Have Kids In Russian School During The Holidays? | What You Need To Know

Have Kids In Russian School During The Holidays? | What You Need To Know

In which the blog takes a mysterious turn on how to hack the Russian educational system and save money by baking cookies.

Ok, here’s the deal.  Russians love holidays.  And they have lots of them.  By lots of them, I mean more than the Americans, but perhaps less than Italians or Greeks.

And with each holiday you will need to be ready to present gifts to those whom the holiday has been proclaimed in honor of.  For example, if it’s Tatyana Day, be ready to bring a box of chocolates to your local Tatyana(s).  If it’s Border Patrol Worker Day, be ready to present your congratulations to those who protect our great nation’s sovereignty from suspicious elements.  And so on.  And so forth.

There are also certain holidays where it is good and pleasing to express your gratitude to your children’s pedagogues.  It might feel weird because, in your native land, bringing an apple to your teacher on September 1st, feels a bit Home On The Prairie-ish.  But get over the feelings of weirdness.  Because in Russia, no one will openly comment on your lack of gifts, but your American thriftiness, how shall I say this, will not be admired by the faculty in question.  And you want your kids to be safe when they’re at school, right?

In my situation, due to my Amish roots the love that my wife and I share, we have four children.  As it turns out, each and every one of our joyous offspring requires an education.  Also, we live in Russia, and they have teachers.

Our children have a total of roughly 15 faculty that are responsible for them (don’t forget the school security guard and the piano accompanist!).

For sure, there are holidays in which you should bring each of these teachers a gift.  And by gift, I mean a bouquet of flowers for 1500 rubles.  These holidays include September 1st and New Year’s.  However, there are other holidays such as Teacher’s Day and Birthdays That Teachers Have.

Part of the problem is that sometimes we didn’t bring gifts when there was a holiday.  Grimace.  And the other problem is when we did bring gifts when there wasn’t a holiday.  Laugh out loud.  Awkward.

But it’s always best to just bring gifts.  Even when it’s awkward.

Now I am never one to be thrifty when it comes to my children’s education.  It is, after all, their future.  I always vote in favor of the local school’s levy and so on.  Just kidding.  I don’t vote, but if I did, I would vote against the levy, because I remember when in 1994 the teachers at Woodridge High School pretended not to have any money and even used cheap chalk to drive the point home. And we didn’t do any science experiments.  Now property taxes in Ward 8 of Cuyahoga Falls are out of control.

So, I moved to Russia where property taxes are ZERO for me because I am a permanent resident of Russia with four kids.

But we do need to show our teachers here appreciation as well.  So, with 15 total faculty members among my four children, and let’s say 3 Giftable Holidays per year with 1500 rubles for a bouquet of flowers, the total annual appreciation bill comes to 67,500 rubles.  For those who neither had the foresight to bring a calculator to this blog reading nor dabble in forex, that comes to roughly $1200 in flowers for teachers of my children annually.

Which is why there are so many flower shops in Russia.  Seriously.  They’re everywhere.

But my wife is a wise woman.  Also, her mother’s side of the family has a thrifty Dutch heritage.  If you know what I mean.  And my wife made a few apt observations.  These included:

  1. If everyone is bringing flowers (to teachers), then their value is lost (to teachers).
  2. A few flowers are beautiful.  Many flowers are also beautiful, but can’t all even possibly be taken home by one teacher (imagine 50+ bouquets).
  3. We sincerely love and value our children’s teachers.  At the same time, 67,500 rubles seems like a lot.
  4. If we were to be different, we could save money AND please the teachers.

So, we bake cookies.  That’s what we do.  American cookies.  And we bake nice cookies, not the easy cheap recipe.  And by “we bake cookies” I actually mean “my wife bakes cookies”.

And the teachers are pleased by the American baked cookies (and perhaps also by just a few less flowers to handle).  And I’m pleased about the estimated 70% savings.  And my wife?  Well, she bakes.  And she probably enjoys that.  I will ask her when I’m done writing this blog if she enjoys baking cookies.

So, we all win.  The teachers get cookies.  My wife bakes.  I save money and write you a blog so that you save money.

Maybe since my wife bakes I should buy her flowers.  But this would mean a bit less savings.  And what if I start to buy her too many flowers?  So many flowers that the flowers I buy her lose their value?

I mean if I bought my wife 67,500 rubles in flowers, she would probably ask me to bake cookies next time.  But then she will probably just take them to the kids’ teachers.  The cookies I mean.

