But not so fast! The reason the rest of the world calls Moskva “Moscow” is because that’s actually pretty close to what it used to be called some centuries ago. And although the Russian capital city’s name evolved for itself over time, the rest of the world decided to stay traditional- although we have modernized ourselves to the point of calling the river running through the city the Moskva River.
But the question here is what is the correct pronunciation of the word “Moscow”.
And there is a right way and a wrong way.
And it’s not this confusing and somewhat amusing tutorial from YouTube. I mean the dude sounds a bit irritated during this 10-second video that the rest of the world is pronouncing it differently.:
What we are talking about is the correct pronunciation of the English word for Moscow, Russia’s capital city.
The easy rule of thumb to remember when pronouncing this word is that “there is no cow in Moscow”.
When people put a cow in Moscow, I normally stand and nod and smile like this lady:
Yes, I am saying there is a right and wrong way of pronouncing Moscow. And the correct way to pronounce Moscow is to take the cow out of it: “Mahskoh”.
And to help you remember, enjoy some timelapse scenes from one of the world’s most vibrant urban centers, with a soundtrack that, if you listen carefully, features both the correct Russian version of the city’s name (female voice), and the English version (male voice). The repetition of both language versions will help you remember! Enjoy and happy correct pronunciation to all, regardless of language!
Well, not long after the lockdown in the Moscow region was lifted, a good Russian friend invited me to the village about 75 miles north of Moscow that he and his family go to during the summer. We went to visit them and were told about pieces of land for sale in the village, and we also began to discuss the idea of starting a farm together.
The situation evolved quickly.
Here are some photos, which will end with a few more details:
Here this blogger, his wife, and two of their boys pose in front of the old house on the piece of village land we bought. (Taken from my Russian Instagram account).
You can go on a tour of the old house, in Russian, here.
Almost immediately after buying the old house a Moscow TV station came out to ask why on earth we would do something like that. 🙂
Unfortunately, the house can not be restored (this is the back of it). But we do hope to use some of the material for a future banya (Russian bathhouse), perhaps a gazebo for picnics, and also a barn for sheep.
So, we built a new house. Electricity, heat, and water coming soon. 🙂
Although running water is a future item, the house came equipped with a view that hasn’t been difficult to get used to.
The land had been left unused for ten years, so it took this blogger about two weeks of work with a hand scythe and some help from friends to get it cleared.
A big sky and fantastic sunsets, that my phone’s camera doesn’t do justice to.
Some tools from the old house used as decoration in the new house.
Three ancient cities are within an hour drive, including this spot which Ivan the Terrible ruled from more than 400 years ago.
The closest store is about 6 miles from the village, so a “truck-store” comes 3 times a week, honks the horn, and everyone runs from their houses and gets in line. I’m thinking they need to try ice cream truck music instead of the horn.
For farming, we decided to start off with quail. Here are some eggs in the incubator.
And the first hatching!
And some newborns! They are much bigger now. We now have an incubator full of eggs, some that are growing, and a couple hundred that are getting close to harvest.
The quail have started their very own Instagram account. Be sure to subscribe here.
We are bootstrapping, but we plan to add chickens, turkeys, and sheep in the coming months. Also, we are working on plans to acquire some more land and add some guest houses. Russians love to come out and relax in the village and we look forward to providing a family camp setting.
Of course, we were unsure how the village would receive us, but so far we have been blown away by how open and kind they have been. They are thrilled about new life coming to the village and the babushkas share zucchini and cucumbers from their gardens.
Here’s a Russian-language video I made about the village:
More updates to come! And we look forward to not only showing you photos and sharing news, but seeing you as our guest in the village.
**** If you are a foreigner living in Russia, and are thinking perhaps not about the village, but of owning your own apartment or house, my day job remains real estate, and I would love to be able to help you out. You can check out this post I wrote about Foreigners Owning Real Estate In Russia.
Born in humble circumstances in 1936 in the state of Mississippi in the USA, Saturn the Alligator, was captured and sent that very same year to Berlin.
What happened next is the recipe for the urban legend that later embodied his personality in the Moscow Zoo.
