Notes on living and working in Russia | Russia Simplified Russia Simplified
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Notes on living and working in Russia

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Must haves of Moscow apartment

When you rent an apartment in Moscow you will have your own checklist of items and conditions to suite your family needs. Make sure to have below items on your checklist, as they will make your stay in Moscow more comfortable and free of hassles you perhaps have never dealt with in a place you relocate from.

Air conditioner. Summer in Moscow is hot with temperatures getting to +30 and higher. Apartment buildings made of concrete and bricks accumulate heat easily and you boil inside. Keeping windows open might not be an option because of street noise and air pollution. Outside air may be just too uncomfortably hot and opening window simply does not help. Especially if your apartment windows facing West, and sunset goes directly into your windows, your apartment will feel like burning furnace in summer. Air conditioner does the job of making you feel comfortable in your apartment. Another use of air conditioner is between seasons. This is a time when it is cold outside, but central heating is not on. Heating function on your air conditioner becomes real handy to make you feel warm.

Water boiler. Unlike many other countries, in Russia hot water and heating supplied centrally. Large electric/heat plants produce and pump hot water to all apartments in town. This requires complex infrastructure like heating plant equipment, pumps, many kilometers of pipes with valves and so on. All this infrastructure requires regular maintenance and renewal and it happens in summer. Every year in summer hot water is shut off for 1-2 weeks for maintenance. This means no hot shower, washing hands and doing dishes in the cold water. Boiler eliminates the problem.

Mosquito nets. Spring through autumn Moscow is full of flies and mosquitos. Not having nets on your apartment windows means you will have mosquito bites every night and insect guests throughout the day. Location of the apartment building does not matter, so if apartment owner tells you there are no mosquitos in the area it’s a lie. Mosquito nets prevent unwanted insects from visiting your apartment.

Another function of the mosquito net is preventing cigarette butts and small trash from accidentally flying into your windows. Neighbors living upstairs from you can be not very mindful about this and throwing things out their window. Sometimes it’s not just small pieces of garbage, but larger cans and bottles thrown out the window. Yes, this happens.

Blackout drapes. In spring and summer Moscow day starts at 4 o’clock in the morning. The sun goes down around 10 in the evening. This makes night time, when it’s dark, real short in Moscow, you get like 5-6 hours of dark in June, at best. Many locals feel just fine sleeping when it’s not dark outside. If you are from the area where there is more balance between day light and night darkness you might have sleep issues. Sleep issue is something you absolutely do not want to have as good sleep is a primary mechanism for coping with stresses of living in a new place. Blackout drapes become handy to solve this problem. Blackout drapes are made of special multi-layered cloth that blocks out sunlight completely. If you close blackout draped in the middle of a sunny day, your room will become completely dark. Having blackout drapes closed at night stops early morning daylight from waking you up at 4 in the morning. As a positive side effect, blackout drapes provide extra soundproofing and this benefits good night sleep as well. Blackout drapes can be made by order (pricey), or purchased in household stores, for example, Ikea stocks them.

Humidifier. In winter intense central heating and not so humid outside air produce very dry air in Moscow apartments. Windows are closed in winter because of cold, no enough of humid outside air gets inside. If no humidifier is used, humidity inside an ordinary Moscow apartment in winter is somewhere around 15%. This is not Sahara, but it has detrimental effect on skin and hair, increases dust in the air and creates certain difficulties breathing. If you rent an apartment and it does not come with a humidifier, buy one, it’s a very inexpensive piece of equipment, sold in most electronic stores.

Safety in Russia: beware of ticks

Years ago ticks were widespread only in Ural, Siberia and Far East regions of Russia. In recent years ticks also found in Moscow area and Moscow.

Ticks pose serious threat to people and pets. They carry multiple nasty infections that can put you in hospital for weeks, disable for life or kill you.

Although government issues many warnings on tick issue, level of awareness of locals (those who live in Moscow, Moscow region and central Russia) is still low. Locals, people born in Moscow are not always fully aware about ticks situation, dangers of being bitten and prevention measures. I was born in the area of the country where ticks are widespread and every kid knows what it is and how to protect themselves.

