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Leaving Moscow
September 24, 2012 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Julia Ioffe - What I Will (and Won't) Miss About Living in Moscow
posted by beisny (34 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I will miss the long and freezing Russian winters

That was a rather intimate and bittersweet article up until I reached the above sentence, which let me know it was written by someone deep in the throes of madness.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:03 PM on September 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I will miss the long and freezing Russian winters

A clear sign of Stockholm syndrome.
posted by daniel_charms at 12:17 PM on September 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


from article: “I will miss the fact that Russians are not afraid of what we in America nervously call ‘the L-word,’ or the messes it can get you into.”

So I take it law school is a lot more popular in Russian, then?
posted by koeselitz at 12:21 PM on September 24, 2012


(Or is that not what 'the L-word' is? Honestly, that was confusing to me. I feel almost sure she didn't mean that L word, but maybe there are things about Moscow culture that I have no inkling of.)
posted by koeselitz at 12:23 PM on September 24, 2012


What a nice article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:23 PM on September 24, 2012


It's interesting that, as a casual tourist who only saw Moscow, St. Petersburg, and a few other little cities and towns, a lot of this rings true.

After visiting St. Petersburg, Moscow is depressing in it's monotonous industrialness, a massive gray city, except for bright spots of art and parks, and the Soviet metro stations. It's like a glimpse of a buried past.

And they're the most reliable way to get around the heart of Moscow, as the roads were always insanely packed full of cars, to the point that a taxi driver took my parents on sidewalks to bypass the congestion at one point. Also, you could apparently buy a police siren to get through traffic, but everyone knew that, so no one paid mind to sirens.

People watching is fascinating in Moscow. St. Petersburg had more of the costumed Russians waiting to be photographed with tourists, but Moscow was full of people living their lives in whatever outfit they saw suitable. Often times that meant mesh shirts for men. Mesh, mind you, is not only for hot days, or going to clubs. No, a black mesh shirt can be dressed up with a nice grey suit jacket and matching pants.

On a train ride out of Moscow to the origin of Matryoshka dolls, my family and I were apparently the only foreign tourists stuck in the in-between space, where one generally enters a train car to get one's seat. Except, when the trains are over booked (which I think is always the case), people start gathering in those pass-through spaces, before standing in the isles between seats. You have a bit more room, until the space is filled with 20 other people who couldn't find a seat and didn't want to stand in the isles. This is also where you might be offered a shot of vodka and a slice of orange, from two jovial men. My brother and I, young, tall American men, were offered drinks and orange a couple times, and we finally said, "what the heck, we aren't driving," so we joined them taking shots and eating orange slices. And then a little babushka starts yelling at the two jovial men. We, speaking no Russian, try to avoid eye contact, as we can't slink off anywhere. We may or may not have shaken hands and said goodbye to the kind young men, I can't recall. Afterwords, we ask our Welsh tour guide what they were talking about so heatedly, and it turns out the kind young men were making Russia look foolish before the eyes of foreigners, and when the young men told the old lady to shut up, she threatened to cut out their tongues. And then everyone got off at their respective stops.

Our Welsh guide passed along his distrust for people who claim to have a proper education or credentials, as a friend or acquaintance of his was able to buy a complete university history that landed him a job with a petroleum company of some sort. Our guide called them "subway universities," as they were either advertised and/or paid for in the subways.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:24 PM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm guessing the "L-Word" (and its attendant messes) in this case is "Love."

Though the idea that Muscovite law students have a fervent passion for a lesbian drama series is very entertaining.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:31 PM on September 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


I will miss the long and freezing Russian winters

That was a rather intimate and bittersweet article up until I reached the above sentence, which let me know it was written by someone deep in the throes of madness.


You're ignoring the fact that the sentence ends with: ...and the heat-generating habits they inspire. It sounds to me like the author is going to miss the frequent sex that comes about in a Moscow winter.
posted by asnider at 1:07 PM on September 24, 2012


I won’t, however, miss the fact that I’m afraid to go to the doctor’s office here. (Once, my friends’ six-year-old daughter broke her arm and, when the doctor saw the x-ray, he did a double take, pulled a medical reference book off the shelf, and started feverishly reading it.

You need to stop going to Dr. Zoidberg's office.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:12 PM on September 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm Canadian. Growing up, we moved every three to four years, so I lived successively in Toronto, Montreal, Brockville Ontario, Halifax, Winnipeg, and finally Vancouver.

Each of these places, save the latter, had its own version of real winter. I grew up playing in the snow or, later in Winnipeg, playing goalie on outdoor ice at 20 below, where my plastic mask woud freeze to my face. I remember crunching through the top crust of snow, coming home from school at night through a shortcut through a field.

But then you'd come inside and warm up. There is nothing so cozy as being warm and dry when you have just been cold.

