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Notes on living and working in Russia

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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. 

Moscow daily living

Life in Moscow is rich with different events. I bet, if you are a foreigner living in Moscow, you miss many events worth attending. May I suggest one of those events – Moscow honey fair. Honey fair is the best place in Moscow to buy real organic honey. Moscow government runs honey fair every year in the beginning of fall.  The fair is a large tent in Kolomenskoe park with dozens of stands inside. Beekeepers occupying the stands offer hundreds of varieties of organic honey and bee products. In Russia making honey is a craft, typically a family business. 

Why not buy honey from food stores? Well, what you buy in stores is a processed honey. And processed honey from nutritional standpoint is not much better than plain sugar. Thus if you do care what you eat, want to have full benefits and all the nutritional value of natural honey, you buy it from those who make it. Not from bees, I mean from beekeepers. 

On Moscow honey fair you can try and buy fresh (produced this summer) honey and honey products from all regions of Russia, from Far East to South.  Sellers explain where each honey is coming from, which blossoms bees used to make that honey and what benefits specific type of honey has for health. The choice is staggering. I bought some honey from regular bee hives and some wild honey. The beekeeper who sold it showed pictures of beehives handing high on trees. Wild bees would occupy those hives and produce honey. I think this is the type of honey bears are after. 

For those who are not keen about taking pills, but rather prefer to use natural remedies, there are numerous bee products available. As an example, I bought substance called “perga”. Perga is a byproduct of honey production. Bees make it out of pollen. They mix pollen with bee enzymes and ferment it in locked cells. In bee families perga is a food for infant bees. Perga is a natural probiotic, antioxidant and has numerous benefits for health. 

Not only honey, at the fair you can buy wild grown berries, herbs, mushrooms and other natural products. Dried wild mushrooms for example are of excellent quality, as well as pine nuts. I also tried some медовуха [medovukha] - alcohol drink made out of honey. The taste is mild and you don’t feel much of alcohol in it, but this thing can knock you off your feet if you drink too much of it. Prices on honey and other products are moderate.

How to find Moscow honey fair

Moscow honey fair runs end of August thru October 16th. Location of the fair is Kolomenskoe park (subway station Kolomenskaya, green line, south), nearby the entrance. From the entrance follow signs saying “Ярмарка мёда”. Here is a Google maps link to the exact location.

Going to the fair and to the park can be a nice weekend activity, do not miss it. 

Useful vocabulary

Мёд (myod) - honey.

Russian is very difficult, when I come to Russia, do I have to learn the language? Is it possible to communicate with Russians in English?

These are the questions many people coming to Russia ask very often. 

Russian can be difficult to learn, but English is also difficult for Russians. Very few people in Russia speak English, as well as any other foreign language. How come no one speaks English if almost everyone studies it in schools and universities or colleges? Well, in order to understand and being able to speak the language, you need to actively practice it. And practice outside the classroom is nearly impossible to find. Studying foreign language also requires big deal of self-motivation and for most students passing the class is just good enough. On top of things teaching techniques and teachers themselves often are not very efficient.   

In Russia, everywhere you go, everything will be only in Russian and all people will be able to understand only Russian. If you are planning a short tourist trip, and you do not speak any Russian, that is fine, especially if travel agency organizes your trip well. If you are planning live in Russia for longer period, say as expat, learning Russian is essential. I have seen people not speaking any Russian who have been living in Moscow for many years. For the most part they were absolutely helpless without someone by their side who spoke Russian. As alternative they live a “bubble” lifestyle, which again is fine, but it is somewhat limited existence. 

You probably do not need full Russian proficiency, but knowing even basic words, phrases and some vocabulary for specific situations helps. Otherwise even basic activity like buying groceries can turn into an issue. Making order in a restaurant can be difficult. Many cafes and restaurants have menus in English. I noticed however, menu translations are not always very accurate. Waiters do not speak English (with very few exceptions) and the best you can do is just to point at what you want from the menu. In majority of other situations you will have to use Russian, unless you have interpreter by your side. 

Where you can use English in Moscow. 

There are people in Russia  who speak English as a second language. In some places you have higher chances of bumping into someone speaking English. Obviously employees of international companies in Moscow speak English, so if you work for one, you are pretty much all set from 9 to 6 on work days. Concentration of English-speaking employees is higher in the places where international companies have offices. That is “Moscow city”, “Krilatsky hills”, “Belaya loshad”, some other office complexes, downtown in general, including Tverskaya street and surrounding areas.  Typically you meet people speaking English in chain hotels, meaning receptionists and other staff serving guests. I notices many workers in Starbucks speak English. Not that they will be able and willing to have conversation with an English-speaking customer, but they would take order in English for sure. There are few places where expats meet and there you can speak English too. I noticed that in Moscow subway, on some lines, station names now announced in English. Street navigation is available in English mostly in central parts of Moscow. There are English resources about Moscow – in print or on the web.