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No one smiling

Q: Eva, why did you first come to Russia?

E: Well, I studied Russian during my service in the Swedish army and two days after graduation I came to Moscow since I'd been offered a job here as a translator at a radio station. I guess I wanted to improve my Russian and do something different.

Q: How well did you know Russian?

E: I studied Russian for a year, so I could read and write quite well. But when I came here I still found it difficult to understand what people were saying. I felt quite stupid, but after two or three months it became a lot easier.

Q: How did you actually find this job at the radio?

E: I got an e-mail from the guy who worked there before me, saying that they were looking for someone for the next year. When I came here with my platoon for a week I visited the radio and did some minor translating, and they said I could come back and work there. And then they organized an apartment and a visa invitation for me.

Q: Was it difficult getting a visa?

E: No, not really. I had an invitation from the radio so I just went to Copenhagen to apply for the visa.

Q: How long did the visa procedure take?

E: I got the visa the same morning I was leaving. My parents were really nervous, but I was somehow sure it would work out.

Q: What was your impression of Russia when you first came here?

E: The first time I was quite disappointed. Moscow is really difficult to visit without someone to show you around. It's a city built for cars rather than for pedestrians. And I remember we were trying to go out clubbing in the evenings and how we spent three nights just trying to find a club and when at last on the third night we found one we weren't let in because of face control (laughing). I also noticed that most people looked quiet unfriendly, no one was smiling. And if I smiled at someone they'd give me suspicious looks. But that's a cultural difference that you eventually get used to.

Q: How was it working at the radio?

E: I worked only three days a week for six hours. It was a very old-fashioned hierarchic workplace in many ways. But it was at the same time interesting translating so much political text with a Russian perspective. It wasn't very easy to get friends at the workplace although I really tried. I invited all of my colleagues to my place for dinner for example. They all came although no one returned the invitation. But we had a really nice evening together and when they left they said: "Oh, this was really nice! You should invite us again!".

Q: How long did it take before you found friends?

E: Quiet long. I found Mark (her first friend in Russia) after a few weeks. We lived in the same house and he worked at the German department at the radio so we had breakfast together every morning and discussed all sorts of current affairs. Through him I met a lot of my other friends-to-be, both expats and Russians. After four or five months, I'd say I had just enough friends to bee completely happy.

Q: Eva, what advice could you give to those who want to travel to Moscow?

E: Well, you have to be tough (laughing).

Q: Anna, a friend of ours, who also lived here when you were in Moscow, told me that she found it more difficult to live in Moscow for foreign women than for foreign men.

E: It definitely is. Almost all expat men that live in Russia are totally overwhelmed by the attention paid by the often very feminine and pretty Russian women. Most people in the service sector are young girls and they are always inclined to be much more helpful towards men than towards women. For us female expats though, it's a different story. It's no secret that female solidarity and feminism isn't exactly at its height in Russia. There are also cultural differences- for example that a women shouldn't shake hands with anyone- that I found awkward in the beginning. But there is also a strong competitive spirit over men amongst women that can destroy many relations between Russian female friends.

Q: What advice could you give to women wanting to travel to Russia?

E: You have to learn not to take insults personally, not to be soft-skinned and not to smile at strangers.

Q: Now at hindsight, how do you look at your stay in Moscow?

E: It was an extremely good experience although it was often tough. I earned extremely little, but was determined to live on my salary (approx 120 euro a month). I felt very very lonely and isolated in the beginning and had to work hard to make friends, but once I found them it was worth the effort. Living in Russia is also the only way to learn Russian and it's always good to know how it feels to be the foreigner speaking with a strong accent and don't know all the social codes. To get another perspective on the world than the one you're brought up with - that's invaluable.

Interview by Tanya Leeh

July 25, 2006 17:46

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