What Are “Red Calendar Days” in Russia?

When Russians work, they work hard.  And when they don’t work?  Well, just forget about it.  So, learn to plan ahead.

It’s like the Hunt For Red October, but actually very different.  Russians refer to national holidays  as “the red days of the calendar”.

As many of you know, I believe that real capitalism is what you will find in Russia.  Although, the Motherland has a reputation for red tape, if you take a closer look, you will most certainly be surprised at how many areas of the economy are left largely unregulated.  And many businesses will work later into the evening than their Western counterparts, and provide services at what seems to be nearly any time of day or night.

But Russia makes up for all that free market economy enthusiasm during the “Red Calendar Days”.

I have seen more than one unsuspecting foreign businessman left “all dressed up and no place to go” because he had planned his trip without first consulting the Red Days of the Calendar.

Here are the 2019 Russian national holidays:

  • January 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 are New Year’s holidays
  • January 7: Christmas
  • March 8: International Women’s Day
  • May 1:  The Holiday of Spring and Labor
  • May 9: Victory Day
  • June 12: Russia Day
  • November 4: The Day of Unity of the People

Worth noting:  This blog post was originally written in 2018 and has now been updated for 2019, and I notice that there are fewer “red days” in 2019 than last year.

If you do come to Russia sometime around these holidays you will get extra credit for knowing the meaning of the holiday and appropriately congratulating your Russian friends.

Forget about engaging in commercial trade, discussion of the buying, selling, bartering, or trading of any products or services on Red Calendar Days.  I mean seriously.  I think you could walk through some Siberian neighborhood tossing Ben Franklins into the wind, and no one would bother to bend over to pick any of them up.  There is nothing worse than preparing, getting all dressed up, and then not being appreciated for it.

When Russians work, they work hard.  And when they don’t work?  Well, just forget about it.  So, learn to plan ahead.

I will even take this a step further- many Russians plan shorter vacations around these days- it’s a great way to use less vacation day.  So, before planning your next trip to Russia, be sure to check the holiday dates, but if you are coming anywhere near a holiday, it’s a great idea to call the folks you plan to meet with and say when you are coming and make sure that you aren’t interfering with their Red Calendar Plans.

And why am I writing this post?  Well, today is February 23, which is Defender of the Fatherland Day.  I know very well about this holiday, but in the busyness of this week it had slipped my mind.  So, even after all these years, I made a rookie mistake, and found myself flat-footed yesterday- realizing I had promised to get some work done today, but then realizing last minute it wouldn’t be happening. Because all of my co-workers would most certainly be celebrating this Red Calendar Day.

And so, as my mom taught me “If you can’t beat them, then join them”,  and yesterday I wrote an apology to the folks I had promised to get the the work done for today.  And this morning I took the kids sled riding.

Because there is a lot to said for work ethic.  With the work ethic, in Russia I’ve learned the value of a little rest and relaxation.  After all, “the work is not a wolf- it will not run away into the forest”.  And we will all be hard at it again on Monday.

 

How To Celebrate A Low-Carb Maslenitsa

Thin Russian pancakes (blini), fisticuffs, and the burning of Winter in effigy, all under the auspices of a Russian “celebration” known as “Maslenitsa”.  What could possibly go wrong?

That’s right.  Your glucose levels.  According to Harvard University, “when people eat a food containing carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks down the digestible ones into sugar, which enters the blood.”  Don’t even get me started with what happens after that, but it isn’t pretty.

That’s why although you could end up being drawn into a celebratory “wall battle” so adequately depicted in this scene of the “Siberian Barber”, later on that evening Type 2 diabetes begins to set in.  If you know what I mean.

The problem with these wafer thin blini is that they are fantastic.  Not only are they sweet and succulent, but you can stuff them with jams, sweetened condensed milk, caviar, honey, well, you are only limited by your own imagination.

