Business in Russia | How to have a successful ‘first date’ with your Russian partner

Russians will often want a very quick and frank discussion so that they can understand whether the business relationship is worth their time, shares Andy Frecka, an experienced business negotiator living in Russia.

As an American who has now called Russia home for 19 years, I love negotiating on behalf of Russian businesses with their Western counterparts.

 

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Lately, I’ve taken special notice of the question “Do they have money?” often within 15 minutes of the beginning of the meeting. This question can take different forms such as “Are they ready to sign?” or “Do they understand why we are meeting?” but the point is the same, the Russian businessperson will want to quickly understand whether their Western counterpart is worth their time.

I may not know much, but I am well aware that it’s not usually a good idea to ask a girl to marry you on the first date. With that, I often find myself encouraging my Russian friends to not rush things, but to simply enjoy the process.

Unfortunately, it is often a misunderstanding early on a first date that can spell the end of what could be a fantastic romantic relationship, and the same is true in business.

Based on the first date question “Do they have money?” here’s a pair of paradoxes I have learned while working for Russian businesses:

1. Russians aren’t famous for punctuality, but once the meeting starts, they will want to move forward quickly

Russians will often want a very quick and frank discussion so that they can understand whether the business relationship is worth their time. Americans, on the other hand, will usually show up to the meeting on time, but will want to create a trust building process that will seem bafflingly lengthy to the Russians. The problem is that the Russians will understand this process to be a signal of disinterest by the Western partners.

2. Russians are well known for bureaucracy, but are more spontaneous than their Western counterparts

Relating to the previous point, if they understood that the Westerner is not interested in partnership, they will often simply begin looking for other partners, without completing the process. With all that Russia has to offer the world, I think this is incredibly unfortunate. This is why I am spending more and more time working with Russians in better understanding how to relate to Westerners.

So, what can you do if the timing between you and your Russian counterpart is out of sync?  Before judging and walking away after just the first date, consider the following.

Both the Western and Russian points of view are incredibly pragmatic… in their own way

You want transparency, the Russian wants to get to work and make sure they will get paid. Fortunately, these two points do not conflict with each other.

Russians value authority over transparency

You will put them at ease if you start the meeting showing what you are capable of, rather than using “small talk” to get a feel of who they are. “Small talk” can always come later, but it is often confusing to Russians if it is used towards the beginning of the talks. (Alternatively, I teach Russians to relax and enjoy the small talk at the beginning of meetings, if that is the way the Westerner wants to start.)

Explain your company’s process by using stories

I was recently working for a Russian company which was in partnership talks with an American company. The American who had come for the talks did a fantastic job of explaining how his company had worked out a similar arrangement already with a company in China. This gave us an idea of how they viewed the process of partnership formation, showed us that it was already working, and also gave us a good understanding of the length of the process.

Stay engaged with your Russian counterpart as your company goes through its process

If you keep silent, the Russians might understand you are not interested, and look elsewhere for potential partners, and you might lose a fantastic deal.

Russia has much to offer the world, of course, in natural resources, manufacturing, and technology. I have also been intrigued as of late, in how much Russia has to offer in educational systems, the arts, and mind-blowing tourism destinations.

So, don’t miss out on what could be years of mutually beneficial relationship for your business, simply because of a small misunderstanding on your first date.

Andy Frecka was born and raised in the great state of Ohio in the USA, but for the past 19 years is proud to call Russia his home. He is the founder and marketing director of Expat Flat, a Moscow real estate agency, and in recent years has enjoyed working in negotiations between various Russian and Western businesses. Andy also runs the Russian language blog “Amerikanets,”speaks frequently on foreign business relations, and is the author of Matryoshka: Как вести бизнес с иностранцами (How to do business with foreigners).

 

This post originally appeared in Russia Beyond.  You can check it out here.

A Guy In Russia Is Carving 1000 Stone Rabbits

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Perhaps it was this ageless wisdom that inspired Sergei Gapanovich, Petrozavodsk, Russia businessman, to remove graffiti on a rock face next to the road… with multiple rabbit sculptures.

The “Rabbit Valley” project has now received attention by media from all over Russia, and when our YouTube channel team was visiting the capital city of Russia’s Republic of Karelia, I knew we needed to visit Sergey and try our hand at the art of stone-rabbit sculpting.