Saturn the Alligator
In Berlin, Saturn was put on display in the zoo, and it is reported that Hitler loved the zoo, and specifically the alligators.
According to Saturn’s Wikipedia article, only 96 of the 16,000 animals in the Berlin Zoo survived the bombing at the end of the war. Saturn was eventually taken in by British troops who later gave him as a gift to the Soviet Union.
The details of how Saturn arrived in Moscow are unknown due to the fact that a tourism office in Moscow burnt down in the 1950’s. We also can only presume that these were difficult years for Saturn that he didn’t like to discuss, even in his later years.
Mississippi alligators generally only live into their forties, but Saturn apparently was living the dream at the Moscow Zoo, because he passed away on May 23, 2020 at the ripe old age of 84.
Here is a video of Saturn getting a bath.
TJ Journal quotes Moscow Zoo employees as saying “He saw many of us as children. We hope that we have not disappointed him.”
Saturn was preceded in death by his first wife, Shipka.
This is a guest-post. There is plenty of information out there about the self-isolation situation in Russia, and particularly in Moscow. So, I thought it would be interesting to catch the point of view of an American who is far away from the capital city, in the city of Ekaterinburg.
Stefan is a retired Respiratory Therapist who started coming to Russia in 2005. While he lived in Perm full time for several years, he now splits his time between Bangkok, Penang, and Ekaterinburg. As a hobby, he tours around the Ural region as a Blues singer with a band of local musicians.
Stefan continues to smile from his flat in Ekat.
Stefan Goes To The Moon – And Stays There, Thanks To The ‘Rona
So when I first started coming to Russia in 2005 (on the advice of a Russian colleague), my friends were understandably amazed – they had no concept of traveling that far, or to that place. I used to joke with them, ‘hey, it’s not like I’m going to the moon’, though it seemed they thought I was.
After I’d been to Perm a few times, and established contacts and an ‘alternate life’ there, I became known as ‘The American In Town’ (Perm was a closed city during Soviet times, and they didn’t have a big experience with foreigners). Several times the local media would want to interview me, to get an American’s perspective on life in Russia. I told one reporter the story about how my US friends thought I was going to the moon when I came to Perm, which she thought was quite funny. When the story came out in the local paper (this was pre easy access to the internet in Russia) I saw that the title of the article was ‘Stefan Goes To The Moon’. I and all my Russian friends got a big kick out of that, surely.
Fast forward 15 years, and I find myself back in the Urals, ostensibly to do a 10 week Spring Blues Tour with my guys. I’d originally planned to come on 19 March, but when some shows in Kirov got booked, I saw that I needed to come a week earlier. This turned out to be highly fortunate, since Russia got locked down 18 March, and If I’d followed the original plan, I would not have been able to come at all, and I’d be stuck in Thailand.
Stefan displays his blues skills on a local Russia morning TV show in 2018:
So here I am in Ekaterinburg, 6 weeks in, with no shows, in a locked-down city, in a locked-down country. No meetings with friends, no going out to eat in a nice restaurant, etc. As with everyone else in the world, I’m having to adjust to being Sheltered In Place.
My agent here in Russia hooked me up with a studio flat in Eburg’s city center. Close to shopping and our rehearsal studio. It has a shop onsite the has all the food essential. It’s a new building, and very clean. The staff is excellent, and they even have hand sanitizer in the lobby. Two-minute walk to McDs, Blues, and the all-important ‘Red & White’ shop.
A shot of Stefan’s lockdown quarters.
It’s not unlike getting on a train in St. Petersburg, on a trip to Vladivostok. Oh, and when you get there, you sleep through the layover, and the train heads back west with you on it. Or you can say it’s like going on a trip to the moon.
Listen to Stefan tell the story of his “trip to the moon” and then enjoy his “flying to Russia song”. His mellow vibes serve as a beacon to fellow expats around Russia, learning to live a new life with coronavirus.
You might be thinking of getting a Russian residence permit if things are starting to get serious between you and the Motherland.
I will tell you the story of how I got an unlimited Russian residency permit. By unlimited, I mean a Russian residence permit “with no expiration date”. This is the result of a new law that came into effect on November 1, 2019, simplifying both the requirements for residency permits in Russia and also making these permits free of expiration dates.