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Certainly the blini look innocent enough on their own, but here’s the problem:

That’s right.  When it comes to Blini and Maslenitsa, once you pop, you just can’t stop.

This humble blogger took it upon himself to explain Maslenitsa to the world for a TV special.  It’s probably worth mentioning that the ice floe picnic at the end of this video is not a traditional part of Maslenitsa.  Instead, it is a cautionary tale of how fantastic life can be in Russia.

Maslenitsa is maybe reason #476 why I love living in Russia.  It feels super random, especially to a newcomer to the Motherland, with the effigy burning ritual and fisticuffs.  But particularly if you are new to Russia, be sure to not miss out on the festivities.

Find out where the Maslenitsa festivities are in your particular Russian city and go out and join in on the fun.  You will be sometimes confused but not at all disappointed.

But if you are wanting to keep this weekend low-carb, join in on the fistfight, but don’t even go near the blini vendor.

Because once you pop, you just can’t stop.

Is It Safe For Foreigners In Russia?

This is the very awkward moment, where as an American living in Russia I have to strongly disagree with the US State Department and agree with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The question “Will it be safe for me as a foreigner in Russia?” is the first that any newcomer to Russia will have, and is always among the top questions to be asked on Russia online travel forums.

Yes, bad things happen to some foreigners who come to Russia.  Also, bad things happen to some foreigners who go to Mexico, Brazil, Germany, or the United Kingdom.  There are only four countries that are 100% guaranteed to be safe as a foreigner:  Iceland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Bhutan.  Just joking, there are ZERO countries that are 100% safe for travel.

As a matter of fact, the conundrum is that it’s not always safe to remain in your own hometown.

Because whether you are in Russia or Hoboken, New Jersey it’s never wise to walk around drunk in the middle of the night with Ben Franklins falling out of your back pocket.

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But assuming you have a reasonable level of street smarts AND you don’t want to just sit on your couch (which is also dangerous – just laying there will cause your cholesterol levels to skyrocket) in Iowa, Saskatchewan, or High Wycombe, but are thinking about where to travel to- the US State Department has taken the trouble to divide the nations of the world into Danger Levels.

Level 4 is a DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT level.  Level 1 is safe for hobbits, even if not escorted by elves.  State Department Danger Level 3 is sort of a “you had better think about this long and hard before going”.

US State Department Level 3 nations include:  Sudan, Pakistan, Niger… and Russia.  By the way, I do encourage you to read the linked statement as I do believe it provides some helpful insight as to the thought processes that led to this decision, BUT again, I strongly disagree with categorizing Russia, a nation of 9 time zones as unsafe.  That is incredibly misleading.

And with no disrespect to these three nations that I have never been to: Sudan, Pakistan, and Niger (I am sure they are lovely this time of year), I would love to visit, but probably wouldn’t take my kids.  If you know what I mean.  But I live here in Moscow with my kids and am quite unconcerned about my family’s safety.

As a matter of fact, I have traveled all over Russia and there is barely a place that I was even a little concerned about my or my family’s safety.  And what might be even more surprising to Westerners- in Russia’s major cities there are no bad neighborhoods.

Quite frankly, putting Russia as a Level 3 travel advisory seems more political than practical.  And as the Moscow Times quoted the Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative, Maria Zakharova:  “If U.S. citizens massively come to Russia then they’ll see with their own eyes that nothing that American public officials are scaring them with is actually true.”

Sorry Mr. Tillerson & Co., but I’m going to need to go with the Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this one.

The sad part about this is that I have talked with some folks about coming to Russia for some fantastic tourist trips- truly unforgettable experiences.  And I have learned that they are afraid to come.  It’s too bad for them because they are missing out, and it’s also bad for Russia’s small businesses that rely on tourism.

Yes, it seems sometimes that even Russia loves its tough guy persona that includes wolves, bears, mafia, nuclear warheads, and Siberian blizzards, but if that is all you see, you are most certainly missing out on the real beauty of the nation and its people.

