I moved to Moscow, Russia at the tender age of 21. I didn’t know anyone, had never been to Moscow, and had only a vague idea of what I’d be doing once I got there. Even though I had studied Russian language and culture in university, I was preparing myself for a big shock to the system. Surprisingly, I integrated easily — the big city and new people a nice respite from a nice relationship with a nice college boy that turned into a bad relationship with a careless real-world boy.
Happily, for the most part my time is Russia has been smooth sailing. The language barrier was tough but never insurmountable. Plunging into a work environment was a bit tricky, but that would have been a transition even if I had stayed in the States. However even after three years of calling Moscow my home, there are some questions about Russia that have never been satisfactorily explained away.
001. Why do Russians leave their cars in the road after an accident? I assume this is for some sort of insurance purposes, but this just leads to the question of why Russians haven’t moved to the process of extensively photographing the accident (seriously, everyone has a phone with a camera now).
Russky Insight: It’s because the cops must come see exactly what happened. But in reality, the cop takes a bribe from both people to say that nothing happened so they don’t have to pay higher insurance or have a bad mark against them.
002. Why do Russians still drive cars? I have the same question for people in any major metropolis who insist on having a car. I mean, at least if you live somewhere in the USA you can claim that the public transport is so bad it’s not feasible to live without a car. However Moscow, with your terrible traffic jams and decent transport, you have no excuse! My thoughts? Owning a car is still regarded as a status symbol here, so it’s worth the hassle just to say you have a car.
003. How do Russians not get hot on the Metro in the winter? I mean, come on. I’m tearing off my scarf, hat, and coat as soon as I hit that hot rush of air in the metro station. Inside the metro cars are even worse: it’s hot, stuffy, and I immediately start to sweat in my 2-3 extra layers. Meanwhile, as I have all my clothing clutched awkwardly in my arms, the Russians are sitting calmly with hats still on and coats still fully zipped. I’m in awe. I wish I had such good control over my internal temperature.
Russky Insight: It’s part of our hibernation.
004. Why do Russians prefer curtains that don’t actually block out sunlight? Do those curtains look like they block out the (very rare) sunlight? No, they don’t. Why is it so hard to find a non-lacy curtain in this country? I’ve used blankets, sheets, and occasionally real curtains purchased at… Ikea?
Russy Insight: You don’t want to block out the sun, but you don’t want people to look into your windows. [NB: I think this explanation is only adequate for the first two stories of any building. I'm not satisfied.]
005. Why no six-packs? As I’m not particularly well-traveled, I can’t comment on how prevalent the six-pack phenomenon is. I suspect it’s just an American thing. For those of you who don’t know: a six-pack is a group of six beer cans (or bottles) sold together, usually in a cardboard container. I think it’s a great idea. Rather than juggling individual bottles awkwardly, you’ve got drinks for two or three people (or just yourself, if you’re feeling particularly boozy).
Russky Insight: It’s inconvenient. And we’re picky – nobody wants the same beer.
006. How do average Russians manage to live in Moscow? Seriously. For the average Russian, salaries are really low (as compared to cost of living). If your family is from Moscow, I understand that you can live with your mom/dad/grandparents, but for those people who come from far away. How do they survive? Do they stuff ten to an apartment to make rent?
What strange phenomenon has popped up during your expat experience? Was your curiosity ever satisfactorily settled?