I won’t tell you every single step, because that would require much more than a blog post. That would be sort of like doing an interview with Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface and asking, “How does a man get on the moon?”.
If you are looking for a to-do list on getting a Russian residence permit, there are plenty ofgood resources online. If you would like someone to guide you through the process, I will provide a recommendation at the end of this post. Because I’m not that guy.
Here are a few points to get started with for applying for your Russian residence permit. There are exceptions to nearly every point, but in most cases:
In order to get a permanent residence permit in Russia, you will first need to get a temporary residency permit.
In order to get a temporary residence permit, you will first need to already be in Russia, which in most cases, will meanyou need a visa.
Owning real estate in Russiadoes not guarantee residency, but it does simplify the process. Because otherwise, you will need to find a good friend who will register you in their home. Not always an easy task. As a point of product placement in this blog post, I might mention that I run a real estate agency in Moscow, and we are seeing a rapidly growing number of foreigners make the decision to buy their own home. This will certainly ease the residence application for them if they choose to follow that route.
You will need to pass a Russian language, history and law test (more on that later)
You will also need to pass various medical tests (such as TB, HIV).
I’m smiling on the inside, like a Russian, after receiving my unlimited residence permit.
Here’s the great news. In the past, the “permanent” Russia residence permits needed to be renewed every 5 years. Not the end of the world, but also not my favorite procedure.
But as of December 1, 2019, all Russia permanent residence permits are now without an expiration date. That means if you already have a Russia permanent residence permit, the next time you need to get a renewal, it will be for a shiny new residence permit, happily free of any expiration date.
If you are going for renewal, here is the list of necessary documents, according to my local immigration office:
This notice reads that in order to renew your Russia residence permit you will need:
To write an appeal letter for renewal (an example is found in the bottom third of this page).
Your passport and notarized passport translation.
Your current residence permit.
A document proving that you passed the Russian language, history, and law tests.
2 photos, 35X45 on non-glossy photo paper.
And your receipt of paying the related fees. Currently, that amount is 5000 rubles. Which means if you have 4 kids and 1 wife, like this blogger, the total fees will be 30,000 rubles.
If you have already received your temporary residence permit you will agree with me- this could not possibly be any simpler. But if you have renewed before, the new system might make you uneasy, just like it did me. You see, in the past, you had to apply for renewal no later than 2 months before your residence permit was due for expiration.
However, the wording of the law under the renewal/no expiration date reform states that you can apply during the validity period of your current residence permit. I hate keeping anything until the last minute. So, in all, I paid 11 visits to my local immigration office over a period of 2 months. Each time, I found a bit more useful information that was helpful in the process and was told to come back last minute.
If you are from a country that requires a visa to enter Russia, it is strongly recommended that you apply further in advance than we did!
It’s probably worth mentioning that the lines in the immigration offices have become much more organized, much less desperate, and happily shorter, due to many people making appointments online. It’s a much better system. The lines didn’t really bother me during those 11 visits. I do have queue experience, and I’ve learned that these types of situations in Russia are much more about a journey than a formula. Once you learn that philosophical truth you will find life to be much more enjoyable.
Long story short, two weeks of relative uneasiness, and yesterday we received our unlimited Russia residence permits. Of course, this story is not over, because you have 7 days to get registered, so will be scrambling to do that after I write this blog post.
The Russian Language, History, and Law Test
This is sort of a side-show that perhaps deserves its own blog post. If you have already done the test in the past 5 years, you shouldn’t have to do it again. I had never done the test before. Here are a few points that I still remember.
The year that the Romanov dynasty began.
If you adopt a child in Russia, you can’t marry them later. I think if you fail that question you should not be allowed to get a residence permit anywhere.
There was an uprising in 1825. Not sure what the kerfuffle was all about, but I know the year.
Your employer in Russia does not have the right to take away your passport. There were quite a few points about labor law, presumably to protect new immigrants.
There is a fish festival in Moscow every year. We listened to an audio segment about this and then answered questions.