A people that are not known for smiling on the streets, but have always been very open and ready to help whenever I have had real need.

So, come on over.  The Russian people will be happy to meet you and help, and you won’t have missed out on perhaps one of the richest and most unforgettable experiences of your life.

 

What do Paris Hilton, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Snoop Dogg and the Russian city of Mytischi Have in Common?

Mytischi is a suburb of Moscow.  And with a population of a bit over 200,000 and convenient public transportation lines into the capital, much of the city works in local manufacturing or makes a daily commute into Moscow.

One of the surface observations that many foreigners make when they come to Moscow is the number of malls and their size.  Although mall retail shopping seems to be on the decline in America, malls in Moscow seem to be popping up like mushrooms.

And repeatedly, I see a mall and think that it is unsustainable, only to visit it a few months later and find it so packed that I have to fight for a parking spot.  Especially on the weekend.  As a matter of fact, on some Saturdays the Moscow traffic is barely distinguishable from weekdays, and as taxi drivers tell me, this is simply shopping traffic.

A few years back, I saw yet another large mall being built, this time in Mytischi.  The name of the mall was to be Июнь (June), and to be quite frank, I again couldn’t imagine it being filled with shoppers.  And again, I was proven dead wrong.

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The June shopping mall in Mytischi

But the owners of the June shopping mall know the demographic of their potential clients, so they decided to pull in some star power to light the flames of capitalistic euphoria.

With that, on the day of the opening of the mall, Jean-Claud Van-Damme made an appearance.  Paris Hilton and Snoop Dogg followed in the footsteps of the legendary Belgian action hero.

By the way, props to Snoop Dogg for tipping his hat to Russian cultural dress without compromising his own message.  Seriously, check out his clothes.  They are fantastic.  Snoop Dogg, if you’re reading this, please send me those clothes.  In exchange, I will make a donation to the charity of your choice in your name.

I find it intriguing that these Western pop stars attracted such an audience in this Moscow suburb’s mall.  If I remember correctly, you could enter a VIP-fan zone when Paris Hilton came if you had receipts from that day from 5 different stores in the mall.

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This banner remind shoppers of Paris Hilton’s visit to Mytischi

As one European said to me not long after his arrival in Moscow:  “This is unbridled capitalism!”.  Indeed, the malls seem full on weekends, and world famous pop stars are visiting these retail shrines of free market economy.

I have to wonder what kind of pop star would motivate me to obtain receipts 5 stores in one mall in one day.  But in any case, maybe the dying American mall complex can take a few notes from its Russian counterparts on how to create a little more excitement.  Maybe we could arrange for some Russian pop stars to visit an American mall as part of an international pop star exchange program and thus kindle the dying embers of the likes of Sears and KMart.

It will be interesting to see how far the retail building boom in the Moscow area will last.  And probably due to my age, I will avoid any shopping when a pop star is in town.  But that’s okay, the malls know their target demographic.

Uber and Yandex Taxi Have Joined Forces In Russia

This is not a huge surprise as they announced that this was their intention last summer.  What is more interesting, is why they chose to join forces and what will be the result for the passengers.

The Moskva-24 new service reported yesterday that the deal had been completed.  I also received an e-mail as a Uber client, stating that future Uber rides in Moscow would be under the combined company.

What I found fascinating in the Moskva-24 report was that Yandex would control 59% of the shares of the new company and the general director of the company will be Tigran Hudaverdyan, who previously led Yandex Taxi.

So, at least on the surface this appears to be a situation where Uber saw the benefit of joining a local entity, rather than continuing to compete.  Yandex is certainly a powerhouse in Russia, the only thing I can think to compare it to is Google in America- although Yandex may provide more services for Russia than Google does for America.

And the truth is that Uber drivers and Yandex Taxi drivers were often the exact same drivers, driving the exact same cars before this deal took place.  So, we will now see what happens to the pricing now that they are not in competition.  Prices up until now have been quite low- I was able to catch a ride through my neighborhood for under a dollar last summer, and I have caught rides in the middle of the night from the airport to my home for around $14.