Do you have kids in a school in Russia?  You need to be classy and bring your teachers presents.  If you have one child who has one teacher then I salute your simple and perfect existence.  By all means, go and buy a bouquet of flowers a few times a year.

However, if you’re like me.  And by “like me” I mean you don’t know when to say “when”, then you should bake cookies.  Or you can buy some coffee or special tea while on vacation.  Or crochet some mittens and scarves.  I heard that some other kids at the school are getting creative and doing that.

But if I was your child’s teacher,  I would just go for the cookies.


Facebook and Russia | What will happen in 2018?

Facebook and Russia | What will happen in 2018?

“We can make it much harder.  And that’s what we’re going to do…” -Mark Zuckerberg

Ok, I took that quote completely out of context.  Sorry, Mr. Zuckerberg.  But allow me to explain my frustration.

That quote was taken from this video where Mr. Zuckerberg discusses Facebook cooperation with the Russia investigation following the 2016 election:

The first time I saw that video, my first thought was “will Facebook take action against any American entities that use Facebook to influence foreign elections?”.

But then I mostly forgot about the situation.  Or at least tried to.  Until last week.

I had created a video for the Facebook Expat Flat page.  Here is the video.  It’s about a building that is for sale, not far from St. Petersburg, Russia:

Mark Zuckerberg has created a powerful tool in Facebook.  And it’s probably because Facebook is such an effective communication tool, that it is now at the epicenter of the international political discussion.  And if it weren’t effective, I also wouldn’t be frustrated with it.

For me, Facebook has been a great tool both for promoting Russian language blogs within Russia and promoting opportunities in Russia (like in the video above about the building) around the world.

And for the first time in a long time, I decided to promote a Facebook video ad in the USA.  In this case, I was targeting Russian speakers in New York City as I felt they would be folks who would see the investment potential of the “fixer-upper” in question.

And my Facebook ads account was deactivated immediately following this.


I received automated questionnaires from Facebook asking for additional information about my account to help clear up the problem.  I filled them out, providing all applicable information.  I filled them out again.  I did this ten times.  Nothing changed.  And no further explanation was sent me.

I don’t like to guess what the problem is.  I would prefer to get a precise explanation from Facebook.  But since that’s not happening, I am left guessing.  Maybe social networks politics are affecting the small businesses of hard-working folks around Russia.  I hope that’s not the case.  And I hate the fact that this is even a thought that comes to mind.

On the other hand, there is more talk that Facebook will be blocked in Russia, just like LinkedIn was some time ago.  This is because Russia requires web-sites that store Russian citizens data to do so on local storage.

If this happens, I am sure this will rile up the most indignant of us.  But I also think that US citizens also want their data to be stored on US servers and comply with local law, so there’s that.

And after everyone is done being indignant, they will get back to work, hence unburdened from at least one distraction.

But if it comes to that in 2018, you can still find this blogger on Twitter and Vkontakte


How Did St. Petersburg Defend Itself From Attack By Sea?

How Did St. Petersburg Defend Itself From Attack By Sea?

If you’re like me, it’s not these kind of questions that keep you up at night.

But there have been times that I have had this question vaguely in the back of my mind, particularly with the warmongering Swedes just to the West.  And it’s common knowledge that there is nothing the Vikings would love more than to plunder the treasures of Russia’s northern capital.

Peter the Great loved the sea, and although he did not have the foresight to build the city of St. Petersburg in a location that was not a swamp or would not rain each and every day over the next 300 years, he did quickly provide the necessary fortifications in the Gulf of Finland.  Check it out:


At first glance, it would appear that St. Petersburg is simply inviting a sea attack from the meddling West.  But if you look closer, you will see Kotlin Island comfortably situated in the middle of the Gulf of Finland.  And Peter the Great took this a step further by building a string of forts from Kotlin Island to shore.

In total, there were 22 forts forming a line of defense from shore to shore.

Kotlin Island and the town on the island, Kronstadt, has a rich naval history and is now home to a major sea port.

Not all of the original forts remain, but there are regular excursions for those tourists who want to visit the remaining structures.  Fort Alexander is perhaps the most well known and has a history that includes defense against naval attack, housing of a research laboratory on plague and bacterial disease, and was even known as a rave hotspot at one time.:


Unfortunately, I had only one day in Kronstadt.  I was busy filming a building that is for sale for Expat Flat.  I came for that particular building, but left impressed with the potential for tourism for the island of Kotlin and the town of Kronstadt.  More than six million tourists come to St. Petersburg annually and a rapidly increasing number of those tourists are discovering this hidden gem of Russia’s history.