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This humble blogger’s first attempt at Russian stone-rabbit sculpting

Why rabbits?  “When I was six years old, I became lost in the forest,” recounts Sergei, “and as I lay shivering in the cold, some rabbits came and kept me warm throughout the night, and in the morning led me home.”

Never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, Sergey also doesn’t seem to let his successful business ventures in Petrozavodsk get in the way of his passion of stone-carving.

He is currently working on a giant rock bench on a Karelian island, and plans to take on even more difficult stone-sculpting projects.  At the moment of this publication, Sergey has sculpted 400 rabbits, which means there are only 600 rabbits to go.

Have you ever dreamed of having a certificate of your own personal rabbit sculpture from the Republic of Karelia.  It’s possible, by visiting the Rabbit Valley web-site.  You can choose the type of rabbit that you love the most and will get a certificate of ownership.  Dreams can come true.  And with just a flew clicks of a mouse, you can have your own stone rabbit.

Because “only in Russia” is only possible because of people just like Sergey.

Check out our video of the project and more from the city of Petrozavodsk:

 

Visas to Russia for Americans and Canadians

As an American who has made Russia my home for the past 20 years, I am often asked about how best to get a visa to Russia. Truth be told, I have been here so long that I have lost track of many of the visa requirement changes for newcomers to Russia.

With that, I have found myself frequently recommending the services of Marcus Hudson of Let’s Russia for Americans and Canadians who are looking to get visas to Russia.

I asked Marcus what some of the most frequently asked questions are for folks who are looking to apply for Russian visas and how he would answer. Here they are. Please keep in mind that the Russia visa application process can vary per country, so these questions and answers are at times specific to Americans and Canadians who wish to apply for visas to Russia.

Can I do business on a tourist visa? Can I travel around Russia on a business visa?
Yes and yes. But if you have a tourist visa and you’re doing some business, have intentions to do tourism as well. It’s best if can prove your intentions in the rare case you’re asked by passport control.

Will I be at risk of visa denial or getting arrested in Russia if I have served in the US military?
You will if you are a spy or if you are involved in spy activities. In all other cases, no. Having served in the military does not disqualify you from getting a visa to Russia. In circumstances when you have or had high security clearance to sensitive information or highly-qualified specialist in military technology, the Russian government most likely already knows about you.

I’m going to Russia to start doing business. I understand I need an invitation letter from a Russian organization. How can I get a business invitation letter to Russia if I haven’t establish business contacts in Russia yet?
This is a common question from small businesses, entrepreneurs, self-employed and digital nomads. In order to make business contacts you need to travel to Russia. In order to travel to Russia, you need an invitation from a business contact. And around it goes….
The best option is order a business invitation letter from an intermediary like Let’s Russia because we have contacts in Russia that will legitimately invite you as a potential business partner of theirs. We also assist in drafting the accompanying business letter to reflect actual intentions and plans for your trip. Some Russian consulates have been requiring an explanatory letter from the Russian organization inviting guests.

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Marcus Hudson of Let’s Russia

How can I get a visa transferred to a new passport if my old one has been damaged or I’ve run out of pages?
You can have a visa transferred in Houston for $69 if the original visa was issued in Houston. Otherwise, you would need to apply for a new visa.

I was adopted from Russia and never had a Russian passport. How can I get a Russian visa?
Typically, you don’t. You have to apply for your Russian passport. This takes awhile because you’ll need to gather proof of your citizenship first. Russian children who are adopted from Russia do not lose their citizenship.

In which situations should an American apply for a 3 year multiple entry visa?
There’s no reason not to apply for the multiple entry visa! Starting March 2019, the consulate fees are all the same price, regardless of visa type or number of entries. With this change, we recommend applying for the multi-entry visa up to 3 years. If you’re passport is expiring before then, you can still apply for a multi-entry visa up to 6 months before your passport expires.

Can members of the same family travel to Russia on different visa types?
Yes. But minors accompanying parents usually need to have the same visa type as their parents.

How do I decide which visa to apply for?
Many people want to travel to Russia for a specific period of time. That’s their priority. They don’t care so much about the purpose of travel. We’ve created a specific tool to help people through this process. Check it out here. This is useful for most passport holders, not just Americans.
This way, you can decide on the type of visa based on the time they want to spend in Russia rather than the other way around, and you are not limited by time based on your purpose of visit.
However, we recommend all our customers that the rule of thumb is that when going through passport control, you need to be prepared to answer, “What’s the purpose of your visit?” You should not get a business visa if you do not intend to do business.