We will also see if Yandex Taxi continues its fixed rate policy that it introduced last summer.  This was a double-edged sword in my opinion:  it was very nice to know exactly what you would pay before getting into the car, but the drivers would at times seem to become agitated when getting stuck in traffic.

Yandex Taxi is very similar to Uber except the fact that the drivers usually do not own their cars – they rent them.  And the work for the driver is not a “side hustle”, it is very much a full time job.  Many of the drivers are “work immigrants” and come from around Russia and neighboring countries.

I have found the service to be reliable, but I also frequently see the question about safety and reliability in Russia expat forums.  My opinion is that if you are in Russia long-term and on a budget, Yandex Taxi is a great service.  However, if you are coming short-term, it is best to choose a “car and driver service” from a private company with an English speaking driver or English speaking dispatcher.  This is a more expensive option, but will save you time (and nerves) if you have a miscommunication or disagreement with your driver.

I am personally a fan of Yandex Taxi.  Since I usually use public transport around town, it is a great service to have when I do need a car and has saved our family from needing a second car.

And now we will see what effect this merger has on the prices and quality of service.  And beyond that, Yandex is starting to talk about its new carsharing service- so we will see if that starts to put some of its own taxi drivers out of business.

BREAKING: During The Winter It Snows In Russia (!)

Especially this year.  Moscow recorded the “Snowstorm of the Century” over the weekend.

As a result, the road situation was, um, tenuous.  This humble blogger found himself on a road trip during the storm and is happy to report that he made it.  That’s all I have to say about that.

Perhaps more interesting than the record Moscow snowfall is the response of the Russians, which seems to be a mix of complaining and humor:

“Looks like we were taken by surprise again,” they said, “it snowed in Russia during the winter.”

The snowstorm started on Sunday and continued through Monday and there was even a bit of light snowfall into Tuesday.  The road crews have had quite a challenge to keep up, and from what I understand from the Moscow administration- they are expecting 5 or 6 days (!) to clean up the roads and sidewalks completely.

As the mumbling continues, I saw that the city administration is trying to keep everyone’s spirits up on Twitter:

TRANSLATION: “Each day, the Moscow city services, clean up 1.2 million cubic meters of snow.  If you were to turn that snowpile into a snowman, it would reach a height of 175 meters, which is 15 meters higher than the Shukhovskaya tower.”

The tweet also included this photo of the imagined snowman standing next to the real tower:

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I reckon this is a friendly way to remind the kind citizens that the city is working hard and also possibly help us forget that we are up to our kneecaps in snow as we consider a theoretical snowman that reaches incredible heights.

Also, I think you get extra credit if you can calculate the average diameter of said snowman.

And of course, we begin to see some memes like this one:

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It says, “The most important thing is to raise your windshield wipers so that they don’t stick (to the windshield)”.

With a little humor and a lot of shoveling, this too will pass.  Winter isn’t winter without a great snowstorm and this year we have one to remember.

And with that, it’s time for me to stop blogging and continue shoveling… let’s enjoy the snow while it lasts.

How To Sell Your Product To All Of Russia | Not Your Uncle’s LADA

Question: “Why do Russian-made cars have rear window defrosters?”

Answer: “To keep your hands warm when you’re pushing it.”

Yes, it’s an old joke about the Russian automobile industry.  I have personally owned the LADA produced 6, 9, 10, 12, and 15 models, as well as the UAZ Patriot (UAZ, incidentally, is pronounced “Ooh-aahs” to represent the sounds your passengers will make when you are off-roading).

I owned all of these cars when I lived in the city of Perm.  The basic philosophy was “you will have to fix it more often, but parts are cheap and easy to come by,”  as opposed to foreign-made cars that would routinely require a two-week wait for the necessary parts.