Ticks have maximum activity in spring and throughout the summer. Found in greenery — parks, forests and fields. You can find detailed information on ticks on the internet. Moscow parks also have ticks, latest reports also say, ticks carrying encephalitis found in Moscow.

If you plan to spend leisure time in parks or go for a hiking trip, go to dacha or just do “shashlik” somewhere in the nature, please learn how to protect you, your family and pets from being bitten by ticks. In short, essential protection measures include certain clothing style, using special repellent spray (in Moscow can be found in most grocery stores), regularly checking specific body parts. For pets special protective leashes available, repellent sprays and other methods of protection. I can not give specific recommendations as I am not professional in this area, but plenty of official resources available on the internet (see some below).

There are specific emergency (extremely urgent) actions to take if you find a tick stuck to your body. Special government medical centers available to go to if you find a tick on your body. They will treat you against possible infections. I also suggest to check with your local health care provider (recommended by insurance company) if they can provide assistance in such cases.

Moscow is a safe place, but some threats do exist, please be mindful of them and protect your family. Use internet to find specific information on ticks from professionals in your native language. You need to familiarize yourself with following topics:

Learn what ticks are, where they are found, how to identify a tick and how to avoid being bitten by ticks.

Understand and apply comprehensive preventive measures for your family and pets, especially dogs.

Learn emergency steps in case you find a tick stuck to your body or your pet. Have address of a local emergency center that handles tick bites. Consult with your local health care provider on how they can assist you in a situation with ticks.

Stay safe. I offer orientation sessions for expats and their families, where we discuss all important topics of living safe, hassle-free life in Moscow. Contact me if you would like to book as session.

Some external resources:

Official Moscow resource on ticks, its dangers, prevention measures and emergency actions.

Comprehensive resource in English on ticks, preventive measures (US CDC)

Finding job in Russia

This article outlines some specifics of finding a job in Russia.

Legal status. To be legally employed in Russia you need to have certain legal status (visa) allowing you to have employment. This article does not cover legal matters of employment for expats. There are regulations on issuing work visas and there is good number of professionals who can help with this. Normally hiring company takes care of all the visa formalities for expats.

Language. Speaking Russian is essential if you are looking for a job in a typical Russian company. If you are targeting international companies, Russian language may not be required, depending on nature of a job you apply for. Many international companies require proficiency in English, but quite a few speak other European languages: Italian, French, German, Spanish and others.

General situation with jobs in Moscow and larger cities. I assume most expats opt for office positions or professional jobs that require higher education and extensive experience and expertise in a specific area. This is an important distinction as for low-profile jobs there is always loads of available positions. Those positions are filled by local candidates or candidates from former ussr republics, who can obtain job permit on their own.

Below information is applicable for office, professional or managerial positions.

Current labor market is very competitive and tough. Simply said, finding a job is not easy. I suggest to allow 6-12 month of active search to lend a good office position. If your profession or area of expertise currently is in a high demand, your chances obviously increase.

Important to understand that Russian business is predominantly relationships-based. Most positions are filled internally or by recommendation. Networking and having lots of good connections (“svyazi”) is what you need to find a good job in Russia. You need to know a good bunch of people who can introduce and recommend you.

This does not cancel conventional ways of seeking a job. You still can research websites, post resumes and respond to job ads.

Who would hire you? Small-sized to mid-sized offices of international companies doing business in Russia. Non-profit organizations, local businesses run by foreigners. Russian companies, doing business internationally. Larger Russian businesses trying to diversify employee population or looking for candidates in specific areas of professional expertise that are hard to find in Russia.

Larger international businesses try to fill positions internally first. When for whatever reason they do not find candidates internally, they turn to the local labor market. Primary channel of sourcing candidates is thru agencies, but direct hiring is not unusual. Most companies have job openings listed on their website, so it’s a good idea to research them first. Larger businesses would be willing to get you work visa if they hire you as for them this is a well known process.