These questions are perhaps just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to applying for a visa to Russia. That is why I always recommend using a visa service to take away any stress related to the red tape. I am happy to recommend Marcus and the Let’s Russia team as I have personally seen both their professionalism and patience in answering the many questions that can arise before and during the Russia visa application process. You can begin the visa application process with Let’s Russia by filling out this quick form here.

Russia is open for tourism and business. To simplify the visa process, I recommend a service like Let’s Russia.  Your situation might be unique and it is helpful to have someone working with you and answering your questions as you apply. We look forward to seeing you in the Motherland! 🙂

 

Cherepovets: Russian City of Steel and Hockey

You know Moscow and St. Petersburg, of course.  And you probably have at least heard of cities such as Novosibirsk, Sochi, and Vladivostok.  But what do you know about Cherepovets?

In my traveling with my Russian language YouTube channel, I have particularly enjoyed going to cities where I knew almost nothing about the city.  And the visit to Cherepovets was no exception.

A quick diletant-level history of Cherepovets will quickly take us from ancient times and a pagan tribe that lived on the shores of the Sheksna river to a Soviet “Mono-City” to a modern city working to develop and diversify.  During Soviet times, there were quite a few cities created around one major enterprise, and in the case of Cherepovets, that would be the Severstal steel factory.

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The Severstal steel factory dominates much of the horizon in Cherepovets

The Severstal factory is the largest steel factory in Russia, so it would be hard to miss, particularly since it’s located right next to the city.  I reckon this harkens back to a time when ecology wasn’t the first thing on anyone’s mind anywhere in the world.

I will leave the subject of ecology to others as it is not a topic that I pretend to know much about.  I can only say that when I arrived in Cherepovets, the smell from the factory in the city center was quite strong, but in talking to locals, it seemed to not be a major concern.  Most folks pointed to the fact that the factory has been working hard to filter much of the emissions in recent years.  And it seems that new apartment buildings in the city are being built in areas farther away from the factory.

Cherepovets is located almost the exact same distance from both St. Petersburg and Moscow.  It is working hard to attract investment and also diversify, and has created tax incentives for new business in the city.

But what I learned the most when I was in Cherepovets is that the local people are incredibly proud of their city and also are crazy about ice hockey.  Their team, also called “Severstal”, is in the professional Continental Hockey League.  We were able to go to a match that Severstal played against the visiting team from Chelyabinsk and also talk with a couple of Severstal’s Canadian players.

The atmosphere at the match was incredible.  Imagine a city, anywhere in the world, where their local team, regardless of the sport, is THE main event in town.  The arena held about 5000 fans, and everyone seemed to know each other and really enjoyed supporting their hometown team.

The word on the street is that there is some fear that the Continental Hockey League will exclude Severstal from its ranks in the future.  I think that would be a criminal move.  You take a city like Moscow- there are at least 5 major league hockey teams in the city.  Each of those teams, of course, has die-hard fans.  But none of those teams are as vital to the city life as the Severstal team is to Cherepovets.  For in this steel-town north of Moscow, I found real Russian hockey.

We thought it would be fun to also video me trying to train with some hockey players.  The Severstal press service, ever so diplomatically suggested I start out with their ten year old team.  This is how that training event went:

In Russia, whether it be art, music, or sport, the children often have to choose one discipline to focus on and become excellent at.  The guys in the Severstal boys team were a lot of fun, and also not only happy to share their opinion on my budding hockey skills, but also give me some quick pointers on working as a goalie.  I found it interesting that they pay nothing to be a part of the team; from what I understood costs are covered also by the steel factory.

We enjoyed walking the streets and talking with the locals.  We had done a video last year in the city of Vologda, and were later inundated with comments that Cherepovets is better than Vologda.  We decided to ask folks why they think that Cherepovets is better than Vologda, and I was sort of surprised to find that Cherepovets has some of the most positive citizens from any city I’ve ever visited in Russia.

Of course, coming in from the outside, this city rivalry was mostly amusing.  I think Vologda is a fantastic city with tremendous tourism potential, and Cherepovets is an industrial city with investment opportunity.  But in both cases, I really enjoyed getting to know a couple cities that are a bit off the beaten path in Russia.

Now, I’m thinking where to travel next.  Any ideas?