But due to the lack of reliability of domestically produced cars, the government introduced a high import tax some years ago to discourage purchases of foreign-made cars.  I was shocked both at the size of the tax and also how my Russian friends seemed to ignore the tax proving their profound distaste for Russian-made automobiles.

It was often a mystery to me why the nation full of hard-working people who had put the first man into outer space was seemingly unable to manufacture a dependable car at a reasonable cost.

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Russia’s automobile heritage is legendary, but simply remembering the past will not pave the way to the future. (Photo credit of this classic Moskvitch: Zhenya Shulgin)

Perhaps Russia’s largest car manufacturer was asking itself the same question, and that is why it decided to bring in a Swede as president of the automobile concern.

LADA certainly had its work cut out for it, building a reputation in its own homeland, with the likes of Toyota and BMW breathing down its neck.  

Enter my friend Alex Agoureev.  There are very few people that I don’t get tired of listening to, and Alex is one of them.  His stories of living in the United States as a TASS news agency journalist  in the 1990’s and being followed around by the FBI are fantastic.  Perhaps the Bureau was unaware that the Soviet Union had collapsed, or put a tail on Alex simply because they didn’t believe that Russia had changed.  And his series of articles (in Russian) entitled Americans Aren’t Dumb and Americans Aren’t Dumb 2 (I make an appearance in the latter version) exhibit an uncanny and unique understanding of both Russian and American culture.

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Alex Agoureev guides journalists on a press tour of the LADA factory

So, after his gig in the States, Alex found himself approached by LADA to assist them with building brand reputation.  And Alex went to work.  Of course, this included showing a Test-Drive of LADA Kalina’s Cross Version:

I had to ask Alex if the lady in the test drive was chosen because of her knowledge of mechanics.  

It was important to not only show a new dedication to quality, but also remind Russians of their patriotic roots.  

The backdrop of this scenario was LADA’s new Swedish CEO, and part of Alex’s job was to help the CEO understand Russia, but also help this historic Russian factory understand its foreign leader and his style, one that was unusual for many in Russia.

In this video, the news reports on how the Swedish chief’s work ethic is producing results:

When I lived in the city of Perm, Russia, there were many LADA’s.  When I moved to Moscow, I saw almost none.  But that is changing.  There are more and more, and I haven’t heard a disparaging word about LADA in years, which is quite remarkable.

In short, LADA has a long way to go, but it is again becoming a serious player in the world of automobiles in Russia.

It was an exciting and successful few years for Alex at LADA, and together with his Swedish chief, they produced remarkable results.

I came in contact with Alex a few month’s ago.  And it was recently I learned that he is looking to provide public relations service for a multi-national company in Russia.  I found that interesting, since I want to promote a business book that I recently completed in Russian.  I told Alex about this, and within 20 minutes I had spoken with 5 or 6 producers of business programs on national TV channels who understood what I was looking for and were seriously interested in working with me.  So, I am happy to recommend someone that I have firsthand experience with.

Since I find the content that Alex produces to be consistently fascinating, I am waiting in anticipation of where his next LADA will be.  Because the company that is serious about getting its message out to the Russian people should give serious thought to harnessing the creativity and knowhow of Alex Agoureev.  Want to get your story out to Russia- contact Alex? And since Facebook is now Russia’s LinkedIn, you can connect with Alex here.

It’s probably Alex’s fault that recently thoughts keeps occurring to me that maybe it’s time to go back and visit a LADA dealership.  This time, of course, I expect to be able to warm my hands somewhere other than on the rear window.

Facebook Is Now Russia’s LinkedIn

An Australian, a Russian, and an American went into a bar in Moscow. It’s not the beginning of a joke, it’s just the beginning of an awkward situation at a business networking event.

You see, LinkedIn was blocked on the territory of the Motherland for violating Russian law.  Facebook might get blocked too someday, but that’s a different blog post.