Websites. There are quite a few Russian websites with job listings. All Russian websites have Russian interface and you need to understand Russian to navigate them. Most of them are used to advertise basic, low-profile and low-pay jobs. “Headhunter” seems to be the most useful one when it comes to professional and managerial positions. Linkedin is an excellent source of international job openings in Russia. Most larger companies and recruiting agencies have presence in Linkedin and actively use it as a recruiting tool. Having good profile on Linkedin is essential, as well a resume on “headhunter” website. Do not discount non-Russian websites like Monster, as they sometimes list international jobs.

Job fairs take place regularly but they are useless for the most part as they advertise low-pay, low-profile jobs no one wants.

Agencies. One most important thing to understand about agencies is that any agency only works with job openings they have at this very moment. Meaning all the resumes they receive are of no value for them unless they came in response to a specific position they have in working. It is advised though to email (or submit on their website) your resume to as many agencies as possible, hoping that your resume will be stored in their internal database. This database is the first source of potential candidates for them. However this strategy works in a long run only.

Faux job openings. Some jobs are advertised with no intention of hiring anyone. This happens for a multitude of reasons. To name a few, it can be a way of researching labor market. Another common reason is that company policies often require to go through a hiring process even if they have a candidate to fill specific position. This can be someone brought by recommendation, but internal policies still require position to be advertised and to have some interviews. HR people would do all this for the sake of following the rule, but not intending to hire an external candidate.

Resumes. There is no common standard in resume writing in Russia. Some employers require one-page resume, some want ten-page memoir of all your life. Some require a photograph attached to your resume, some do not. Safe bet would be one-two page resume that can be easily tweaked to fit specific position requirements. If you are asked to submit a long and detailed resume covering all your life from cradle, general advise is to stay away from companies with such requirements.

Cover letters. Almost never a part of hiring process, no one knows how to write them and what’s a use of them. Some websites (and few employees) require cover letters, but those letters I’ve have seen so far look like short notes to employers.

Job descriptions. Accurate job descriptions are rare in Russian businesses. This is often reflected in job ads, which sometimes does not list all requirements to candidates or includes something that in reality is not needed or not significant. Do not be surprised if your resume is rejected even if it seems to be a perfect match for a job. There is always something hidden, unwritten that is in a consideration when employer makes assessment of job candidates.

Communication with employers. For a resume submitted you normally never receive any feedback except maybe an automated rejection letter. If your resume is of interest to an employer, they might call you or email you. If you are located outside Russia, online video interview can be an option, although not every business is comfortable with them. Phone interviews are not common in Russia. After the interview normally you never receive any feedback unless you ask for one. If they are interested in you, employer might contact you proactively advising on next steps of the selection process and its timing. They may contact you with some positive feedback saying they are interested in you as a candidate and then disappear for ages. They may invite you to the interview and cancel it at any moment. You can come to an interview just to learn that position has already been filled. There can be a number of other mishaps as hiring is a mess in most Russian companies and agencies and this is normal.

Interviewing and hiring processes also have their own specifics. I will write about interview specifics in later articles, so stay tuned. Do not forget to follow Russia Simplified Facebook page to comment, share and receive notifications on newly published articles.

Visiting church in Russia

One of the things most visitors notice in Moscow and Russia is multitude of orthodox cathedrals and temples. In Russian all of them are called simply a “church” — церковь [zerkov’]. When someone local talks about going to church, they usually mean going to where services take place and not the congregation.

Many of those churches are historical buildings constructed hundreds of years ago. In soviet times almost all churches were closed and religion of any kind was banned from practicing. Many church buildings were destroyed or used for purposes that had nothing to do with religion. There was a small number of churches that never stopped having services even during soviet times. After USSR collapsed in the 90s, most of churches, closed in soviet times, were reopened, restored or rebuilt. All orthodox churches have unique architecture and beautiful paintings inside.

Expats ask frequently if they can visit orthodox church.

The answer to this is simple — yes, you can go to orthodox church regardless of your religious beliefs. Many churches, monasteries in addition to its original purposes serve as heritage and historical sites and open to the public. You can go to any church however, regardless of whether is’s historical place or just a church with regular services, if you follow few simple rules, listed below.

Rules for visiting orthodox church, when service is not on.

