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Notes on living and working in Russia

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Moscow

Fog is an unusual weather condition for Moscow, but in happens in-between seasons. 

Drinking tap water Moscow

Can I use Moscow tap water for drinking and cooking? Is tap water safe in Moscow?

Tap water in Moscow is perfectly safe to drink and use for other everyday purposes.

Stories telling that tap water is contaminated, not clean enough or for whatever reason is no good to drink, are just marketing lies. Locals readily pick up such stories, fabricated by bottled water manufactures, and pass them around. Many choose to believe those stories and buy water in bottles. What a hassle to buy and carry those bulky and heavy 5-liter bottles from the store to your home!

Recent studies (by official government agency) indicate that 60% of bottled water is worse in quality than the tap water. Most of what they sell as “natural” or “mineral” water actually comes from the tap, somehow filtered and chemicals added to what they believe – improve water taste. This is why many samples of bottled water have some strange taste, some bitter, some sweet.

Tap water in Moscow is very clean and safe, but there are two practical things to consider:

First consideration is that tap water in Moscow is “hard”. Lookup on the internet “hard”; and “soft”; water to understand the difference. “Hardness” of water occurs naturally. In practice, having “hard” water means following.

You might need to use conditioner when washing you hair. It might take some time for your hair and skin to get used to this type of water of you are coming from the area with “soft”; water.

Any home appliance that boils or heats water will require special maintenance and extra care. For laundry you will have to buy detergents that has water softening chemicals in it or buy and add such chemicals separately. You will have to use more of laundry detergent; recommended volume for hard water is usually indicated on the package. You will have to use special chemicals for your dishwasher to soften water. And you will have to clean your kettle or coffee maker regularly, otherwise you will get white deposits on the heating elements and walls and nasty white flakes in your tea of coffee. Those flakes – harmless for you, harmful for your appliance and do not look good in your drink. Even if you use bottled water you will get deposits and flakes because it is not softened and has additives.

Second consideration is chemicals, added during purification process. This is not unique for Moscow, like in most places in the world, all tap water has chemicals added during purification process. They are no hazards to health from those chemicals, but if you are super conscious about what you drink this can be a consideration. Again, bottled water also has chemicals (usually unknown ones), and it is also “hard”, so it is not an adequate replacement for tap water.

Practicalities of using Moscow tap water:

Rethink your hygiene routines, play with different shampoos to find suitable one, let your skin and hair adjust.

For laundry and dishwasher buy proper detergents and use in manufacturer recommended volumes. All these detergents are easy to find in any grocery store.

For drinking, making tea, coffee and cooking use stationary filter with reverse osmosis technology. This is an inexpensive piece of equipment that typically hides under the kitchen sink. It will require professional installation and you will have separate tap for drinking water. I’ve been using this type of filter for years and can positively confirm it filters out all additives and makes very clean water, great for drinking, cooking and making tea or coffee. I have never cleaned my electric kettle or coffee machine, they are both clean as new and no white deposits on them because filter softens water. It is affordable (roughly 200-300 USD with installation depending on a brand) and very useful piece of home equipment. Maintenance includes changing filters regularly (change frequency depends on how much water you use from the filter).

Below picture shows how reverse osmosis system looks (this picture is from my own apartment).

Moscow drinking water

Useful vocabulary:

Вода (Voda) - Water Питьевая вода - (Pityevaya voda) - Drinking water Водопроводная вода (Vodoprovodnaya voda) or Вода из крана (Voda iz krana) - Tap water
Бутилированная вода (Butilirovannaya voda) or Вода в бутылках (Voda v butilkah) - Bottled water
Фильтр (Filtr) - Filter

Keep well, or as we say in Russia - Будьте здоровы! (Bud'te zdorovy!)

Moscow subway

Subway is a key mean of public transportation in Moscow. If you have to commute, subway probably is the only way of getting to work and back, unless you do not mind spending hours in traffic. Many foreigners living in Moscow omit using subway – for a number of different reasons. Some expats and short term visitors are just afraid to use Moscow subway. Below are few things about Moscow subway to encourage you to give it a try. Millions of Russians use it daily, why can’t you?