I wrote a letter to an imaginary friend describing how I had taken part in a dance competition in Moscow.
Come to think of it, that’s all I remember! Which is sort of surprising because I think I answered 100% of the answers right. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying.
If you are serious about getting Russian residency, and want a guide, you can contact my friend Dmitry Phillipov here. Dmitry is great and has helped a lot of folks. Dmitry’s consultations start at 250 euros, so only serious inquiries. If you are at the beginning of your journey to Russia, I recommend that you start off with some time on Google anda visa.
As for me, I guess the next step for me is to apply for Russian citizenship. Because when it comes to love for the Motherland… it’s all about the journey.
This blogger works in the area of real estate, and I can say that there is a rapidly growing interest in real estate investment in Russia. I thought it would be interesting to share a few of the investment opportunities in Russia that have crossed my desk in recent weeks:
The Fiddler on the Roof
You can learn how to play the balalaika, buy a cow, move to the village, and build your very own banya. I guess this is an investment mainly in the sense that you would be investing in something like peace and quiet… or unforgettable life experience.
Do you like carrying water and chopping wood? Then this is for you!
Not only is Russian law very open to the foreign purchase of real estate, it is also very open to foreign ownership of local businesses.
Here’s a clinicin the city of Perm, Russia that is selling both the facility, and also the licensing and business documents. The clinic claims to have an annual stream of about 15,000 patients.
You can own a functioning medical clinic in near Siberia for under $400,000 USD
There are a large number of real estate/business offers ranging from medical clinics to factories to stores or even small apartment buildings with long-term renters. The latter has become a popular option among foreign university students, presumably financed by relatives from back home.
This is perhaps my favorite. You can essentially buy an efficiency apartment in a hotel facility and either live there, rent it out yourself, or sign a contract with the hotel management in which they operate your apartment and you split the profits with them, often an 80/20 split. There are many such options in Moscow and St. Petersburg, often located in high demand areas of the city.
For example, the Tverskaya Residencecomplex in downtown Moscow offers both penthouses (at $5 million USD and up) and also smaller efficiency apartments (starting at around $267,000) in the hotel portion of the building. It offers a guaranteed annual return on investment of 10%, creating a true passive income with your real estate investment.
It’s the hotel’s responsibility to attract customers, service the room during their stay, clean, fix any damages… and transfer money to your bank account.
These 3 Russian Real Estate Investment options are only the tip of the iceberg. It has been encouraging to see this uptick of serious long-term interest from foreigners from all around the world.
It’s cool to be a part of options with such a strong upside, help provide management options for the foreigner if they don’t plan to live in Russia, and also steer them away from dubious investment situations.
It’s easy to forget about the villages when you visit Moscow’s vibrant Moskva-City district
Whether you are looking for an office in Moskva-City or have always dreamed of living in a Russian village, the doors are open, and you can start making steps towards a more serious long-term relationship with Russia today. And perhaps nothing shows how vast and diverse Russia is than all of its real estate investment opportunities.
And as I work in real estate, I enjoy being a small part of opening the potential of Russia to the world. Welcome to Russia!
‘”It seemed to be in good condition and was being offered at a great price at a well-known dealership. But when I checked the VIN code, I saw that the car was under arrest. I asked the dealer how is it that he was offering me a car with such a serious problem, and he just answered ‘What did you expect for that kind of money?'”
I’m talking to my friend “Sergey” who has a small business in the Ural region, renting out cars to taxi drivers. Sergey had come to Moscow to buy a car or two as he had seen some great offers on the internet.
Long story short, Sergey returned home without making a single purchase. The cars were either more expensive than he was prepared to pay or an astonishing number of them had serious legal issues attached.
Often when purchasing a used car, we can be so focused on making sure that it has no mechanical issues, that we can forget about the legal part. And mechanical issues can certainly cost you some money, but legal issues can cost even more in time, expense, and emotional bandwidth.
Russia has lots of great cars. Unfortunately, not all of them are straightforward about their “history”.
As for Sergey, it certainly is disappointing to make such a trip with no result, but buying the wrong car is a decidedly more objectionable affair.
