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Living and Working in Moscow - Russian for Expats

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


The successful expatriate is someone who works quietly and efficiently, respecting Russian customs and traditions. Frustration is inevitable, but don't let it get the better of you. Those who develop a sense of superiority over the Russians will undoubtedly fail. This is a surprisingly easy thing to do- the key is not to let your grievances with Moscow as a whole, effect your relationships with the people. Regardless of your status, qualifications and ambitions for the future, at this moment in your life you are in Russia, not England. Don't expect something for nothing; you get what you give.

Russian mentality is utterly romantic. Don't be deceived by the grim faces that walk the streets. It's like a test- you have to break through the solid exterior in order to find the soul and spirit. There is a common misconception that Russian people are a depressive race, but this could not be further from the truth. Just because people look unhappy, doesn't necessarily mean they are. In the eyes of a Russian, to flaunt one's affluence by smiling, is to jinx good luck. Superstition is taken very seriously. Here are just a few examples- black cats are lucky, not unlucky; never shake hands over a doorway; always look in the mirror before leaving the house, and never return to your house if you forget something; sit down on your suitcase for a minute before embarking on a long journey; never give a Russian an even number of flowers (only funerals); and finally, never drink alone, wait for a toast. You would be wise to take note of such trivialities.

Russian people are extremely proud of being Russky. In their opinion foreigners have no souls and in the western world, facts and logic taken precedence over feelings and emotions, and Russians resent this. They do have a point I suppose. As westerners we constantly demand answers and fail to accept defeat. Russians on the other hand, embrace the absurd as a statement of individuality. Genius, they say, is not based on efficiency and competency, but on flair, imagination and personality. Pushkin did not become famous because he had the best handwriting - a young Russian once said to me. Indeed Russia's past is full of genius. The brilliant works of legends such as Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky, can be attributed to oxymoronic happenings in everyday life and years of endless suffering and hardship. The unpredictable, according to the Russians, breeds genius.

Winston Churchill once said, Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. He was right. It is impossible to believe that such polarities co-exist in a single society. In every aspect of life there is a visible contradiction. It's hot and cold, beautiful and ugly, cheap and expensive. The people are visibly fierce yet unbelievably hospitable.

Living for a long period of time within such a paradox is an unbelievable experience that you will never forget. It will certainly test your personality and patience. By succeeding at work you will undoubtedly achieve a higher sense of stability in such unstable surroundings.