Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Russia and the Russians

One huge pet peeve I have is when people (foreigners) perpetuate the stereotype that Russians are rude, especially in the context of customer service and generally when they don't know you (on the street, etc).

It's true, customer service can be bad here. But it's not from a lack of friendliness, but probably something closer to incompetence. People basically greet you when you walk into a restaurant (say hello, smile, all that bullshit), then seat you, then IMMEDIATELY try to take your order. This is tricky, because if you aren't ready then, it could easily be another 15 minutes before you even see the server again. When there is approximately one other table for them to be tending to.

Chalk it up to selective perception, but I've only had positive or neutral experiences with strange Russians (as opposed to my Russian friends). Whether it's a man paying for a cab and expecting nothing in return, a babushka informing me of a stain on my white skirt, or the clerks at Spar just laughing it off when I've (once again...) forgotten to bring any form of money to the store with me (and then allowing me to run home and get my wallet, all without exasperated sighs or eye rolling).

On the pet peeve note, I find it infuriating that Russians apparently find it acceptable to throw their trash all over the ground outside. It was pretty shocking to see all the trash uncovered when the snow melted. Fortunately, there are pretty massive efforts by immigrants and babushki to clean that shit up, and now that the weather has been amazing for a week, the streets and parks are looking quite beautiful. To their credit, I know that not ALL Russians partake in this littering activity, it is entirely possible that it is only a small handful who are just super efficient(?!) at dirtying up the outdoors.

Another stereotype that bothers some people is the notion that Russians drink tons of vodka. You know what? I think this one might actually be true. The amount of vodka distributed, bought, and sold is pretty ridiculous here. It's obvious anytime you walk into just about any store. Vodka is abundant and CHEAP. The vodka my friends and I tend to buy is "Зеленая Марка" (green mark), is pretty decent quality, and costs about $7 for a liter. It is by no means the cheapest bottle.

But it's not just vodka, there is generally a lot of drinking happening here. Public drinking. I have mixed feelings about this. There is some comedy in seeing an old lady standing at the bus stop, beer in hard, at 7 am. There is also something simply fantastic and relaxing about sitting in a park on a warm spring day drinking a beer with a friend. And, in general, people seem to keep to themselves while doing this, so I've felt safe while just walking around outside. HOWEVER, there are the occasional wildcards, and very frequently (especially in Moscow proper) I see dudes who have obviously had the shit beaten out of them, or people who are acting pretty aggressive. But let's face it, there are wildcards everywhere. Especially in big cities. Moscow has a population of 10 million +, you gotta expect there will be some sketchy people.

I'll end with a recent story. Last night Polly and I decided to meet up for some drinks and chillin'. We had a beer in the park, then moseyed to a bar/restaurant where we could continue drinking beer and throw some pizza into the mix. We randomly ran into another teacher in Korolev, so he joined us. We're talking, drinking, talking, eating, etc. Then some more teachers from Korolev show up (to watch some soccer game). So we continue hanging out, but since most of the bar's attention is focused on the television and since neither Polly nor I are interested the least bit in soccer, we're just talking and scoping out other people in the bar. All of the sudden, the people directly in our line of vision, we realize, are smoking weed. Not only are they smoking weed, but they're doing it out of a soda can, like a bunch of teenagers behind a building (only they are adults inside a bar). This was horribly amusing to us, and it spurred much laughter (and also captured their attention-- well, the laughing and the English speaking).

As we were leaving, at the front door one of the guys opened the door for us, then abruptly turns to Polly (poised with phone in hand) and asks "твой номер?" (your number?), to which she responds with "а.... uh.... ты кто?" (and who are you?), then he tries another strategy and in an adorable accent, asks the same thing in English. sigh... so I respond with '"да мы поняли, но как тебя зовут?" (yes we understood, but what is your name?!) He tells us, then immediately asks again for her number. Looking at me in utter shock, Polly asks what she should do. Obviously I encouraged her to give him her number (because, fuck it, she's only here another 6 weeks). He asks her name, smiles, says (again in English) that he would call her, and that was it. He went off into the darkness (as did we).

Москва, как я люблю тебя...


  1. Sad but true, about trash. I do believe it only a fraction of population doing it. It takes not so many people to shit the place up.

  2. exactly. when i actually talk to most russians about it they are not pleased with the situation.

    p.s. who are you?!

  3. I am russian, working for a company which employs quite a few expats. Once I discovered that one of them (iranian-american) is blogging about his life here in Russia (his blog:,I became curious and interested in other expats blogs and after a short search found your little clique :) of LL teachers-bloggers. Please excuse me, if I dusturbed you with my comments.

  4. Not at all a problem! I was just curious who you were/how you found it, because my friends and I have all seen your comments on our blogs haha. Thanks!

  5. I think I found your blog via devushaka's, and I found her via
    Since I know (approximately) where do you live and work - it would be fair to disclose my whereabouts. I am living in Dolgoprudny, west from Mytishchi and working for

  6. Hope you have a great time with your Dad. I was so happy to meet you! I bought a french press today and thought of you, A Bodum 8 cup is only $19.99 at Target. Hope to cross paths again and drink some cappuccina.