Men must enter with heir head uncovered. Hats, hoods of all types must be taken off before entering.

Women must have their heads covered. Many woman use headscarf type of thing to cover their head before entering a church. In some places you can buy headscarf or kerchief at the entrance, but not everywhere, so better have your own if you are going to visit many places.

Revealing outfits are not welcomed. Shorts, short squirts or any other outfits that reveal larger parts your body are not welcomed and if you are wearing something that makes you look half naked, you will be asked to leave.

You can buy and light a candle, however by the church rules you can not order a service, unless you were baptized in Russian Orthodox Church or one of its subsidiaries.

Photography policy depends on a place. If it’s an official historic sight visited by many tourists, most likely you will be allowed to take photographs without special permission. In non-tourist churches you can ask staff if you can take photographs. Sometimes there are clear signs on the door indicating whether or not taking pictures is allowed. If in doubt, ask service staff, but they very likely will direct you to the priest for permission. Be aware that no one, not a single person will speak English or any other foreign language in any church you go to, so having Russian assistance would be real helpful. If allowed to photograph, do not take pictures of people in the church and it is advised not to use flash.

Rules for visiting orthodox church during the service.

You can go to any orthodox church service, no one will ask any questions. There are two daily services: morning starting from 8am-9am and evening staring 5pm-6pm. Exact time depends on a specific church and there can be two services in the morning, especially on weekends. There can be special services in between main services (those are happening primarily in the morning). For big church holidays there will be special schedule of services. Normally schedule and exact timing of services, holidays and events is available on a special board at the entrance.

During the service you can enjoy choir singing.

In addition to basic rules of visiting orthodox church, there are specific suggestions on behavior during the church service.

Stand somewhere in the corner or by the wall. The thing is that Orthodox Service rituals are very complicated. Unlike many other Christian denominations in orthodox church the congregation should standing during the service. Congregation will get on their knees several times, or sing or do other things. If you do not know what to do and what is going on, and you stand in the middle of a crowd, you will look awkward. Also people move very often and you do not wanna be on their way. Several times during the service priest will go around the cathedral with censer to fume the place with olibanum. Look what other people do when this happens and do the same.

Avoid talking during the service. If you need to say something, whisper or talk real quietly. In off-service time you can talk, but it is advised to bring voice down as well.

Switch off sell phones, talking on a phone is banned in all churches, also many people have loud and funny ringtones not appropriate for a church and this also disrupts the service.

Photographing in churches during the service is strictly prohibited.

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March 8th Women’s day in Russia

March 8th is a Women’s day in Russia. Women’s day is a public holiday, March 8th is a non—working day. March 7th working day is shortened by one hour because it precedes public holiday. For 2018, government decided to make March 9th, Friday a non-working day as well. Thus upcoming weekend will be 4-days long.

Official name of March 8th is “International Women’s day”. I do not know if it is observed anywhere else outside former ussr, but some former soviet republics still have it as holiday. Women’s day, as a holiday, was established in soviet times. Very few people know why observance of this holiday started back in 1921. Originally March 8th was observed as a day of gender equality and rights of women. Nowadays this holiday is celebrated for reasons irrelevant to its historical background and therefore we will skip the history here.

Russia has multitude of public holidays in Russia, some have real importance and celebrated on a family and private level, while other holidays treated just as another day off. Among all Russian holidays, two of them seem to be celebrated the most: New Year and Women’s day.

Roles of women in Russian culture

Modern Russian culture implies clear separation between genders. People of each gender ought to follow specific society assigned roles. Gender roles are one of those most deeply and firmly rooted in the Russian mindset. This is why any deviations from what is considered “normal” in terms of gender roles, are not tolerated well, as they threaten the core of Russian cultural mindset.

Unlike many other cultures, striving for gender equality, Russian culture embraces gender differences. In Russian mind being born of a specific sex is either a privilege or a burden.