Moscow subway is very efficient. It covers most parts of the city and you can get almost anywhere by subway. There are few areas not served by subway, but the system develops rapidly and new stations open every year. In addition, in September 2016 railroad ring line was opened, which technically is not part of the subway system, but it connects many subway stations, making convenient transfers and shortening travel time.

Moscow subway is fast. Trains ride every 40 seconds to 2 minutes depending on the line in peak hours. In non-peak hours waiting time is somewhere between 2 to 5 minutes. Distances between most stations are quite long, especially outside ring line, but trains ride at a high speed, so Moscow subway gets you to your destination really fast.

Stations are large and spacious. Stairs are wide, passages and hallways on most stations are capable of carrying heavy passenger traffic. There are bottlenecks however, mostly escalators on some stations.

Moscow subway is very clean. Train cars are clean both inside and outside, stations are very clean and premises outside stations are clean too. In the past years many station entrance areas were rebuilt or renovated, so they look brand new.

Some stations have unique and distinctive historical design. Many people call Moscow subway “the world’s most beautiful subway”. This is subjective though, but it is true that many stations look like palaces with stunning decoration. Most of the design and decoration comes from soviet era, so subway decor resembles communist themes and ideas of art. New stations boast contemporary design, which by all means is good. There are guided tours available to experience art of Moscow subway.

Moscow subway is safe, especially if you follow very basic safety rules. All stations are patrolled by the police. Every corner is under video surveillance. There are x-ray machines and metal detectors on every entrance. There are patrol dogs on duty to search for dangerous things. 

Moscow subway is very affordable. Single ride does not depend on distance and costs bargain compared to subways cost in other world capitals. If  you buy a monthly ticket or a butch of trips, it will cost you even cheaper than a single trip. Different types of tickets available to suite different travel needs and reduce costs if you need to get to your destination using subway and ground transportation. 

Station names announced loudly and clearly - in Russian and English. In newer cars special screens available above entrance doors where you can read station names in English.

There is internet in all trains.

Subway maps are bilingual - in Russian and English.

Useful links to get more practical information on Moscow subway in English:

Official subway website is all in Russian, but here is interactive Subway map in English from Yandex. You can plan trips by selecting stations of origin and destination. The system will calculate optimal rout and give you travel time estimate (very accurate). Beware that estimate time is between stations (in other words – platforms). Getting into the station and out of the station may require extra 10-15 minutes. This extra time is due to long escalators and passage ways. Also entrances and exits can be crowded in peak hours and that will slow you down. You can download phone app with the same functionality and use it on the go. The app can also locate you in the subway.

Full information on tickets and fares – very easy to understand and thorough guide – all in English officially from Moscow department of transportation. Includes other useful information on using subway.

Plenty of information on Moscow subway is available on the internet in English, just use search engine of your choice. 

Useful vocabulary:

Метро (Metro) - Subway, metro

Билет (Bilet) - Ticket

Поездка (Poezdka) - One subway trip (when buying tickets)

Станция (Stanciya) - Station

Поезд (Poezd) - Train

Переход (Perekhod) - Transfer (they use the word “interchange” when announcing transfer stations in English)

Линия (Liniya) - Line

The word “manager” came to Russia from western business and settled in Russian language pretty well. Nowadays it is used everywhere in business and this is a common title for various positions. However in Russian business environment term “manager” means something different. 

Manager in Russia typically refers to entry office positions or front line employees dealing with customers. For example, sales manager is someone who makes cold calls and takes orders. Anyone who works in car sales on the dealership floor would be a car sales manager. Normal dealership would have a dozen of sales managers and sales director they report to. Office manager is a person who makes coffee, loads paper into copy machines and printers and cleans office cafeteria. You meet managers everywhere, but such positions most often found in internet stores, companies that sell something, not in retail shops, but through the office. All these managers – people doing front line jobs, clerks dealing with customers. I called internet store the other day and they had a bunch of managers to answer my technical questions and take my order. 

Now if you are coming to work in Russia for an international company, this may become a bit of a problem. Let’s say you have a managerial position and inside your company “manager” means real manager. Outside of your company perception of manager is bottom of corporate hierarchy. In other words your partners might not take you seriously.