Just Some Zhigulis Winter Drifting In Russia

I always knew that driving a Zhiguli during the winter was a sport.  But I didn’t know that the Russians had taken it to this level.

Wikipedia statesDrifting is a driving technique where the driver intentionally oversteers, with loss of traction in the rear wheels or all tires, while maintaining control and driving the car through the entirety of a corner.”

And winter drifting in Russia is mainly a sport for Zhigulis.  While visiting a drifting event in St. Petersburg, I found out why.

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They (fortunately) didn’t allow me behind the wheel, but the view from the passenger seat is fantastic.

The track was a figure eight.  And I learned that drifting has everything to do with technique, not speed.  And for winter drifting in Russia, the track is prepared to be icy and the Zhigulis sport studded tires.

My Zhiguli driver Aleksey is a professional driver, and while during the summer he drifts with a much more modern car, his team still puts together a Zhiguli for participating in the winter drifting events.

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A shot from inside Aleksey’s car while summer drifting.

My first impression was something like “you mean we all get together in a field on a freezing winter day to see who can spin out the best?”  But as I observed, it seemed that although the drifting itself was the highlight, the hidden treasure here is in the process.

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Not everyone made the turn on the first try.

The drivers love to fix and prepare their cars, paint them in vibrant colors, and cover them with stickers.  And as I also learned, they love to blog, particularly on Instagram.

It seemed to be a point of pride among several of the drivers how they build the cars from various car parts, and the number I heard more than once was that they had kept the total cost under 45,000₽ (roughly $670 USD).  There is a joy in the process leading up to the events.

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Anton showed me his rear-wheel drive VW Golf, with (you guessed it) a Zhiguli engine.

Anton showed me his rear-wheel drive VW Golf with a Zhiguli engine and car parts from a list of cars of the world.  The only items on the instrument panel in the car were the oil pressure light and temperature gauge.

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Dmitry took me for a ride in his BMW (with a Toyota engine)

As far as I saw, there was only one non-Russian engine at the event.  This was Dmitry’s car:  a BMW with a Toyota engine.  Dmitry told me that he is “trying to break the stereotype that you can only drift during the winter in a Zhiguli.”

The ride on the BMW felt smoother than in the Zhiguli, but as I learned, the Zhiguli in winter drifting has the advantage because it is lighter than most foreign cars.

Whether it be traveling to Kamchatka, visiting a harvest combine factory, or winter drifting, I’m loving not only observing, but joining the Russian people.  Because we might be having more fun over here than you are over there.

Here is the video (with English subtitles) that I made of the winter drifting event:

Couch Potatoes Cheer For Food Delivery In Russia

If you thought the McDonald’s drive-thru was lazy, Russia has brought the art of apathy to a whole new level with automated food delivery service.

There are two main food delivery services in Russia:  Yandex Food and Delivery Club.

Yandex Food is in 24 Russian cities while Delivery Club, is only in Moscow, from what I see.

In the end, Yandex will win… at everything, in Russia.  They are taking over, from taxis to money transfer systems, now real estate, and much more.  If you think of Yandex just as “Russia’s search engine”, you are missing out.  It is much more.

And that now includes swarms of young men with thermos-box backpacks, hustling and bustling through the streets of major Russian cities, rushing steaming victuals to the famished masses, who are too lazy to do anything more than stand up from their couch and open their front door.

These food delivery guys are improving their physical condition, while the rest of the population is rapidly degrading.  If I were into conspiracy theories…

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In the event of a zombie apocalypse, these will be the only survivors in Moscow

Not only is pushing buttons on your cell phone easier than brushing your teeth, combing your hair, and changing out of your pajamas… it’s also usually quite a bit cheaper.

A Burger King bacon cheeseburger, 3 Whoppers (w/cheese), 3 medium fries, one order of “village-style” fries and 15 chicken nuggets for 500 rubles.  That’s about $7.69 (USD).  And the best part is, that’s the price only if it’s delivered.  If you made the effort to put on your shoes and coat and walk outside and breathe fresh air, the price would be considerably more.

All the nutrition, without all of the cost and exercise:  Here’s how my wife bought all of that fantastic food, delivered to our home, for our kids, on an evening when she and I were out.  Delivery Club was having a promotional sale:  If you spent 800 rubles or more, they would subtract 300 rubles from the total and give you 15 chicken nuggets.  And yes, the delivery itself is included in the cost.