Flash forward, and I'm living for three years in San Diego. The weather there, as you all know, is perfect. Everything Canadians bitch about in winter is remedied in Southern California.

Yet I perversely missed the cold, and winter. I remember looking out my patio glass door and fantasizing that I was resting my cheek on it and it was cold.

There's something to be said for hardship, and for freezing winters.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:22 PM on September 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


When I leave Moscow, I won’t miss the traffic and the pollution and the boom-town prices, but I’ll miss that a gypsy cab for $6 still gets you just about anywhere.

And by "just about anywhere", I think she means "not too far, preferably within the inner ring".

I will miss the long and freezing Russian winters and the heat-generating habits they inspire.

Nicely put (Read: Sex), but it feels hollow because that's not how things work in Moscow. All the houses are heated, and you actually NEVER feel cold inside the house. I lived through 4 Russian winters, and always wore shorts and a t-shirt inside the house in winters. I actually find Sydney winters more uncomfortable! There was never any need for "heat generating habits" in Russian winters, unless one is really into outdoor sex at -18 deg Celsius.

The rest of the article.. well, nice nostalgic trip for me in some parts. But I get a bit of "Isn't Russia Weird?" vibe from it, and it just put me off.
posted by vidur at 1:28 PM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's something to be said for hardship, and for freezing winters.

There's something simply to be said for four different seasons.

The way Moscow is described, it seems like a city fallen into partial chaos, but the inhabitants simply have shrugged their shoulders with acceptance and gone about living their lives.
posted by Atreides at 1:44 PM on September 24, 2012


I've lived in Moscow for three years some twenty-odd years ago and I remember some really cold days (like, below -40 degrees) and I don't know why, but such conditions really make one happy to be alive. And I see that Moscow has changed much in these years, and not at all.
posted by hat_eater at 1:45 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps what she needs are chimzts.
posted by poe at 2:07 PM on September 24, 2012


Yeah, I lived in NYC for 7 years and never once cursed the winter weather. In fact, I always found it somewhat romantic, snow falling on Broadway and all of that. Definitely something to be said for trudging in from the cold and joining your friends for pint in some dimly-lit dive bar. I had a heavy down coat and walked everywhere. I'd start out my trek with the coat zipped all the way up the neck and the hood drawn tight around my face. 1/3 the way to my destination the hood would come down, 2/3 the way and the coat would be zipped below the neck, by the time I arrived it would be unzipped all the way and I'd be sweating. The apartments were always warm from radiator heat, and sometimes I'd just curl up with a book instead of going out, because my apartment was so warm and outside was so cold, and what the fuck, nobody's makin me do nothing!
posted by Afroblanco at 2:51 PM on September 24, 2012


Afroblanco: While I agree with the sentiment of your comment, comparing a NYC winter to a Moscow winter seems a bit laughable. I've never been to Moscow, but I live in a city that is at approximately the same latitude. People bitterly curse the winter weather all the time (all the while, patting ourselves on the back for being able to survive it). Then we curse the summer heat. Because we have short memories and we're all idiots.
posted by asnider at 3:37 PM on September 24, 2012


Yeah, I'm sure Moscow is different. I was more addressing the sentiment that 'nobody can enjoy a cold winter'.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:43 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will miss the long and freezing Russian winters

I went to Moscow once, back around New Year 1987. Gorby was in power and it was still very much the USSR, but glasnost was around and the cracks were showing, big time. The hotel I stayed in was almost comical in its awfulness. GUM was like a temple to the abject failure of the Soviet dream. The food queues almost made me weep. But it was a magnificent and unrepeatable experience. One of the things that made it so was the beauty and efficiency of the Moscow Metro. Another was the tungsten- hard ferocity of the Moscow winter. I shall never forget that three hour walk through Izmailovsky Park at -28 degrees. Even though I was swaddled in a long cashmere coat and a British-liberal-be-damned-my-head-is-fucking-freezing real fur chapka I staggered the last mile home in a state very like drunkenness, which I later realised was actually caused by starting to freeze to death.

There is a shattering, intense, frightening beauty in intense cold which easy, comfortable sunshine and warmth can't even get close to. I feel sorry for people who don't understand this.
posted by Decani at 4:10 PM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


(And that, as they say, is “speaking truth to the uterus.”)

Wait… does this person know Russian? "Резать правду-матку" has nothing to do with the uterus.

(There is no word in Russian for “privacy.”)

I guess I got an answer?
posted by Nomyte at 4:22 PM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nomyte, I've been told by a series of highly educated native-speaking Russian professors that there was no word in the language for privacy... What word are you thinking of?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:02 PM on September 24, 2012


Nomyte, I've been told by a series of highly educated native-speaking Russian professors that there was no word in the language for privacy.