When I was recently asked by a friend to help her buy a car, I called Sergey when I thought that I had found the right one, but wanted to do a background check on the car. The car we were considering was just a couple years old, had a few minor scratches, but otherwise seemed in great condition, especially considering the price.
I sent Sergey the VIN code and he checked it. He called back a few minutes later and explained that the car had originally been owned by a business (a sure sign that it had been used as a taxi), and then had a total of 7 (!) owners in the course of a single year. Most likely, there were no legal issues with the car, but the situation was already suspicious enough to deem any further research unnecessary.
It would be fascinating to research the history of this American-style school bus.
How these kind of situations are even possible is perhaps the topic for a different blog post. And what to do if you accidentally buy a car that is under arrest could be the theme of a book series. In short, you will need to go to court and will end up in a lengthy, largely-distasteful process.
What I want to do is provide a few tips on how to reduce the chances of falling into these types of disagreeable situations.
Find a used car dealership that actually owns the cars that it is selling, rather than one that is working on commission on behalf of the owner. The better the used car dealership, the higher the prices. It is up to you to choose whether saving money or sleeping well is of more value in your life.
Buy a car from someone you know. If you do an online search of folks in Russia who have bought cars under arrest, they almost invariably cannot find the person that sold them the car. But if you know you can find that person after the purchase, it is less likely they will try to deceive you. Of course, the problem of doing it this way is anytime the car breaks down, you will remember your friend.
Don’t buy a used car. Buy a new one. That’s probably obvious, but be sure to research the price difference. The value of cars, after purchase, does not fall as quickly in Russia as you might expect. And buying a new car, often includes an attractive warranty.
Decide if you really need to buy a car at all. With incredibly low taxi prices, reliable public transportation systems, and plenty of carsharing companies, owning a car is often not a need, particularly in major cities.
Have an experienced Russian friend join you for the process.
Research the process from beginning to end and do not rely on just one blog post (like this one). After all, I am in no way a great source of legal counsel, I am just telling you what I know to point you in the right direction.
Most importantly, in every situation, no matter how honest you feel the seller is, do a background check on the car. Because the seller might honestly not be aware of the history of the car they are offering.
In case this blog post seems to make Russia out to be a pack of swindlers, please rest assured that my business experience points to Russians holding a high level of integrity overall. This can be shown not only by many positive blog posts, but also by the 10+ used cars I purchased over the past 19 years, when I did no background check, and experienced no issues. However, these recent situations have convinced me that spending the time and effort to make a simple background check is certainly worth the time and small amount of effort required.
My friend Sergey uses a car background service called “AvtoKod”. You can visit their site here. For a small fee (I think 100 rubles) you can get the car’s history based on police, customs authorities, court records, etc. and perhaps save yourself some months of regret later. This is not a paid advertisement and it is not legal advice… I am just telling you how I do it.
Here’s to you finding a reliable car at a reasonable price, with no strings attached. Happy driving, everyone!
5 not-so-obvious reasons to go to the largest country in the world to study, and stay a while longer
They come to Russia to study, for reasons of nostalgia, to stay with their relatives, or in search of good education at a reasonable price. However, prospective students don’t usually anticipate that they will earn their diploma while enjoying the fantastic experience of living in a country of “hot” winters, deep friendships, wise grandmothers, and a luxurious metro system.
Winter is always coming…
…but there is no reason to despair. Actually, Russians would love winter, were it not so long. In November or December, when the first snow falls, it’s as if you become a character in a grand holiday show – everyone around you cheers up at the autumn mud giving way to beautiful white powder, and the New Year – one of the main and most joyous Russian holidays – is just around the corner. Ornaments, decorations and bright lights begin to transform the streets almost a month before New Year’s Eve, and the holiday celebration itself lasts a whole week as the entire country changes its focus to gathering often with family and friends.
In contrast to Europe, central heating keeps Russian homes toasty. You might find a visit to your grandmother’s place feels like spending time in a sauna, with an open window being the only thing saving the old lady from a heat stroke, despite the -20 degree temperature outside.