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How did the creators of the movie Wall-E see our future so clearly?

These food delivery services aren’t limited to fast food.  It seems any restaurant that wants to stay in business had better link itself to the service, including even some of the lesser-known establishments, like this small Indian restaurant.  So, whether you fancy sushi, pizza, shish-kabobs, vegan, or a steak, you can just push a few buttons on your iPhone and lay back and wait for the doorbell to ring.

And because these food delivery systems are incredibly efficient and convenient, they are also very disruptive.  It will be very interesting to see how it affects the restaurant business, and over time real estate value, particularly for restaurant locations.

And the other night when my wife and I were out and our kids were devouring Burger King at home?  Well, she and I were sitting with some friends in Vokrug Sveta, which I sort of refer to as a “trendy international food court”, and watching the food delivery guys rush past, with their thermos boxes.

And that’s when we got a fantastic Moscow money-saving idea:  why not walk into a busy Moscow food court, sit down at a table, and then order delivery from the restaurant of your choice to your table.  Pretty sure it would work, you would save money, and maybe some time.  And why embark on that arduous expedition to the cash register when you can just sit in a chair and look at your cell phone?

If you try that genius idea, please be sure to let me know how it goes.  As for now, I’m feeling hungry, and if I were to go into the kitchen, I might need to put food into the microwave to warm it up and then put my plate in the dishwasher.  Seems pretty complicated.  I might as well just pick up my phone and see what sales Delivery Club is offering today…

 

 

 

Moving To Russia? What NOT To Wear

Russia does not boast the mildest of climates for a winter visit, so many people when coming to Russia want to know what clothes to wear.

If you are coming for a week visit, you can mostly ignore the advice of this short article, but if you are moving to a major city in Russia for the long-term, then pay close attention.

In this blogger’s day job, I regularly meet folks from around the world who have just made the move to Russia.  Surprisingly, it is during the winter that they complain the most about not packing the right clothes for Russia.  And usually, the complaint is that they packed too much.

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You can usually pick out an American tourist in a crowd by the clothes he is wearing.

In the past, I would encourage folks to buy their winter clothes before coming.  But that is because it used to be that the price of clothes in Russia was higher than in the United States, for example.  But that has now changed, and you can find clothes in Russia on all ends of the budget spectrum.

Here are few thoughts for packing clothes if you are moving to Russia during the winter:

  1. It’s cold, but it’s not that cold.  Trust me on this one.  Yes, Russia is cold, BUT it is highly unlikely that you will spend all of your time outside.  And because it is cold, you will most likely be moving when you are outside, not just standing around.  You will most likely be outside walking, then on a bus or taxi, then in a building.  When your days become a series of walking, public transportation, and being inside you will highly regret your purchase of high end BULKY clothes.
  2. Your American boots are way too big.  For most of the Russian winter I wear what I would call “winter sneakers”, even when it’s snowing outside.  These are not winter boots.  There are people in Russia who shovel the sidewalks.  I do have some fantastic winter boots, but they are only brought out of the closet for very special occasions. 
  3. Upon arrival, observe the Russians’ winter apparel.  It is sort of an exaggeration that anyone is used to the cold.  I remember once hearing “Russians aren’t warmer, they just dress warmer”.  The Russians didn’t buy their winter clothes back in Hoboken, New Jersey.  AND they don’t all look like Sir Edmund Hillary ascending Everest.

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    You are an English teacher in St. Petersburg NOT Sir Edmund Hillary on Mt. Everest

  4. Don’t buy this hat.  The only people wearing this hat in Moscow are newly arrived villagers from the provinces, American tourists, or the hyper-fashionable (like the guy in this picture).  And although you might be an American tourist, do you really want to be picked out in a crowd?download-1.jpg5. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” -Leonardo da Vinci.  Don’t pay for a second bag on your flight to Moscow.  Save yourself the time, money, and stress of shopping for something you know nothing about.  Leave your thermal underwear, electric socks, hand warming packets, scarves, and mittens all back in your storage unit in Memphis.  Put on the coat you presently own and come to Russia.  There are heated buildings, cars, clothing stores, and shoveled sidewalks.

Visas to Russia for Canadians and Americans

You can thank me later.  But for now, you will enjoy Russia (and even the cold!) more if you aren’t constantly fumbling around with clothes and warming accessories and lacing up your boots as if you are about to embark on the first Iditarod and deliver that serum to Nome, Alaska.