To provide the correct output, Russian professors need to be connected in parallel, not in series.
posted by vidur at 6:23 PM on September 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


There are very few completely overlapping word-for-word translations in any pair of languages. It's disingenuous to use the tired cliche "there is no word for X in language Y" to stand for "there is no concept of X where Y is spoken." The first statement is only trivially true, and the second statement is usually a lazy writer's bluntest tool.

"Private life" is "частная жизнь." "Private business" is "личное дело." There is a wealth of words to convey seclusion, discretion, and absence of surveillance. Granted, there is no single word that conveys the notion of "privacy" as if it was a mass noun, you can't, word for word, say something like "we need more privacy." But speaking of "privacy" in this way is pretty new to English too. We might as well claim that prior to 1919, speakers of English had no concept of "merchandising."
posted by Nomyte at 6:27 PM on September 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I enjoyed this article. I like reading about how we experience different cultures, the good and bad.
posted by shoesietart at 6:48 PM on September 24, 2012


(There is no word in Russian for “privacy.”)

I guess I got an answer?


I assumed that she was making a weak joke, not literally claiming that there is no Russian word for "privacy."
posted by asnider at 6:53 PM on September 24, 2012


From reading this I gather that Americans don't bring flowers or gifts to birthday parties?

(What's wrong with you people?!)
posted by Harald74 at 11:42 PM on September 24, 2012


Can someone clue me in to the significance of room temp water vs. cold, with cold being the "wrong" choice (I think)? I thought it might relate to the doctor comment, but wtf? Water is water, right? If it's got germs in it, warm or cold won't matter. It'll still make you sick. Sorry if I'm overly dense and missing something obvious.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:41 AM on September 25, 2012


Can someone clue me in to the significance of room temp water vs. cold, with cold being the "wrong" choice (I think)? I thought it might relate to the doctor comment, but wtf? Water is water, right? If it's got germs in it, warm or cold won't matter. It'll still make you sick. Sorry if I'm overly dense and missing something obvious.

FWIW, I was never asked this question by any restaurant staff in Russia (not just Moscow, but plenty of other cities). May be I didn't go to the right (wrong?) kind of restaurants.
posted by vidur at 1:19 AM on September 25, 2012


Can someone clue me in to the significance of room temp water vs. cold, with cold being the "wrong" choice (I think)?

This is a major cultural difference. Russians believe cold water will give you laryngitis, drafts will give you pneumonia, and going outside in cold weather without a scarf inevitably leads to bronchitis. This clearly makes ice water a questionable choice, and ice is a less popular commodity than it is in the US. As vidur reports, it's not entirely universal, but it's a very, very strong pattern.
posted by Nomyte at 6:05 AM on September 25, 2012


From reading this I gather that Americans don't bring flowers or gifts to birthday parties?

Speaking as a Canadian*, I will say that this is an accurate assumption. Flowers? Pretty much never. Gifts? Pretty rarely once you're an adult, unless the person celebrating their birthday is family or a very close friend. Mostly, people are just happy to have you come out for dinner with them. Typically, the guests will buy your dinner and (maybe) you drinks if you go to a bar afterwards.

*Canadians and Americans are very similar in most regards, so I think I can speak with some degree of authority. If not, well, this is the situation in Canada.
posted by asnider at 8:33 AM on September 25, 2012


Nomyte, I'd say people before 1919 indeed did not have a concept of "merchandising". As far as I'm aware, in Russian you can talk about different things, even information, as "private", but there is no concept of "privacy" as an abstract virtue defined by a sphere of information no one shares. You can say "These are my private things", or "The details of my life are private," but you can't say "I need more privacy than I have here." And that really does suggest a pretty deep cultural difference, key to why Americans find Russians weirdly intimate, and Russians find Americans a little chilly. Sometimes one-to-one translations are impossible because concepts don't exist, and words are created because a society needs them (or, in the case of партиность, my favorite ghastly Soviet neologism, because the вождь needs them).
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:50 PM on September 25, 2012


Nomyte: "This is a major cultural difference. Russians believe cold water will give you laryngitis..."

Ah, OK. Many thanks for that, Nomyte. I was not aware of that at all.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 3:44 PM on September 25, 2012


Americans find Russians weirdly intimate, and Russians find Americans a little chilly.

I am not sure this is a defensible generalization.
posted by Nomyte at 6:12 PM on September 25, 2012


Nu, inasmuch as any generalization is true (which is to say, some of the time), it's been my experience. To put it another way, Americans are enthralled by Russians emotional depth but wigged out by the idea of being like that all the time, Russians are impressed by Americans' chipper efficiency but find it a little inhuman.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:47 PM on September 25, 2012


Nu

Палки гну!
posted by Nomyte at 9:51 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


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