How to deal with the difference

Demonstrate power and authority by your looks and behavior, so regardless of title they would see you as important. This means being bold, direct, serious, demanding, giving strict orders, talking short and ignoring those lower in hierarchy. Typical Russian boss type of behavior. May be not a compelling image, so you can just consider the idea and make up your own image. This works - proven by experience. 

Change title on business cards. You can keep your position name for internal use, but have title on business cards, which your Russian partners would understand and appreciate. It is not unusual for upper level managers from international companies to have something like “director” or “vice-president” on their business cards. 

Have someone explain to your Russian counterparts differences in corporate hierarchy. Most people in Russian business have no idea how international companies operate on the inside. Having proper understanding of who is who on a corporate ladder, regardless of position names, helps to establish credibility and avoid confusion. 

Useful vocabulary

Начальник (Nachalnik) or Руководитель (Rukovoditel’) - Both words above in Russian mean “manager” in its original meaning.

Moscow housing

Moscow housing is a big topic. For those who come to live in Moscow for a long period of time, finding a good apartment is a number one priority. Most people say Moscow downtown is limited by Garden Ring. However this is not fully correct, because parts of Moscow also known as downtown extend beyond just Garden Ring. Thus, areas within Third Ring can be called downtown. Most expats live either in downtown or in one of two international communities located on Moscow outskirts. If you are thinking on where to live in Moscow and downtown is on your list of options, consider below points.

Benefits:

Diverse choice of apartments of different styles (layouts, sizes and designs) and levels of service. Depending on your demands and budget you can find an apartment in a cozy pre-revolution historical building or simple soviet-style block type building. Or you can opt for a brand new high-class condo complex. Options like historical buildings may not be available in other parts of the city. 

Many places to go, especially if you speak Russian. This is a real luxury to be able to go to the theater or exhibition after work in the evening and later have dinner and not having to drive or use public transportation. On weekends there are plenty of options on spending time nearby your place: events, festivals, parades, numerous places to visit.   Going to work on foot is a real advantage if you work in downtown or close to the city center. No car traffic, no passenger crowds in subway.

Lots of places to eat or have a drink: restaurants, cafes, bars. Most interesting eating places found in downtown. 

Subway stations in a close proximity. Subway station density is higher within subway ring line. Usually you would have at least two alternative subway stations close by your place if you live in downtown.   Clean, nice looking streets, convenient for strolls or going to work. In the past years Moscow government started street rebuilding program. As a result of it, pedestrians were given priority in downtown. Sidewalks became wider, more convenient for walking, nicely decorated. For those who bike there are bike lanes. 

Accessibility of street events. If a festival happens, or parade or anything, you can just walk there. Street events happen all the time regardless of season.

Prestige. You can impress your Russian counterparts by saying you live on, for example, Tverskoy Boulevard. This does count in establishing credibility for those in higher positions and gives you image of prestige, importance and success. 

Disadvantages:

High rental costs. You (or your company) will pay hundreds thousands of Rubles (that is thousands USD/EUR) for renting a decent apartment. Cheaper options in downtown mean smaller and run-down places, not pleasant neighbors and inconvenient locations. 

Small number of grocery stores. Only few corner shops available to buy some food. Few larger supermarkets located in the center, but location and unavailability of parking might prevent you from using them. In any case food stores in downtown are smaller in size and carry limited stock of groceries, compared to stores in other parts of town.

Limited sporting options. There are much less sports clubs and other sports facilities in downtown and those available are pricey. 

All goods and services are pricey. Even simple services like dry cleaning or basic groceries have much higher price tags in downtown, compared to other parts of Moscow. This means higher cost of downtown living in general. 

Street noise. A good number of major roads and busy streets go through downtown. Traffic in Moscow never stops and in most parts of downtown you will be exposed 24/7 to a roar of hundreds of cars running past your place and air pollution they produce. If you are lucky you can find a quiet place in downtown, but this requires an extra time and effort. 

Limited or no parking. Like in almost every big city parking is very limited in Moscow downtown. All street parking is toll, and payment process is not very straight forward. If you park your car in a wrong place or wrong way, they will fine you or tow away your car. 

Horrible car traffic. If your place of work requires car ride to reach, be prepared to stand in traffic for hours. Especially it gets worth when major snowfall hits Moscow in winter, or some event takes place and they all happen in downtown.