Just turn off the inner monologue about the weather, and go about your day.  And if you need a scarf or hat, just visit your local Sportmaster store.  And if you’re moving to a Russian village, I recommend packing heavy, but in the long term, you might do best to make friends with some of the local villagers and learn where they are doing their shopping.

Do you live in Russia?  I would be sincerely interested to hear from you.  Is there any piece of winter clothing that is not available here that you wish you had bought at home before coming?  Comment below.

I Took My Teenagers To These 3 “Weird” Moscow Restaurants

The end of this blog post will have a scene where my 14 year old son compares the North Korean restaurant we are sitting in to McDonald’s.

But it all started with me asking my 16 year old daughter and 14 year old son, Hannah and Charlie, what they would like to do over the New Year’s break.

I suggested normal winter break things- like skiing.  They listened patiently, then said, “we want you to take us to weird restaurants”.

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Hannah and Charlie said this photo is perfect for the blog.  Hannah is not wearing a hood.

Since I don’t get out of the house much, I thought it might be best to crowdsource the wisdom of the masses.  So, I asked for weird restaurant suggestions in the Moscow Expats Facebook group.

There was plenty of great advice from the Moscow Expats group such as:

  • “V Temnote”, a restaurant in the dark, with blind waiters and waitresses.  I’m pretty sure we need to go there at some point.
  • Funny Cabany, a restaurant where they let you hang out with small (live) pigs.  I’ve had lunch there a few times.  And it is with no small amount of bitterness that I now tell you that no (live) pigs were involved.
  • A Cat Cafe, where you get to be surrounded by crowds of cats while eating.  Although that sounds like purgatory it could be fantastic, Hannah had already enjoyed the pleasure of dining there.

But somehow I interpreted my teenagers’ request of “weird” to mean they wanted a taste of something different, namely a taste of the kitchens of the world.  With that, we were armed with 3 fantastic suggestions:  An Indian restaurant, an Uzbek restaurant, and a North Korean restaurant.  No chain restaurants, nothing trendy.  Just real food served by the people of the nations that the restaurants represent.

WARNING:  You will need to travel outside Moscow’s Garden Ring for at least two of these options.

The Indian Restaurant “Aromass”

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The Aromass Business Lunch.  295 rubles/person

For 295 rubles it’s pretty difficult to go wrong.  And with this, it’s lots of food.  My only piece of advice is if you are looking for a huge dose of Indian spice it’s best to not order the business lunch, but order from the main menu.

Cash only at Aromass, no credit cards.  Pretty authentic all around with Indian wait staff and food that certainly reminds me of time I spent in the Maharashtra region.

Sadly, I don’t know the name of any of the food I ate.  I just said “three business lunches” and the guy asked “chicken?” and I said “yes”.  But I like the fact that there are lots of little dishes of food that you have no idea what they are (except the rice), whether they will be sweet or spicy, until you take a bite.  That’s my kind of lunch.

Do the wait staff speak English?  It seems so.  Do they speak Russian?  I also think so.  I spoke a mix of the two with them and we got everything we asked for:  Three Business Lunches With Chicken.

This was Hannah’s favorite restaurant.  She says, “The food was really good and the service was nice as well”.  Hannah, Charlie, and I are no experts, you see.  But we know what we like.

Aiva Chaihana

With this one, I’m a bit confused as they have several restaurants it seems.  We went to the one at Paveletskaya.  I knew we were in for a treat as soon as we walked in.  Not because of the carved wooden interior, but because there was quite a hustle and bustle of patrons vying for tables.  My teenagers might have rolled their eyes and asked for KFC which made me even more thrilled that we were definitely staying.

I had been promised really bad service in the Facebook forum, so was a bit disappointed that we were seated in 7 minutes as promised by the Aiva maitre d’ and after that the service continued to be quite satisfactory.

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Lagman, plov, lepeshki… that pitcher of green tea is 30 rubles

Charlie and I enjoyed some lagman and Hannah ordered plov.  Once they started eating, they both begrudgingly began to admit that the food was “pretty good”.  Some shashlik arrived later, that for reasons that are beyond my comprehension, the meat on skewers wasn’t their favorite part.  I thought it was fantastic.

Aiva has incredibly great prices.  All of this food in the photo above plus the shashlik was under 1300 rubles.