The outdoors also offers plenty of winter entertainment, such as skiing, skating or sledding. Many Russian towns, in particular those known as the Golden Ring, turn incredibly beautiful in winter. And no less glorious are the snow-covered Russian forests. When you have some free time – such as the long New Year holiday – travel to frozen Lake Baikal and have a stroll – or better yet a slide – on an endless icy plane. Wow!
Find your people
It’s hard to believe when coming to study in Russia that such a chilling – ugh! – climate can be home to such warm and heartfelt people. Curiously enough, this is exactly the case. Rest assured, no one will smile at you in the street for no reason. A walk outside, especially if taken in gloomy November, might make you think the people around you suffer from acute clinical depression. Enter into a store to buy a bottle of water or a soda, and a clerk will look at you as if you are an archenemy and your mere presence is a disturbance. But this icy outer crust of grumpiness thaws quickly, as soon as you buddy up with some Russians (drinking together is not necessary, however if your goal is a global warming of relationship, then a drinking glass will speed up the thaw time).
Foreigners often believe Russians do not like other people. Nonsense! They are just not used to showing affection to everyone who crosses their path. For a Russian, the world is divided into “us” and “them”, but not on the basis of nationality, rather on the basis of acquaintance. As soon as you take a leap of faith into the “us” category, the Russian mentality will open up its warm and incredibly friendly interior to you. You can expect warm welcomes, a seat at abundant and elaborate dinner tables, discussions that last until the early morning and heartfelt sharing of personal experiences. In Russia, a good host is one who welcomes a guest with homemade food and comfort. You would be hard pressed to find more sincere and cordial friends anywhere else in the world.
Having a chat with Russian grandmothers will boost your wisdom for many years to come – after all, they are savvy both in cooking borsch and economic recovery. Plus, you can always go to them for the latest gossip about popular culture.
Like the culture, the local cuisine has been shaped by cold winters. Food should warm you up! Russians are fond of meat and all sorts of pickled products (remember that episode of “Rick and Morty” when Rick turned himself into a pickle and had the Russian mafia call him Pickle Rick? There you go). Pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic and pepper, soaked apples and pears, are all stored for the winter. A housewife raised in the USSR will store a variety of fruits and vegetables in glass jars on her balcony, ready to serve them when the time comes to share food over true stories and heated arguments about global affairs.
Sliced bread with butter and caviar, or jellied meat, is a popular treat. Buckwheat, an exotic cereal in many countries, is consumed on a daily basis. Russians love mushrooming and making dried-fruit drinks – all of the above characteristic of life in a Russian “Dacha,” or country house. In fact, the country houses of the residents of Moscow and Saint Petersburg are their own worlds to escape to during the summer. You have a good chance of being taken along, too. Quite often, Russians grow their own fruits and vegetables there and, even when the harvest is slim, they would be proud to give you a cucumber grown with their own hands, hoping you will truly enjoy it.
The country of peoples
Good news: racism is practically unheard of in Russia. A Russian might become irritated if you intrude on their personal space or act obtrusively, but any foreigner who respects the hosts and local lifestyle will receive more than their fair share of hospitality.
Though Russian is the only official language, Russia is home to as many as 27 official regional dialects and about two hundred nationalities. Today, it is more and more common for foreigners to come to Russia to study or work. Russians have become accustomed to living side by side with various ethnic groups. The USSR even had a strong ideological value – the friendship of peoples – which is still held by many and can cause the older generation to shed a nostalgic tear.
MBA students of The Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO
The Russian higher education system welcomes international students as much as any other country, including the youth from the former Soviet republics, Asia, and even the U.S., who come over to study as doctors, engineers, agricultural or oil production experts, or even fashion photographers. And if you would like to do business with China, Central or Middle Asia, studying in Russia can give you a head start. Russia is a major economic partner for neighbouring countries, which has led to the development of specialized international business programmes. For example, this November the Russian business school SKOLKOVO and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) will launch the joint programme EMBA for Eurasia, designed for business developers in Eurasia and China. Leading professors from all over the globe – Kazakhstan to Switzerland – will serve as mentors, and the programme will allow students to make practical business contacts with top industry professionals right then and there as you study.
The Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO, on Graduation Day 2018
Empires within the Empire
Just as there is a “them” in the context of Russian friendship, Russia has some internal divisions between cultures. The two capital cities – contemporary capital Moscow and former-capital Saint Petersburg – are considered to be empires, in their own right, within the empire of Russia. “Peter,” as Russians often refer to it, is arguably an enormous open-air objet d’art – the architecture is completely European and home to a mind-blowing number of museums that will make your head spin. The Hermitage, alone, would take a lifetime to fully explore! Luckily, a wide variety of unusual cafes and restaurants will give you sustenance on this never-ending exploration. If you live and study in Saint Petersburg, you’re likely to visit your friends in the former residences of the aristocracy with high ceilings and stucco molding. The friends themselves will almost certainly be art connoisseurs and able to arrange a rooftop tour of the city.
The largess of Moscow is made easily navigable by a uniquely magnificent and practical metro. The metro feels more like an underground residence for Soviet elites than a means of transportation. Statues, mosaics, stucco, and now even coffee shops and secret bathrooms, are characteristic of the Moscow metro! For a while, Dmitry Glukhovsky’s “Metro 2033” became popular in Russia. His novel is about Muscovites creating micro-states in the metro system after surviving a nuclear attack. Not bad for a survival idea, huh?
To sum it up, going to Russia to study will teach you a lot in the school of life – you will learn to enjoy extremes, such as cold yet postcard-perfect winters, and the art of turning a surly companion into one’s best friend. After all, as they say in Russia, “don’t judge by clothes.”
This post was guest-written by Daria Lavrentieva, Communications manager at EMBA for Eurasia program by SKOLKOVO Business School & HKUST
It seems with any major sporting event of global significance, there is usually a fair amount of skepticism leading up to the opening night. Skepticism on whether the stadiums will be ready on time, questions about the capability of local infrastructure to handle the influx of international fans, and, of course, security concerns.
The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia were no exception, and it seemed that a fair number of journalists were almost hoping to find problems when they arrived. It’s interesting that now four years later, I only remember one problem: the double toilet stall. After googling, I was reminded of issues with one of the Olympic rings opening at the opening ceremony and snow quality on the ski slopes.
Th chuckle-worthy double toilet situation was in the lobby restroom of a media hotel. And we soon witnessed “Gotcha” journalism at its best as this image became a shooting star for a news cycle.
It’s interesting, and in retrospect, unsurprising, that the Russians did not appreciate this and some of the other complaining that came out of Sochi. Their response was: “If I cleaned my house, cooked dinner, and then invited you over as a guest, would you then look for something wrong with my house to to take a picture of and then send it to all of your friends?”.
As far as I understand, the task of journalism is to tell the truth. But outside of a baffling double toilet stall there was a much bigger story, and a much bigger truth of a nation that had spared no expense to welcome the world.
With the World Cup coming to Russia, I also had my fair share of concern. How would Russia really pull this off? Stadiums in 11 cities? And these cities aren’t exactly close to each other. I was involved in providing real estate for visiting international journalists and I saw that some of them still had no idea where they would be staying in a city, just days before a match.
There was even a real amount of concern whether the stadiums were well-organized enough to process fans in time, so that they wouldn’t be stuck in a queue before the match.
And what was perhaps just as concerning to me was that in talking to Russian friends in World Cup cities, they seemed to just roll their eyes at any mention of the World Cup and complain about how the authorities were handling everything. Just a month ago it seemed that most Russians simply were hoping that the World Cup would just pass by quickly.
And the Russia national soccer team was the butt of many jokes. No one expected them to win … well anything.
But then something magical happened.
A shot from my Russian-language vlog where I attempt to speak Spanish with a Colombian fan and we end up just shouting random positive phrases.
Wagonloads of boisterous fans invaded the nation, catching the local population off-guard with their flamboyant national costumes mixed with singing, dancing, and smiling on the streets. They came in planes, trains, automobiles, bicycles, and tractors. A few even came by foot.
Then the Russian team beat Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the tournament by a score of 5-0.
The Russians were then caught off guard again by a left hook of positivity. The foreign fans not only were enjoying the soccer, they were telling everyone how amazing they found Russia to be, and how well-organized the event was in all 11 cities.