Here’s the video of the building in Kronstadt that is comfortably situated next to the beautiful Anchor Square and the indescribably beautiful Navy Cathedral.

So, the next time you’re in St. Petersburg, make sure you visit Kotlin Island. It won’t be a “hidden gem” for tourists to Russia for much longer.

Friendly Fistfight, Only In Russia

Friendly Fistfight, Only In Russia

A few years back, I was enjoying a quiet evening meal in the restaurant wagon of a Russian train, its wheels rhythmically clicking across the darkening plains.

There were two other gentlemen in the same restaurant wagon, sitting shoulder to shoulder and enjoying a bit of drink and deep conversation.  By deep conversation, I mean laughing and slapping each other on the back and then alternatively taking sucker punches at the other’s faces.

At first, I was a bit amused, but then again I had come to the restaurant wagon for a little peace and quiet (after all), so in time a bit of irritation began to develop.  Furthermore, the situation was showing clear signs of steady deterioration.

I knew that a policeman is usually on duty on such trains.  So, I suggested to the restaurant manager, who also sat observing this spectacle with a look of pious boredom, that perhaps this situation warranted the participation of the police.

The manager took the voice of a kindergarten teacher addressing the chief of all simpletons: “And then what will happen?  The police will come.  They will kick them off the train.  Then in the morning, they will feel very sorry about what happened.”

He could not have more precisely described the scenario that I was hoping for.  But to the restaurant manager, this option was simply preposterous.

You see, what I’ve learned while living in Russia is that most fistfights are friendly.

Except for those that are not.

I was reminded of this train restaurant friendly fistfight story today as @EnglishRussia1 tweeted this fantastic video that felt so very Russian to me.

There are so many things I love about this video, including the passion of our champion roadside gladiators, the disinterest of the lady walking by, and how after the scuffle, life continues on as normal.

It’s difficult to say what the Russian culture takeaway from all of this.  I mean, we could discuss the fascinating, amusing, and invigorating Russian tradition of  the “wall battle”, most often observed during “Maslenitsa” and aptly depicted in this scene from “The Siberian Barber”:

But I think what we can learn here is that Russians aren’t as easily indignant as you.  As a matter of fact, Russians often see the huffing exasperation of their Western counterparts at the slightest bump in the road to be a bit comical.  In most cases, Russians just roll with the punches.  And if a friend needs to let off some steam with a bit of playful yet energetic sparring, no sense in fighting him over it, might as well just join in.

Because it’s all in fun… right?

You Can Draw Like This | The Russian Art Method

A lot of people have a subconscious belief that artistic ability is based solely on supernatural talent.  But what if I told you that you can draw like this?

Rendition of The Good Samaritan by student of the Academy of Russian Art

Yes, I mean you.  I can hear your guffaws and giggles from here, but give me a chance and keep reading.

You see, the problem with the belief that art is only a supernatural talent is that would mean that it can not be learned… or taught.


The Florence Academy of Russian Art…

  • Is not for Russians (only).
  • Is not for Italians (only).
  • Classes are in English.
  • As a matter of fact, students are from all over the world (a recent guest said it was like the UN, when meeting with students), and very few are from Russia or Italy.


With the Russian art method- there is (perhaps most importantly), a method.  This is shockingly what makes the program different than so much art education that is offered around the world.  And if a student puts in the work, their level will improve, regardless of whether they start out as a beginner or have already studied art elsewhere.  As I heard one student at the academy recently stated: “I learned more in my first 5 days here than in 5 years at my previous institute(!)”.

Although I am not an artist, I was blown away during my recent visit to the academy to see how the students quickly improve their level- growing from learning the principles of drawing a cube to drawing a full figure (like the image above).  Don’t get me wrong, the students work hard.  But the result is clear.

I made a simple video about the experience for the Planet Russia Facebook page:

The academy offers a 3-year degree, but also offers 3 week courses throughout the year, such as the Anatomy Course that will start on January 8, 2018.  It’s pretty cool that you can take advantage of the secrets of the Russian Art Method and improve your level, no matter your background.

And, as I have at least one child who is interested in art, I am also thinking about what their career path would be after completing this type of art training.  The  Russian art education method provides a quality base for many career paths including architecture, design, illustration, animation and more.  That means, that in the modern workplace where careers seem to change as often as the seasons, a graduate with this kind of background and base will be nimble enough to be able to find work in many directions.

The Russian art education system has so many incredible things to offer.  And, as I hinted at in the video, Florence isn’t the worst place in the world to take advantage of this world-class education.

And since you have read to the end of this post, here is a bonus video, where you can check out the city of Florence, the academy, and also meet a few of the students and teachers.  Enjoy!