Role of women in modern Russian culture is dualistic. On one hand expected behavior of a woman is “femininity”, which sometimes is taken to an extreme. Women are supposed to be beautiful and gentle. This is where high hills, makeup and dressing up along with flirtations manners come from. In Russian men’s eyes woman is sort of a precious creature, that is hard to get hold of because she is very demanding in choosing who she will spend her (life)time with. Men are supposed to fight for the women, by attracting her, pleasing her in different ways. Women sort of expect this, but they are supposed to be mysterious and unapproachable. Gifts, diamonds, flowers, restaurants, romantic gestures, but nothing seem to please her, and she wants more signs of appreciation of her beauty and womanhood. She knows, as a woman she has birth right of having everything from men around her. “What a women wants?” — you hear everywhere in Russia, rhetorical question emphasizing unresolved issue of making woman happy. She is given special rights and privileges of all kinds just because she was born a woman. These are not legal privileges, they are mindsets about treating women as a very special gender. Women are supposed to have a man by their side and for that matter depend and rely on them. Women are not supposed to work and provide for themselves, her man’s role is to fully support her.

The other side of woman role involves responsibilities to bear in life. Women are supposed to be good housewives. Women are supposed to give birth and raise children. Women are supposed to be smart and wise, keep harmony in relationships and family. Women are supposed to take good care of their men. If their man is a lousy husband, woman is supposed to take upon his role and responsibilities. Men cannot do without a women in their life. Women are to be loved, adored and praised not only because of their beauty, but also for all the hardships they are bearing in life.

These are typical and very traditional roles or women in a modern Russian culture. Even if they seem a bit exaggerated, in many instances they work out exactly this way. Obviously not every woman fully complies with standard roles. More and more we see independent, self-sufficient and free of stereotypes women in Russian society.

So what is March 8th?

March 8th is a celebration of womanhood. Women’s day is a praise for gender inequality, celebrated in a full swing. It’s a celebration of femininity as a cultural value by itself that separates genders and makes women unique and very special. It’s a holiday where traditional women’s roles are acknowledged and appreciated. Official names for women in Russian cultural context are “weak gender” (which in a brutal reality of daily life appears more like a “strong gender”) and “beautiful gender”. And since in everyday life women do not always receive appreciation of their gender uniqueness and role, March 8th is the day when men have a chance to make up for all the words unspoken and care not given. When words are not enough, gifts become real handy.

March 8th holiday themes evolve from notions of beauty of women, women uniqueness, spring (well, calendar spring), beauty and freshness of the nature waking from a long winter, flowers, kind men, love, relationships between men and women.

On March 8th every women gets all attention, gifts, nice and kind words and treatment. Gifts, flowers (flower business makes half of its annual revenues on March 8th), food fixed by her men (family or boyfriend) especially for her, entertainment specially for her.

Ways people celebrate March 8th are countless. As an unspoken rule, every women has to receive flowers from all the men around her. Most women receive gifts on March 8th, mostly from a spouse, kids, relatives or other men they deal with daily.

Guide for men on giving gifts on March 8th.

For any woman you just happen to know gifts and flowers are not must unless you would like to show special attention and appreciation. Saying words of congratulations is a must. “Pozdravlyayu s vos’mim marta!”

For women you deal with daily, small gifts and/or flowers is a must. This includes female co-workers, perhaps business partners. Chocolate or something practical like gift certificate or perfume samples make a nice gift. It really depends on a number of woman you have to buy gifts for and your budget. Some men simply buy a flower for every woman in their team. Sometimes all men from the office put some money together and buy identical gifts for all women. These gifts do not quite replace personal gifts from you, so consider something from yourself anyway. As an option you can make a little celebration with food and champaign. Gifts and celebrations in this case are symbolic and it’s about attention, so act accordingly.

For women you do not deal with daily, but know really well and have good personal relationships with. This category include female friends and relatives. It really depends if you intend to show special attention to them. If so, buy them a gift or flowers. If you see each other regularly (for whatever reason) buy her a small gift or flowers next time you see her. If you do not see each other too often, just give them a call or write personal email with some nice words in it.

For your girlfriend or spouse. On March 8th Russian woman normally expects at least flowers (absolute must) or a gift of some kind. It does not necessarily have to be something real expensive or material. Treat this holiday like a second birthday or occasion to show your feelings.