I often talk about how fantastic life in Moscow is because it's true. But it's not all peaches and cream. Let's leave the women, the parties and the excitement of the big city aside. What is the real life like in Moscow?
The weather is miserable
I know it's a damn cliche but, unfortunately, it's true.
The weather. Fucking. Sucks.
For six months in Moscow, it sucks badly. It's grey, it's cold, there's almost no sunlight and you WILL get depressed. I'm writing this in April and this is the first month since October that I can remember having consecutive days of sunshine.
It's not even the cold that drains your energy but the lack of sunlight and the very short daylight time in winter. In my first year, I barely noticed it because everything was new and exciting. The second year already drains you. Now, I'm at the point where I'm working overtime on structuring my business in such a way that I can get away for at least a few weeks next winter.
And no, don't come at me with Vitamin D supplements and cold showers. Try living for a few years in endless greyness and then we can talk.
The people are miserable too
It's not a surprise that the weather makes people very miserable.
Russians aren't exactly a smiley bunch. I can see now why that is.
Add to the depressing weather the non-stop frenzy of Moscow:
- People CONSTANTLY in a rush
- People bumping into you
- Everyone looking pissed off
If I had to visualize the opposite of "laid back", I'd imagine Moscow. Life here is much better than in the rest of Russia but you wouldn't be able to tell. No one's content with what they have. People always try to get ahead at any cost (even though it's a very safe city).
It's very telling that everyone ADORED the World Cup last year. Muscovites aren't used to a carefree, happy, live-and-let-live attitude. It felt like a breath of fresh air and a welcome break from the regular rut.
Russian people love to find a scapegoat
Their no-BS attitude and candidness is refreshing and fits my personality well.
But one thing they definitely don't have down is taking personal responsibility. In Russia, it's ALWAYS someone else's fault.
- Couldn't find a parking spot and have to pay a ticket now? Not my fault, the other cars should've parked somewhere else.
- Can't pay rent? Not my fault, my employer isn't paying on time.
- Boyfriend cheating on me? Not my fault, all men are dirty cheaters.
- Not getting good marks? Not my fault, my prof is an insufferable cunt.
- America sanctioning us? Not our fault, we never did anything wrong.
You get the idea. Russians pretty much never think about what they could have done differently to avoid getting themselves in such a sorry situation. It's always "But...".
It was actually a Russian girl that confirmed this suspicion that I had for a long time. She agreed that Russians have a "savior complex". They always wait and hope for a white knight to show up out of the blue and save them. That also explains why Putin is so popular, why Russian women keep getting married despite shockingly high divorce rates and a lot of other stuff...
The internet in Russia isn't free
This is a minor point but occasionally the internet bugs me. Russia blocks a ton of sites like Telegram, gambling sites, porn sites and completely harmless non-related sites that are collateral damage.
Now, I don't gamble and beat off to internet porn (anymore). But I'd still like to have the option of choosing myself what I want to see or not see. Most of those blocks you can circumvent with a simple browser plugin or VPN but some not.
It's actually one of the few instances where you're reminded that you do not live in a completely free country.
You still consume Western media
This isn't annoying about Russia per se but an observation I made.
Even if you move to another country, you don't start completely assimilating with that country. The same didn't happen to me when I lived in Ireland, England or Czechia. I still kept on reading newspapers from home and getting my information from sources that I trusted.
In Russia, I NEVER read the newspaper and I've never even seen a single airing of one of the infamous propaganda news shows. I simply don't care what's happening and it doesn't affect me a single bit. That's not a bad thing but it means that you won't ever see the "other perspective" unless you make a conscious effort.
You are never really plugged into the culture
Again, this is not something that annoys me. But I noticed that it's hard to REALLY become a part of local culture, no matter where you live.
For example, I have zero Russian friends.
I know that's not a good thing. I actually wish I had but then again, I'm not bothered enough by it to change it. Even though I like Russians, the cultural difference is palpable. Some of our viewpoints in terms of business and relationships differ a lot.
I've never really tried to make local friends either despite speaking fluent Russian, knowing all the local music, what's cool at the moment and being in tune with the culture. The same happened to me in other countries as well. It takes a lot more effort to make a connection to locals than to other foreigners. There's always a slight invisible barrier, something that separates "you from them".
You compare between "your way" and the "Russian way"
At the same time you always catch yourself thinking “typical Russians”.
This feeds into my previous point. The barrier keeps existing in your head because you WILL compare yourself and “your way” to “them” and their way all the time.
- See a construction site with five workers and only one is actually working? Typically Russian.
- Barista treating you like a piece of dirt? Typically Russian.
- A dude rolling up to the club in the most ridiculously tasteless Gucci loafers? Typically Russian.
You don’t do it with bad intentions. You don’t even do it on purpose. But there’s always a “we’re like this and they’re like that” way of thinking. I think it's related to your own identity in a way. The funny thing is that if you stay abroad for long enough, you start doing the same thing in your own country. I’ve caught myself thinking “that’s so German” more than once when I was at home.
You get tired of explaining yourself
You’ll get tired of explaining why the fuck you moved to Moscow (which is a valid question, actually).
A really tiring and annoying aspect of living abroad is the always-recurring question:
“So why did you decide to move to Moscow??”
If I got a Dollar for every time I’ve answered this question, I would have already made more money than with this site.
At some point, you grow tired of having to explain yourself over and over again. Russians are mind-blown by the fact that a Westerner moves there. You even start questioning yourself why you actually are there and whether they don’t have a point. For me, a quick glance at my Instagram silences all doubts that I might have…
You WILL find it hard to find real friends
Finding friends abroad isn’t easy. First and foremost, the language barrier blocks you. Even if that’s not an issue like in my case, you have the cultural barrier. But let’s say you can deal with that as well then there’s still the obvious question:
Where do you even find friends?
It’s easy if you’re a student but only if you study with locals. I studied with other foreigners.
If you work in a corporate job, you’ll find colleagues but not necessarily friends. That’s at least a start though.
If you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, you’ll find partners and business contacts at best but not real friends.
So you actually have to go out there and actively start looking for (male) friends. Easier said than done. Of course, there are always sports clubs, gyms or other types of communities but it will take time and serious effort.
Not complaining but merely stating facts.
Traveling from Moscow is expensive
Particularly in Moscow, you’ll have (sort of) a hard time getting away. Ok, there’s St.Petersburg but you can only go there so often. Flying to somewhere else in Russia will bore you very fast because all cities look the same and are dull (sorry, harsh truth).
You can always fly abroad but flights from Moscow are more pricey than, say, London or Central Europe. The low-cost carriers only fly domestically. In summer, be prepared to cough up at least 300€ for a return ticket. There are cheap bundles you have to be prepared to stay in a 2* hotel somewhere in Turkey or Crimea.
Moscow is well-connected, you’ll just pay a slight premium to get away from it all.
There you have it. Moscow is not only cool and fun. It's still a better city that than London but, like with anything in life, it isn't as black and white as you'd think.