Aiva is a halal restaurant, and as such, serves no alcoholic beverages.  It also seemed to be frequented overwhelmingly by clients from Central Asia, with a few Russians mixed in, who all seemed to look equally pleased that they had discovered this hidden gem of Central Asian cuisine.

This was Charlie’s favorite restaurant.  Charlie says, “The food was tasty, the service was good and the food came quickly.  Only downside was that the place was so crowded and we had to wait for seats”.  It seems Charlie normally frequents eating establishments  where you pay first and then eat.  Not the other way around.

The North Korean Restaurant “Koryo” 

They had me at “North Korean restaurant”.  I love Korean food, but was curious if the North Korean variety was any different from what I had enjoyed in South Korea.

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Chicken soup, rice, kimchi, squid and Korean carrots.  If Planet Russia becomes a food blog, I might need someone else to take the pictures.

They also offer kimchi pancakes, which I will definitely order the next time I go.

If you are reading this and can shed any light on the Korean carrot situation, please do.  If you’ve been in Russia for long, you will know that there are these grated slightly spicy carrots for sale in the local markets known as “Korean carrots”.  I’m pretty sure my history is correct that they are just something that Koreans started making when they moved to the USSR during Soviet times, but are not actually a Korean dish.  I think they offered them with the business lunch because they think that’s what Russians expect(?), not because it’s actually a Korean dish.

The “business lunch” at Koryo is 530 rubles.  I ordered it because I wanted to try several different things.  And, as you now know, I always order the business lunch.  The main dishes on the main menu cost roughly the same amount.  So, uh, not sure if the fine folks back in Pyongyang got the memo about what a business lunch in Moscow is all about.  I will probably take the radical step of just ordering off the main menu the next time that I go.

Charlie said, “the food is good, but it’s a little stuffy in here”.  He was right, but I will tell you this place is fabulous, and I’m going to eat at Koryo all the time now.  Yes, it’s a little stuffy, perhaps because it’s in a basement.  But the food is marvelous, and there is a video looping in the background with marching soldiers, followed by grand concerts, followed by marching soldiers.

Also, when we were walking out, I think I saw a banquet hall.  I tried to peek in, but the wait staff seemed concerned.  In any case, I’m trying to think of an important life event, so that I can host it there.

And as we sat there in the North Korean Restaurant “Koryo” I asked Hannah and Charlie what they thought of our mini-tour of “weird” restaurants.  Charlie answered, “Basically, it seems you like cheap restaurants that aren’t McDonald’s”.

Couldn’t argue with the man.  But they then readily agreed that we would need to continue this tour of fantastic fare in the future.

BONUS CONTENT:

Taking my own advice, Hannah, Charlie and I visited a couple of art galleries over the winter break, that we chose randomly off a list that we found on the internet.  Since these galleries were free during the holiday break, we saved up to 100 rubles per ticket:

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I know even less about art than I do about food.

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This gallery made it on their Instagrams, so I’m pretty sure that means they liked it

Any other ideas where to take teenagers either in Moscow or around Russia?  Let me know your ideas, and as for the teenagers… they will learn to enjoy it.

EXTRA BONUS CONTENT (For Russian speakers):  Here’s another fun family activity that Hannah, Charlie and I did together over break.  Hannah joins in at the 2:01:40 mark, Charlie at 4:21:00 and Hannah again at 6:16:00.

 

Good sports those kids are.

American Blogger Reads Soviet Children’s Book in Russian For 9 Hours 50 Minutes On YouTube Live

In which this blogger writes a headline about myself in the third person.

Yes, it’s crazy how the Russia New Year holidays can give you some bizarre ideas on how to pass the time!

I wasn’t one to waste my time try to ride the entire Moscow metro system in one day.  Indeed, I thought I was above that manner of tomfoolery, until I chanced upon this pointless video on YouTube:

I mean, I’m not even sure this guy is counting half the time.  Preposterous… right?

But then I felt myself oddly inspired.  And I thought what kind of YouTube Live Marathon challenge could I do in Russian?

I thought of reading a book in Russian, but after my friends heard me reading Dostoyevsky, they suggested it was best not to defile classical Russian literature with my accent, and instead, suggested that I read a Soviet children’s classic, “Незнайка в солнечном городе” (“Know-Nothing in the Sunny City”).  I instantly agreed.

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Our hero Neznaika

Here is the result.  Feel free to watch all 9 hours and 50 minutes of me working through the Russian text, or just skip around and shake your head at my YouTube stunt.  Thankfully, my teenage kids helped a few times.

