Before I left for Russia, I was hearing all kinds of horror stories and tales about the country. Obviously, the recent news hasn’t helped with that, so some friends and family were panicking about how I’d adapt, etc. Well, I’ve been living in Russia for over a month now, and things are normal. However, while roughly 95% of life is essentially the same as back home in America, there are some differences here. I think the biggest one is that you need to take things slower here. At least in my experience, I feel that people here aren’t as in a hurry to get things done. This is evidence by how services can be slow (case in point: the internet). However, the flip side of this is that you get to savor your experience. Another tip is that drivers here are nuts. The joke goes that people who look both ways in one-way streets aren’t pessimists, but rather, Russians. Seriously, when visiting, be very careful-it is a free for all on the roads. This also leads me to my point about safety. Knock on wood, but I haven’t had any real problems with my personal safety. This can be attributed to the steady presence of the police, which at times can be a bit intimidating. However, just exercise caution when walking around. Pickpockets are big in the center of Moscow (hello, Red Square) so be vigilant; they can be the man dressed in the fancy suit and/or other less fancy looking people. While the neighborhood where I live is quieter, I have seen my share of drunks. They’re generally innocent, but make sure you’re aware of your surroundings.
Remember those bland, grey apartments you saw in the rare footage of the Soviet Union? Those are where people live. However, looks are very deceiving. I admit to having some preconceived notions of what they would be like, yet they were totally smashed once I arrived. My apartment is very comfortable, comes with all the normal furnishings, and it has a decent view from the 12th floor. If you’re used to living in larger spaces, you’ll need to adjust-these apartments are small. Homely, but small. Depending on where you live in Moscow, there may be minor changes in the configuration of your apartment. For example, my apartment comes with the bathroom and shower separate, whereas my friends’ one has both in the same room. Another example is how to get in to my apartment, I have to open the security door, then open the door to physically step in. This also comes after having to unlock a door to my side of the apartment. It’s probably unnecessarily complicated, but it does give some peace of mind knowing I’m sitting secure.
In terms of food, there is a wide variety not unlike back home. However, keep in mind that the food at the grocery store a) goes bad far quicker due to the lack of preservatives and b) may not be the brands you’re familiar with. Thus, you’ll be trying a ton of new brands, so you really need an open mind. Also, I’ve seen the same couple of fruits (generally apples, bananas, grapes, and oranges) and vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, and peppers), which poses a challenger to those trying to introduce a variety of foods in their diets. Also, peanut butter, for those of you who can’t live without it, is either unavailable or far more expensive (I’ve heard that it’s roughly $10 in some places). So, be warned.
All in all, Russia has the amenities of any western country. It, naturally, is different, but nothing radically different. If anything, it’s endearing and can be summed up by saying “only in Russia.”