Two Things I Do NOT Love About Russia

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The World Cup is over and it is raining outside.

A bit over a month ago I was invited to a pilot Russian TV talk show.  I am a bit disappointed that there is a good chance that the pilot will never hit the air waves, because I found the conversation to be quite interesting.

They sat me down in a chair across from 7 or 8 journalists who started by thanking me for my work on my Russian video blog, then chastised me for not creating more content in English (to which I countered that it’s not my job- it’s their job!), and then asked an interesting question: “what 3 things do you NOT love about Russia?”.This is an interesting question for me because nearly everything I write about or make videos about is ultra-positive.  This is for three reasons:

  • Complaining does not require creativity.
  • Whining and complaining create an excuse for laziness, but being made aware of opportunity removes that artificial justification.
  • There is an endless amount of positive subjects to discuss in Russia, and I’m sure there are professionals out there who have the grumbling department under control.

It’s probably also interesting to note that as soon as I started answering the question, the journalists started interrupting me and getting upset.  In hindsight, I’m not sure if they really wanted an answer.

They asked me for 3 things that I do not love about Russia, and I boiled those 3 things down to 2.  Here they are.  One is simple and concrete, and the other is a much bigger issue:

The currency exchange rate at the arrivals area at Moscow airports.  

In short, it is a rip-off, and for the unsuspecting arriving guest, quickly creates a horrible first impression of the way Russia does business.  In general, I have experienced  more dishonesty in business with foreigners in Russia than with Russians.  But in the case of these airport currency exchange booths, the loss on currency exchange is about 20% from what I last saw (please let me know what the current rates are, if you know, unsurprisingly I couldn’t find them online).  Moscow’s airports, in general provide great service, and have gone through a stunning metamorphosis in recent years, so why have they still allowed these exchange rate booths to spoil the beginning of a foreign tourist or businessperson’s time in Russia?

And always be sure to check out the Ruble exchange rate before traveling.  With this very notable exception of the airport currency exchange booth, the days of swindling arriving guests with unfair rates are largely over, but it’s always best to know the real rate before traveling.

The Constant Comparing

Do people in other countries have to wait in line for an ATM?  Is the AK-47 superior to the M-16?  How much does gasoline cost in the USA?  “This apartment has been remodeled in a European style”.

I have been asked nearly every day of the week where is better:  in Russia or in the USA?

When I was growing up in America, I don’t remember these comparisons with the notable exceptions of the fact that I was at times reminded that schoolchildren in Japan worked much harder than I ever did and children in China have a much more difficult time than me.  I think the moral of this was that I was to be thankful.

But the comparing in Russia is incessant… ad nauseam.

My Russian friends, the comparing needs to stop, because comparison kills creativity.  You have your own specific journey.  I have been chatting recently with some Russian medical clinics who are looking to attract foreign clients through medical tourism.  I have been unable to convince them that they need to focus on unique Russian treatments (which by the way is a fascinating subject!) rather than discussing “how to achieve a European standard”.  Why can’t we make our own standard that others will copy?

This is true not just in medicine, but in the arts, education, tourism, and much more.

So, in conclusion, provide a fair currency exchange rate at the airport, and stop comparing yourself to others.  You are and honest people and beautiful just the way you are, and your nation’s unique journey is what creates endless opportunity.  Now, go make something of it, even though the World Cup is now over and it’s raining outside.

If you speak Russian, enjoy my World Cup vlog from the France-Uruguay quarterfinal match in Nizhni-Novgorod:

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