I lived on the outskirts of Moscow for eight months. To be brutally honest, it was a low point in my life. Most of the blame fell on my job. I hated falling asleep at night because I knew that in the morning I would have to wake up and work. That’s no way to live. Despite this, I learned a tremendous amount about myself, and about the world. It was the first time that I was immersed in a foreign culture and the experience was a positive one. Here’s why.
1. Russian Food is Delicious
Of all the unexpected surprises in Russia, this was the biggest one. I ended up falling in love with almost everything I ate. The key was to not to stray too far from the beaten path. I saw a few things in Russia that made my stomach do a somersault. On the other hand, Russians (Babooshkas in particular) really know how to cook some amazing food.
Borsch, Oliva, Caviar (so, so cheap in Russia) and Blini are classic dishes that I still enjoy eating to this day. There’s also this delicious wrap made with raw salmon and mayonnaise that I don’t know the name for. Wash it all down with some Kefir or Kvas and you’ve got a hearty Russian meal that will shut up any skeptic.
2. Receptive to Language Mistakes
Russians know that their language is hard. In fact I get the feeling that’s a source of national pride. Maybe that’s why they’re so patient with language learners. In eight months I never had a truly bad experience with someone getting angry at me for my poor Russian. Think about America (if you’re American that is). Imagine some Russian comes in and is butchering English as he tries to order something from the restaurant or bar. I imagine that he would have a much less pleasant experience than I enjoyed in Russia.
Almost everywhere I went I would meet someone who would help me to learn Russian. A verb here, a saying there. Month in and month out that really adds up. The other thing I noticed is how many people complimented me on my Russian, even when I was speaking so horridly it was nearly unintelligible. I can’t think of how a culture could be more supportive of people trying to learn their language.
3. There Will be Order on the Escalators!
This is admittedly a small point of order, but I think it’s an interesting one. To understand this, you have to understand that everyday the Moscow Metro pulls a double shift. It ferries millions of people across an unbelievably large city. At the same time it’s also a very effective bomb shelter.
In Moscow, most of the older metro stations are buried several hundred feet in the ground. In order to reach them you take a ride on the escalator. This can take minutes. It’s actually a really unique experience when you’re relaxed. If you’re in a rush it’s a nightmare. Thankfully, there is an express lane. On the escalators everyone who is standing stays to the right, allowing others to run past on the left. And if someone is violating this rule, you can yell at them in your gruffest, most cigarette soaked voice and they’ll quickly get out of the way.
4. Russians are Wonderful Hosts
Going over to a Russian’s apartment is always an enjoyable experience. There will be food, tea, entertainment and probably something a bit heavier than tea as well. Even when I was with friends, if he or she didn’t have food for the apartment, we would stop beforehand to get something. Once there, as a guest I wouldn’t be expected to do anything but eat and enjoy myself. In fact, trying to wash the dishes after a meal is borderline rude. Better to relax, and remember that you’re in Russia now.
5. In Russia, Anything Goes
America has so many damn laws it’s mind boggling. There is a fine for breathing incorrectly, a ticket for blowing your nose too loud, and a jail sentence for tying your shoes the wrong way. These laws lead to some of the outlandish lawsuits that we see all the time in America. Are we really living in the land of freedom, when anything you do can get you potentially sued?
It may to surprise you then to hear that in this situation, an average Russian has far more freedom than an average American. In Russia you can be reckless, retarded, annoying, disrespectful, offensive or drunk as hell. People don’t bat an eye and they sure as hell don’t call a lawyer. I saw so many reckless things happen in Russia that it doesn’t have any meaning to me any more.
It’s another Russian person acting entirely irrational, defying the laws of gravity and all of Darwin’s theories. Nothing to see here folks, move along.
I like this because you can join in. Me and some of the other teachers at my old school did some funny stuff that could have gotten us into a lot of trouble in America. In Russia, it’s just another day. Welcome to the land of insanity. Welcome to The Wild Wild East.