No One Smiles in the CIS

Rob and Gailyn, your average Midwesterners, sure got a shock when they landing in Moscow!

Not even a gleam of a smile on the wedding day!
No Smiling!
Metro Signs 101:

WALK

DON’T WALK

The Glory of the Moscow Metro
So nice, I could stay lost!

Nuttin like polluting the air to wash the streets
Clean those streets!
This week, I met an adventurous American couple for dinner,
who where in Moscow on a look-see visit. They emailed me a
while back asking questions about Moscow living, as he was contemplating
a transfer Russia with his company, and I agreed to meet them to help
out with the culture shock. We spent three hours chatting about
the Russia experience from an American perspective over a tasty dinner
at the Starlight Dinner. After they returned to America, I asked them to
send me their impressions of the city and its people. Even though
she gives me way too much credit, below are Gailyn’s impressions,
followed by Rob’s impressions:.

No One Smiles!

By Gailyn

I must begin by making an admission: I was completely overwhelmed by
Russia during the first couple of days of my stay. I have traveled to 40
of the 50 states, been to Mexico and Canada, traveled to Europe three
times and even lived in Oxford, England in college, so I have
experienced many different cultures and languages. But nothing quite
prepared me for the culture shock and language barrier of Russia. I
think part of my reaction must have been due to the propaganda in the
news and movies in the 80’s of the red bogeyman. I was scared and
completely out of my element — not to mention exhausted from jet lag.
But my impression by the end of the trip was drastically different,
partly due to Wayan’s appreciation and love of the Russian culture.

Before we had dinner with Wayan on Monday night, I couldn’t get a
feel of the country like I had been able to in my other travels.
Russians are not rude, but they certainly aren’t friendly and appear to
be completely unapproachable. No one smiles. I found that to be the most
depressing aspect of the trip. The waiters and waitresses did a fine
job, but never smiled or appeared to be anything but stoic. Even groups
of people in restaurants, in what appeared to be a social gathering,
never smiled, laughed or even hinted at having a good time. But after
our dinner with Wayan, I began to understand the necessity of this type
of behavior. Freedom there is a very new concept and not easily
adaptable after 70 years of censorship. I was grateful for the freedom
of expression we have in our country.

My husband and I ventured into the metro by ourselves on two
occasions – which is a separate story in and of itself. When we found
ourselves lost – more than once – we asked people for help. In every
instance, they were very helpful. We had no bad experience with anyone.
I can’t say that about my other travels. Again no one smiled when
approached, but they were respectful and kind. We also talked with a few
Russians who were English speaking. Again, they were kind and helpful
but very reserved – I would say even more than the English – which I
didn’t think was possible. But I could see that if one spent the time to
get to know them they would be very warm people.

I expected that I would lose weight during my week stay in Russia.
You always hear the food is awful. NOT TRUE! In fact, my husband and I
agreed the best meal we had ever eaten was in Russia. We went to a
pricey restaurant and had to try the borscht. It was the best soup I’ve
ever eaten. We also had a meat dish that was stuffed with some wonderful
concoction and cooked perfectly. I also have to say they have the best
bread I’ve ever eaten, even better than the French. Needless to say, I
didn’t lose weight.

I did feel in many ways the country is in its infancy. I watched
Russian TV music videos. The music was pretty good, but the videos are
not sophisticated; similar to the first videos made in this country.
Everything is that way, but understandably so. And remember when cell
phones first came out and were a status symbol so people used them in
front of others constantly? I found it annoying even back then.

Moscow itself, while to some degree dilapidated is quaint. I love the
old cobblestone roads – although I don’t know how all of the young women
walk on them with 7-inch platform shoes they wear. Most of the buildings
are made from stone and the tallest one we saw in the city was
approximately 15 floors. The lack of huge, glass and metal skyscrapers
gave the city a European, lived in feel that I found beautiful. We
stayed at the Marriott, which is located on Tverskaya Street, which is
the Michigan Avenue of Moscow. We both thought it reminded us a lot of
Chicago. However, Old Arbat Street was my favorite. The artists working
on the street were quite good and it had a wide variety of trinkets,
dolls and souvenirs to pick from, including ‘fake’ mink hats
[the vendor said it was mink – but it looked like squirrel]. There is
also entertainment. A young boy was doing his rendition of Michael
Jackson. He’s everywhere isn’t he?

I have to thank you Wayan. Your love of the Russians and their quirky
ways of doing things gave me a new perspective and I enjoyed my trip
immensely.

The new Wild West!

By Rob

My first impressions of Russia began weeks before my visit. Like most
Americans, my knowledge of other cultures is limited. So, I thought it
wise to do some homework. In my quest for information, I encountered a
variety of individuals with unique and exciting stories to share. I met
a group of returning high school foreign exchange students from
Minnesota, a missionary from Wisconsin, a global business strategist
from France and of course the internet. Like you – I found Wayan Vota’s
Random Russian Experiences [The All-American Boy From Next Door – even
if you are from Bali!].

I was invited to Moscow for a job opportunity. After some discussion,
my wife Gailyn and I decided to visit Moscow to end our speculation. So
we began our journey and quickly learned three important lessons: 1. Red
Tape, 2. Hurry up & wait, 3. How much?

In preparation for our journey, anything that could go wrong did.
Fortunately, our actual journey began without incident. Our sixteen-hour
flight took us from St. Louis, Detroit, Amsterdam and then to our much
anticipated destination of Moscow. Upon our arrival, many of my
stereotypes held true. We experienced a chaotic lack of organization,
long lines and the faceless institutional stare of seventy years of
communism.

Our first look at the city began on a rainy Sunday morning. The
streets were abandoned with the exception of an occasional passing
Moscovite, and stray dogs. The architecture appeared stark and
dilapidated, which further feed my stereotypes. As the day progressed,
the sky cleared and the city became alive. As we journeyed to Red Square
I was humbled by my inability to communicate with others. I walked down
the street unable to read simple street signs, the name on store fronts
or interpret small talk between passing pedestrians. Like most na�ve
Americans, I soon discovered that speaking louder does not break the
language barrier. However, I did discover the international language of
hand gestures. Although, the gesture for ‘were is the men’s
room’ still eludes me.

Without debate, all would agree that the air quality in Moscow is
poor. The city streets are filled with speeding autos and pedestrians
with cigarettes. Yet, the streets are spotless. One would be hard
pressed to find a discarded cigarette bud on any street.

I left Russia with a sobering thought. The country has a long history
spanning more than 850 years – but it is still an infant. I now better
appreciate the life I enjoy in the U.S. However, I am envious of the
Russian people and the opportunity before them. They must control
spiraling inflation and develop a physical and political infrastructure
to lead them into the future. Russia is one of the few remaining
frontiers, the new Wild West.