 

What I learned while reading “Neznaika in Sunny City”:

  • It takes longer to read 388 pages than I expected.
  • Russia literature’s love of detailed descriptions did not die with Tolstoy.
  • The author of Neznaika, Nikola Nosov, was some sort of futurologist.  There were driverless harvest combines and automated taxis, for example, in Sunny City.
  • The problem with living in a revolving building is you would lose your sense of time because your position in relation to the sun would constantly be changing.
  • Nikolai Nosov enjoyed giving the books heroes humorous last names with creative root words.  Svistulkin (root word “whistle) was the policeman.  And, if my memory isn’t failing me, a man who wrote an editorial for the local newspaper that the police were responsible for the hooligans’ behavior had a last name that had the root word for “Cockroach”.
  • My voice hurt the next day.
  • If you have a magic wand, you had better use it correctly.  Neznaika failed on this point countless times.
  • A Russian teacher once told me that reading out loud in Russian would improve my pronunciation.  I am unsure if that (or the opposite) happened in this experiment.
  • I sort of felt that there was a Soviet propaganda push for eating at cafeterias.  The futuristic apartments in the revolving buildings had automated food deliver, but eating at cafeterias was more interesting, from what I gathered.
  • People can turn into donkeys.  And they can be turned back into humans by reading the right books.  But donkeys can never be turned into humans, no matter how much they read.

The book was actually surprisingly interesting and did a fantastic job of taking the reader into a fantasy world and also reminding children of the importance of being good, washing regularly, etc.  And clearly, this book was meant to be read over multiple evenings, as there were descriptive details that repeated themselves throughout the book.

What more obscure Russian books have you read and enjoyed?  Maybe I’ll need to do another Russian book reading marathon … someday.

How To Say “Happy New Year” In Russian (It Depends!!!)

So, you are wanting to wish a Russian friend a “Happy New Year” and you go onto the internet for some help.

This should be a straightforward task, and Google Translate is indeed rapidly improving, but unfortunately you will most likely make a situational error in congratulating your Russian friends on their nation’s most important holiday.

Now to be sure, Google Translate is correct:  The Russian version of Happy New Year” is “S Novim Godom”(С Новым Годом).  This literally means “with the new year” and the “I congratulate you” is implied (I always wondered why Happy Birthday in Russian was “With your birthday”).

But here is a Russian congratulation nuance:  You will only be absolutely correct to say “S Novim Godom!” on New Year’s Day, starting at midnight.

But at any moment before or after New Year’s Day you are to use different phrases in Russian.

Before New Year’s Day, including December 31st (!), you are to congratulate with the coming New Year.  This is an awkward phrase in English to be sure, but shows the importance of not only understanding a language, but also the situations that its culture presents.

“With the coming New Year” in Russian is “S Nastupayushchim Novim Godom” (С наступающим Новым Годом).  Or you can simply say “With the Coming!” (“S nastuypayushchim!”).  And if you think that’s difficult to say, try to pronounce this short Russian word.

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It’s interesting that Google translates “With the coming New Year” as simply “Happy New Year”, which is only situationally correct for the English language.

After New Year’s Day you can congratulate “With the New Year’s that has come”, which in Russian is “S Nastupivshim Novim Godom” (С наступившим Новым Голом).  Or simply “S nastupivshim”.

Now, if you’ve made it this far in this blog post and really want to show off to your Russian friends, Orthodox Christmas is on January 7th.  That means you can say “S nastupivshim i s nastupayushchim!”.  That means “With that which has come (implied New Year) and that which is to come (implying Christmas)”.

As with most simple social interactions like saying hello or shaking hands, if you do it the simple way (in this case “S Novym Godom!” regardless of the day you are congratulating), your Russian friends will simply appreciate your effort to speak their language and show you that you are impressed.  But with just a bit more resolution (maybe New Year’s resolution?) to not only speak Russian well, but understand it’s many nuances you will knock your Russian friend’s socks off.

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Because Grandfather Frost and Santa Claus are two very different personalities and the way we celebrate holidays in Russia, including New Year’s Day are different.  So, let’s enjoy the fine points of the holiday diversity together.

And if nothing else, isn’t it great to know that human intellect hasn’t been entirely replaced (just yet) by Google?

Happy New Year, my friends!