avoid at all costs. After all, unlike the Russians, you know that there is a way out of here alive. Buckle up. And bring some vitamins.