Then Russia beat Egypt 3-1.
This is not to say that there were no problems. There were stories of fans who confused the cities of Veliky Novgorod and Nizhni Novgorod and also went to Rostov Veliky instead of Rostov-on-Don. Russia lifehack: if you visit a city with “Veliky” in the title, you are more likely to be amazed by the ancient architecture of a town of historical significance than enjoy a soccer match.
Then Russia lost to Uruguay 3-1.
But somehow this time, fans having problems never seemed like a problem because of the euphoric mood in the nation. And local Russians soon found themselves enjoying helping these international guests in their time of need. There are stories of fans getting lost while driving and the local people welcoming them for the night, feeding them and then leading them where they need to go… all at no cost.
What I learned is that the World Cup is much larger than the Olympics. And it felt to me that soccer is almost secondary. The World Cup is an amazing Festival of the Nations. The fans love taking pictures with each other, and in comparison to professional football clubs, I noticed almost no animosity among fans of opposing teams, except perhaps in jest.
I almost forgot! Russia then beat Spain in a shootout and the country went berserk with euphoria.
I was able to get tickets to the France-Uruguay match in Nizhni Novgord with a friend. Here are my thoughts following the match. Note that the match was in Nizhni Novgorod, and the organization of the match was at a world class level.
Russia has so much to offer the world. And now, much of the world has seen much of Russia’s real capabilities. The national team went much farther than anyone expected, finally being knocked out in the quarterfinals in a shootout with Croatia. It has been super fun to see the Russian people gain so much national pride in such a short time, it has been fantastic to hear babushkas on park benches excitedly discussing soccer. And looking to the future, I am thrilled to see that each Russian has become a bit more of a brand manager for their homeland.
And who knows? Maybe there was a double toilet stall somewhere in Russia during the World Cup. But what’s made this month so fantastic is that nobody noticed. We were all too busy enjoying the top notch service, the clean city streets, and all these loud smiling faces from all over the world.
One of the first questions foreigners will ask upon arriving in Moscow is “why isn’t anyone smiling?”.
There are two possible answers to this question:
There is nothing to be happy about.
They are smiling, but it’s only on the inside, which to the casual observer makes it difficult to observe their overwhelming mirth.
What I have learned is that in many situations, a Russian will find something humorous, but unlike his American counterpart, doesn’t always feel the urge to guffaw like an orangutan on crack cocaine.
One of the slang words for laughing in Russian is “neighing”. Next time you’re giggling with some friends, remember that interesting and useless fact. Yes, you are now engaging in equine euphoria.
But what this blog post is really about is the emoticon. The emoticon is the most important area where Russia and the United States don’t understand each other.
You see, Americans really love dragging everything out in conversation. In Russia, the idea of small talk is more than a little strange. I pontificate on how this matter affects international business negotiation here.
And if I were to simultaneously attempt to think deeply and also in broad stereotypes, I might also add that Russians are usually very good at the technical “hard skills”, but sometimes don’t see the use of “soft skills”. If we’re getting the job done, why discuss everything with all of these “how are ya doings”?
And Russians are getting the job done with the smiley face emoticon. Problem is, the rest of the world doesn’t understand. I’m here to fix that.
You see, there are various options for the smiley face emoticon in the West. But usually, it looks something like this. 🙂
A Russian, on the other hand, isn’t going to expend any additional emoticon effort, especially when it comes to smiling. So, when a Russian wants to let you know that he is smiling, it looks something like this.)
No, I didn’t miss the other parenthesis. That is a Russian emoticon smile right there. I hope you didn’t miss it. You might wonder where the eyes and nose are on the Russian emoji, and the Russian might ask why you didn’t add eyebrows and hair while you were creating your masterpiece, Michelangelo van Gogh.
And if the Russian has stepped into the wild world of unbridled neighing, the emoticon, will look like this.)))
The greater the number of parentheses, the greater the frivolities.)))
So, the next time you meet a Russian and it seems to you that he looks like this:
Remember to look a little closer. Maybe he’s smiling- at least on the inside.)