Continue reading “You Can Draw Like This | The Russian Art Method”

Russia’s Simple Small Business Tax System

Russia’s Simple Small Business Tax System

I remember a few years back, an American businessman by the name of Herman Cain ran for president on the platform of introducing a flat tax.

To most Republicans the idea of a flat tax is a pretty progressive idea.  To most Democrats it’s very backwards.  So, if you are a Republican, you might find Russia’s tax law to be an object of envy.  If you are a Democrat, I would remind you that socialized health care has been here since sometime around Woodrow Wilson’s term in the Oval Office.

So, here it goes:  If you open a small business in Russia (sole proprietorship or LLC), you can apply for the simplified tax rate.  I have never heard of anyone being denied such application.  And here are the numbers:  6%.  That’s the flat rate you pay on any income.  The only other “hidden cost” is a payment to the pension fund, which for simplicity’s sake, we will say is about 1% of total income.

If you are a sole proprietorship, the rest of the money (roughly 93%) is then just yours.  You can do whatever you want with it.  I believe this is a fantastic set up, particularly for solopreneurs who are offering a simple service and have few expenses.

However, if your business has expenses, you can apply for a tax rate of 15% of total profit.  This is a situation where you would then go the American route of hiring a good accountant to help you find expenses in order to avoid taxes.

And if you are not interested in registering a business, your personal income is taxed at a flat rate of 13%.

Now to be fair, things change drastically if you take on a payroll or your business grows beyond 60 million rubles per year (slightly north of $1 million).  But my view is that you can cross that bridge when you come to it.

This blog post is not to provide any tax advice.  I’m simply arguing that the Russian government has made it easy to open a small business, and I would like to give them credit for that.  Whenever I need real advice for my business, I go to the Business Development Agency (BDA).  They charge very reasonable rates and are always happy to answer my questions and offer options of real solutions.  This is not a paid advertisement!  I am just letting you know who I trust, in the event that Russia’s siren song of simplified tax rates would encourage you to start your own business here.  Because you would probably then want professional assistance and not just a blog post.

It’s a little humorous how, as an American, I spend time trying to convince my Russian friends how fantastic their tax system is.  And it’s a little baffling to me how unimpressed they are.

Well, I guess I should say I love the simplified tax system for small business.  But particularly as I work in the area of real estate, I would submit that the tax on sales of real estate could use some improvement.  If you are a non-resident, it is a flat rate of 30% of the total sale, regardless of whether the property increased or decreased in value.  Let that sink in for a moment.

Because I really want folks to be encouraged to buy real estate in Russia.

So, start a business in Russia.  And before you buy any property, read the small print.

Because perhaps in comparison to other countries around the world, Russia should not have the reputation as being the bureaucratic one.  It’s quite simple, really.

How To Sell Real Estate In Russia

How To Sell Real Estate In Russia

Ok, I’m learning.  But it looks like I’m on to something.

The RBC web-site states that more than 4,000 real estate agencies were closed in Russia over the past year.

There are good reasons for that.  Many parts of real estate service are becoming more automated, making some realtors go the way of the farmer during the Industrial Revolution.  And construction seems to be continuing at a fervent pace, even as average income seems to be holding steady at best.

I somehow became excited about the idea of so many agencies closing.  Not that I wish my competition any ill will (really!), but the idea of a real challenge somehow energizes me more than any low-hanging fruit that just anyone could pick.

This humble blogger’s real estate agency, Expat Flat, has focused mainly on providing rental options for those foreigners who are moving to Moscow for work for a couple of years.  And as we continue this service, we have also begun to think about sales.

You see, my prediction is that as real estate prices fall, property investment will become more attractive to international investors.

But how to attract international investors?  Well, we decided to do what no one else is doing, and start a Russian real estate video blog, in English, entitled “How Much Does It Cost?”

There are quite a few really good Russian real estate video blogs… in Russian.  But as far as I know, this is the first Russian real estate video blog in English.  We aim to make Russian real estate available to the world.

Here is the first episode, highlighting some offices right across the street from the Kremlin:

After putting the video out on YouTube and also the Facebook page, it was cool to get strong positive feedback both from Russia and a few places around the world.

We already have a few more spots lined up for future episodes that we are beyond excited about, but for those of you back home, I have a question.  What kinds of places would you be interested in having highlighted in such a video in the future?  Please comment and let me know.

We would love to show you around Russia, and maybe you will begin to not just enjoy the entertainment value of such a video, but also begin to see the opportunity for investment.