Before coming to Russia, a lot of people really don’t know what to expect, so this post is my attempt to help you determine whether or not Russia will be your particular cup of tea. One thing to note, my conclusions are drawn based on Moscow life but many Russians consider Moscow almost to be separate from the rest of Russia, just so you know...
Love or hate
The funny thing about Russia is that foreigners that come here either love it or hate it – rarely do you see any middle ground on this one, but the question is: will you be a lover or a hater? Well, this is a small list of things that may help you determine:
You will probably be a hater if you:
Find it hard to adapt to new situations or changes that differ lot from your native country
Enjoy stability and likes it when things run silky smooth
Are heavily into human/animal rights/ are a passionate vegetarian
Don’t like intolerance to other races or homosexuals
Are quite soft and doesn’t like it when people are rude or standoffish (just today i was called a баран in the metro, but that stuff doesn’t bother me)
Are obviously not white = possible hater depending on experiences
Have a genuine hatred of bureaucracy
Have a problem with people not smiling in public
In my time here I have met maybe five people that love Russia and want to stay but most seem to get fed up with it after a year and crave the stability of home. One group who does tend to love Russia consists of those who dislike the high-stability levels in their own countries, Russia for them has a Wild West type effect and they revel in bribing the police, drinking on the streets and stuff. I think for them Russia feels freer (this I noticed especially in Americans that were under 21). Others that tend to love it are not fazed by people being rude in the metro or generally in public. Some businessmen tend to like it because they can make larger profits here, but for this you definitely need good contacts, have extremely good wits about you and don’t have a problem bribing left right and centre. Generally if you enjoy something less predictable and stable you will probably enjoy Russia.
Other expats in Russia
Here I am referring mainly to European expats, not those from other former Soviet republics. So, as strange as it may sound, there are about five types of expat category here that you can expect to bump into. A lot of them are bonded by their lack of knowledge about both Russian language, culture and Russia, in this way they get to enjoy safety in numbers with other expats who never bothered to learn Russian or truly experience the county they live in.
Type one (and the one I most respect)
Type one are the expats that came to Russia in the early 90s to do business and stayed. Why I like them the most is because a lot of them have really become part of Russia, raising kids here, making money here and learning the language and actually blending in with Russian society. I’m sure it was no easy task doing what they did when Russia really was like the Wild West so kudos to them. This also relates to those who have dual citizenship or temporary residence here.
These are the expats sent here to work. Normally they are here to serve a contract and leave so naturally they tend not to give a shit about Russia, Russians or anything that is different from their home country. They tend to live in expat bubbles that are separated from Russian reality - on the weekends that gather at expat bars, speak English all day every day and some have their own drivers (that have to speak English) to further keep them apart from any sense of being in another country. This type generally seems to dislike Russia and can’t wait to make their money and leave.
There are a lot less of these, but they are the people who studied here and then found official work. They tend to know Russian, love the place and genuinely enjoy living and working here.
These are students that study here and are (usually) doing their year abroad as part of a university program. Some foreigners stay and study here, but it’s pretty uncommon (although one English girl I know did this after a gap year program). Some students like it, some hate it but generally their Russian doesn’t improve that much because of hanging out almost solely with people from their group. A lot of the time they complain about not being able to meet Russians which is interesting what with being in Russia and all...
This is the vague group of which I am a part of. There used to be a lot more of us until the visas laws changed a couple of years ago. Now, most of the people in this group are here doing something like time wasting, book researching or just continuing to teach or do something illegal. Because we now have to pay a lot of money and buy a work permits (which is technically illegal) we tend to love the place, although some fluctuate between love and hate (a have a friend like this).
As for me, over the course of four years my attitude has changed a lot toward Russia and rather than being left hating or loving, I am left feeling sad - yes sad. The thing is, as you live here, what was once new and exotic becomes habit and a part of life, but that isn’t what makes me sad. Why I feel bad is because Russia has so much potential which it fails to capitalise on because of the levels of corruption on so many levels, starting right up at the top with the oligarchs who are as filthy and corrupt as them come. Why in a country with so many natural resources is the standard of living so low for the majority? Why can’t the government find the money to give out a decent pension? Instead, you see impoverished old ladies on a daily basis praying for kopecks. The fact is that most of the pension fund has already been robbed by bullshit-spewing politicians to fund their outrageous lifestyles. The people that are supposed to be helping Russia are the ones destroying it. This makes me feel bad because there are people I care about here that don’t have a choice and so you feel helpless to do or change anything which leads me to a personal feeling of sadness. Is it really right that some of my friends have to work 9 hours per day and travel 3 hours a day to and from work and all for a salary that is less than that of a part time employee of a clothes store in England? Hell no. The worst thing is that this is in Moscow – the main source of money in Russia. I hope one day something really changes for the better, I really do.
So there you have it the русская беда. Whatever presumptions you have I assure you, Russia is a very interesting and diverse place where you can find all sorts of characters. Love it or hate it, you should visit and try it out for yourself. In the mean time, here's a sketch from наша раша on the political oligarchs.