Tuesday, May 24, 2016

10 tips for Moscow

As my friend's Moscow visit gets closer and closer, I've started thinking of things about Russia which I take for granted but would throw newcomers for a loop.  Can I even remember what makes Russia and the US so different now that I've been here for nearly 4 years? Here's what I've come up with so far (note: all of these things have happened to me personally):

 1.  Just because you have an address doesn't mean you even remotely know where it is. 

Russia has this bizarre system of courtyards that you need to struggle your way through to find things sometimes.  For example, you might need to find Ulitsa Pravdy, Dom 20, but on the main road the numbers go from 18 straight to 22, skipping 20 altogether.  (Not so) obviously, this means you need to walk through the parking lot next to you and wander through some courtyards before you maybe find what you need.  
Similarly, there are "korpuses" - so you might need Ulitsa Pravdy, Dom 20, Korpus 3. Korpus 3 may or may not be anywhere near Korpus 1 or 2, and there's a good chance you'll be wandering through more courtyards.  In the US, we tend to just give separate buildings their own numbers.
Another common thing is needing to walk through one store to get to another, because why not. 
Final thing about addresses - sometimes you might be walking down a street which forks, but both sides of the fork have the same street name and even people who work in the area don't know where you are and once you've finally gotten to where you wanted, you can show a picture to the person you were meeting to prove the address you ended up at really does exist.  

 2.  Buying things can be really hard.  

Someone might refuse to sell you something because you don't have exact change.  Or the cashier might see you and choose not to acknowledge your existence for several minutes.  Or, a customer may have (I have no idea how this even happens) put an oranges sticker on his tomatoes when weighing them, so the cashier will have to argue with him about how tomatoes aren't oranges, go look at the tomatoes and oranges on the shelves, get a manager, argue with the manager about how tomatoes aren't oranges, and then finally put the right sticker on the bag and ring them up.  Or you might change your mind about buying something that's been rung up, and then you'll have to wait ten minutes because only one person in the entire store has the authorization to void purchases.  Or there might just straight up not be food on the shelves.  Or you might order from the menu at a restaurant and then get told they don't have that...or that or that.  Or...you can see where I'm going with this.
3.   If you come in the summer, there might not be any hot water where you're staying. 

Every summer, everyone gets to experience the fun times of systematically getting their hot water shut off for ten days, regardless of the temperature outside.  And by fun, I mean awful. 

4.   You will likely get shouted at. 

 If you're doing something wrong, you will hear about it; even if you don't understand what you're hearing.  If you're standing/sitting in the wrong place, if you hand over the wrong piece of paper, if you don't have exact change, if you exist - there is a good chance you will get yelled at.  Every time I go back to the US, I'm really surprised by how comparatively polite and not-shouty people are. 
5.  However, people might also go out of their way to help you.

There have been a couple of times where I was lost and asked for directions, but instead of telling me and sending me on my way, the people just walked me to where I needed.  Sometimes this comes after being shouted at, but sometimes there's no shouting!

 6.  You really do need to carry your passport with you everywhere.

Think of it like carrying your license everywhere.  But contrary to what a lot of travel guides say, I've often found that a signed and stamped official photocopy of my passport/visa weren't good enough, so it's a good idea to have a copy at home and the real thing with you.  
7.  Something might stop existing overnight. 

Like those stores outside of metros.  Or like this one time when on my way to work I passed a corner store, and on the way back 4 hours later I passed a pile of rubble.  Or a store might get replaced by a totally different store, also pretty much overnight.  The possibilities are endless. 
 8.  There is free Wi-Fi pretty much everywhere. 

And I mean everywhere.  In cafes/restaurants.  On the metro.  Even in a lot of the parks now.  Enjoy!
9.  If you get invited to a Russian's house, you'd better be hungry.

Somewhere between taking your shoes off and walking to the kitchen, an empty table will suddenly groan under the weight of all the snacks and drinks your host has pulled out of nowhere.  Cookies, cakes, candy, fruit, sandwiches, meat, cheese, vegetables, tea, etc.  It's rude to refuse, as well as futile.  My host mother once cried because I tried to resist eating dinner at home before going out to dinner.  
10.   People might come up and talk to you when they hear you speaking English. 

It's usually in a friendly way, to ask where you're from and what you're doing here, or to offer help.  I've gotten offered jobs after people heard me speaking English.  There were unfortunately a couple of times when people reacted really aggressively, but that's not the norm.  

So I guess that makes this my Top 10 of things to expect when in Moscow! I highly recommend visiting, but I might be a little biased. 

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