After LinkedIn was blocked, I heard that the more internet savvy and motivated among us used IP hiders, etc. to continue using business- and employment-oriented social networking services in spite of the block.

Personally, I was sort of sad that LinkedIn was blocked since I had spent a little time learning how it works and my article about Russia needing a new brand manager was getting some serious LinkedIn love and street cred.  I had even made a half-serious attempt at a professional profile photo.

But then I quickly forgot about the now blocked LinkedIn, until I was at a university education networking event in Taiwan and realized that folks there were probably confused by my profile that had only been updated before the service was blocked in Russia.  So, the people in Taiwan were probably wondering why the Director of Global Affairs of an Art Academy in Florence, Italy was also dealing Moscow real estate.  But that’s the danger of not updating LinkedIn.

Ok, now that I think about it, keeping my LinkedIn updated would be a challenge anyway, since I do work with an art academy and deal real estate.  Among other things.

Which brings me back to the awkward situation at the networking event in Moscow.  We had been talking for maybe 10 or 15 minutes when the Russian asked the Australian if he would like to be Facebook friends.  The Australian looked quite baffled.  I guess he didn’t realize that things were now serious, and that he and the Russian (whose name he probably had already forgotten) would now be “going steady”.

Personally, I was already used to this sort of behavior.  I remember my shock in times past receiving business messages from people whom I had never met who work for serious companies… via Facebook messenger.  But just like the banya, you get used to it eventually.  And then you begin to love it.

I mean, it was really funny sitting at the table with the Russian and the Australian businessman.  I will never know what was going on inside the Australian’s head, but the look on his face was terror, as if my Russian friend had suggested they go home together that evening.

After this, I sort of started comparing Russian Facebook with American Facebook. 

Now to be fair, Russians in general are more concerned with image than Americans.  That’s not a totally bad thing.  I was reminded of this while visiting a Wal-Mart in Alamagordo, New Mexico a few weeks ago.  I mean, you can go to the effort of cleaning up a bit before going out.  Am I right?

And it’s obvious that potential employers will check out your Facebook profile before hiring- regardless of where you live in the world.  But Americans don’t seem to make the same effort at having a fabulous Facebook profile as Russians do.

Here is what I see on Russian Moscow Facebook (I changed my mind- this is a big city Russia thing, not a blanket national phenomenon):

1-Professional profile photos.  Ok, not professional in all cases, but clearly effort was made.

2-Lots of discussion about work victories.  Also, personal motivational dissertations.

3-Photos from mind-blowing vacations.  Alternatively, complaining about travel: “I decided to get my chinchilla pedicure at Abdul’s in Dubai, but our flight was delayed back to Moscow.  So, we decided to buy a resort in the Seychelles for the weekend.  Richard Branson came to hang out on Saturday.”

4-Very little discussion of controversial topics.  (We are talking here about Facebook, not Twitter, mind you).

You get the idea.  In other words, I don’t see my Moscow friends “let it all hang out” on Facebook, like you will see in an Alamogordo Wal-Mart occasionally on American Facebook.

What you will see is status updates that they would like for everyone to see – not just close friends and family.

So, what’s the moral of the story?  If a Russian approaches you and quickly wants to become friends on Facebook, you should totally say yes.  You can always unfriend or unfollow (my favorite function on Facebook) later.  The Russian is probably not looking to become your best friend, but just views Facebook as a way to stay connected.

And to my Russian friends, I might suggest a different way to adding new foreign friends to Facebook (and by “friends” I mean “potential business colleagues that you met at business functions”).  Maybe preface your offer with “In Russia, we often use Facebook to stay in touch with our business contacts…”.  This might provide some context and avert unnecessary concern.  And if you found someone online that you are interested in some kind of work relationship with, make the effort to send a personal message explaining what you are looking for, before making a friend request.

In the end, Facebook might get blocked anyway.  In that case, we will look for other social media options to fill the online business networking space.  Like Vkontakte… or Odnoklassniki.

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?

“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.

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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