I lived on the outskirts of Moscow for eight months. To be brutally honest, it was a low point in my life. Most of the blame fell on my job. I hated falling asleep at night because I knew that in the morning I would have to wake up and work. That’s no way to live. Despite this, I learned a tremendous amount about myself, and about the world. It was the first time that I was immersed in a foreign culture and the experience was a positive one. Here’s why.
- Russian Food is Delicious
Of all the unexpected surprises in Russia, this was the biggest one. I ended up falling in love with almost everything I ate. The key was to not to stray too far from the beaten path. I saw a few things in Russia that made my stomach do a somersault. On the other hand, Russians (Babooshkas in particular) really know how to cook some amazing food.
Borsch, Oliva, Caviar (so, so cheap in Russia) and Blini are classic dishes that I still enjoy eating to this day. There’s also this delicious wrap made with raw salmon and mayonnaise that I don’t know the name for. Wash it all down with some Kefir or Kvas and you’ve got a hearty Russian meal that will shut up any skeptic.
- Receptive to Language Mistakes
Russians know that their language is hard. In fact I get the feeling that’s a source of national pride. Maybe that’s why they’re so patient with language learners. In eight months I never had a truly bad experience with someone getting angry at me for my poor Russian. Think about America (if you’re American that is). Imagine some Russian comes in and is butchering English as he tries to order something from the restaurant or bar. I imagine that he would have a much less pleasant experience than I enjoyed in Russia.
Almost everywhere I went I would meet someone who would help me to learn Russian. A verb here, a saying there. Month in and month out that really adds up. The other thing I noticed is how many people complimented me on my Russian, even when I was speaking so horridly it was nearly unintelligible. I can’t think of how a culture could be more supportive of people trying to learn their language.
- There Will be Order on the Escalators!
This is admittedly a small point of order, but I think it’s an interesting one. To understand this, you have to understand that everyday the Moscow Metro pulls a double shift. It ferries millions of people across an unbelievably large city. At the same time it’s also a very effective bomb shelter.
In Moscow, most of the older metro stations are buried several hundred feet in the ground. In order to reach them you take a ride on the escalator. This can take minutes. It’s actually a really unique experience when you’re relaxed. If you’re in a rush it’s a nightmare. Thankfully, there is an express lane. On the escalators everyone who is standing stays to the right, allowing others to run past on the left. And if someone is violating this rule, you can yell at them in your gruffest, most cigarette soaked voice and they’ll quickly get out of the way.
To be continued