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Why James moved to the Russian Federation

James Higham is my guest author today and describes his life in Russia, the reasons why he enjoys living there – he reckons the girls are peaches, that’s one attraction. Is it somewhere you would want to move to? It seems they are rapidly catching up with our Western lifestyle, but talking politics is still a bit tricky, so I might not be welcome with my naturally enquiring mind…

The changing lifestyle of the former Soviet Union

Fifteen years ago, on British television, there was a series of 10 minute glimpses into life in his country by a Russian expat and with hindsight, it has to be said it did a disservice to the image of his nation in the wider world.

Concerning itself with the bestial underside of life, there was one snapshot of a little girl begging from passing motorists whilst her mother stayed home drinking coffee, one of gang warfare, the list went on. The recent Litvinenko doings would have done nothing to dispel this image.

And yet Peter Ustinov also made a series of largely forgotten programmes, extolling a different Russia, of sunshine, warmth, love and deep traditions. When he showed how superior the strict but caring education system was here to Britain’s and America’s, unsullied by moral relativism and falling standards, something now generally admitted, no one wished to acknowledge that.

And yet when four youngsters from Russia, only one who could have been termed better than ordinary over here, stayed a term at my friend’s south London school in the mid 90s, all four swept the top places in every subject.

And yet, also, the fine blogging lawyer Tom Paine chooses to remain in this country.

And yet, again, I myself came over here, having met a certain young lady in London and I stayed. Why? The simple answer is that the place, with all its faults, grows on you. It’s certainly a wrench weaning yourself off the frozen convenience food and having to eat fresh; it’s a wrench not having the cricket to watch or rugby to play and until recently, the string of shopping malls to browse round. It’s a wrench not being able to walk out to your garage to take the car. It’s a wrench not having the British pub culture.

Then you find yourself slowly becoming more hardy, the drab housing blocks with their two foot thick walls become a boon in winter with their standard double glazing, central, furnace fed heating and hot and cold water pumped in from outside; the interiors of the flats, if not the appalling stairwells outside, are often Italian furnished and more than sophisticated and the food is readily available at either the plethora of markets open all day, every day or from the fruit kiosks or, if you’re determined to pay top price, from the shopping complexes springing up all over the city.

It’s changing. Yesterday, in an ungracious comment, I told a young lady, Alyona, munching on some packaged U.S. death food and washing it down with sugar water, that eight years ago, girls would never have let a well lined stomach see the light of day. I think I’m getting old. Yet the respectful politeness of the old for the young remains in place.

Obesity is on the rise, smoking and drugs for the young, junk food abounds and is sometimes virtually the only diet, parents are too busy chasing the dollar now that the nexus between the cost of utilities and salary has been broken and credit has sparked an explosion of buying, from Turkish clothing masquerading as Italian, to flat prices now 500% higher than what they were in 2000.

The ‘grandmother tradition’ is also slowly dying, the extended family, simple pleasures such as gathering mushrooms and picnics in the forest and with all this, conventional wisdom as well. I asked a group of girls if they ever went to the forest to walk. They laughed. Shopping malls, nightclubbing and the internet are their thing now. The traditional Russian is still there and not too hard to find but this is a dying breed.

I suppose you can’t blame them. Russians have always loved shiny new things and a high speed, workaholic life and yes, the alcohol too but now they’re blinded by choice, without the commensurate salary to buy it all. And that makes this country very fertile ground for consumer debt, which they’re falling into, lemming like, in droves.

So why stay? In this republic, unlike other parts of Russia, there’s excitement at the possibilities. It’s now de rigeur for young people to do their American or British summer expedition, the driver who takes me to the centre tells me that things are definitely better than they were, there is freedom of speech for all, barring the politicos, there’s no PC and the mood is hopeful.

It’s still possible to make ends meet, the infrastructure is improving, the men’s hearty handshakes reveal the warm hearts behind them and the young women are … well … stunning and look after themselves to a fault. They have to do so, with 58% of the population female. Self-employment of my variety is workable, the fresh produce from the south keeps you regular and having to walk most places keeps you healthy.

Do I miss Britain? Yes. Will I return? For now, sadly, no.


23 Comments

  1. James, If you tell me exactly who your audience will be, the key messages of your presentation, then I’m sure I/we can come up with answers.

  2. Newmania is a classic but your reply is also apt, Ellee. The psyche is really 50% as we suspect and 50% something else. The most vehement critics are the Russians themselves. Interestingly, I have to address 120 tomorrow about us. What shall I say?

  3. Kevin, Glad you like it. I hope to regularly invite other bloggers, mainly from Blogpower, to post on my site at weekends when I need to take time off. It gives them a different readership too, so benefits us both.

  4. electro-kevin

    Thanks for posting this, I enjoyed it very much.

  5. On reflection re Tom’s post, what percentage of the Russian population can afford to visit the finest hotels and stores and spend the fruits of their labour?

  6. TP-There is not a scrap of Puritanism in their psyche. All over the world, the best hotels and finest stores are awash with Russians spending the fruits of their success.

    yes these are mostly criminals or Party operators that exploit and cheat in a ways that for the moment preclude any real economic betterment. It is a country too dishonest for grass roots business.

    More puritansism would be a good thing.

    IMHO

  7. James, The pic looks ok this end, no problem with it overshadowing the text. I have tried to reduce its size, but the template is not behaving itself. I am sorry, I hope it has not spoilt your post.

    I look forward to your report on Russian food – and drink – and girls – and boys – whenever you wish.

  8. Jean-Luc, CityUnslicker, Welshcakes, Jim and Liz – all interesting comments. Welshcakes – promise I’ll do a post on the food angle. It’s interesting, the cuisine over here. ‘Rat like chavs’, David. They have the type here too – just as bad. Yet most young people are trying to claw their way upwards.

  9. James, so Newmania has tapped into your psyche, he’s a clever chap, and Liz too gets the same feeling. You must write another post and reveal all.

    I really loved Tom’s comment, hard to believe Russian taxi drivers are so well read. I totally understand it having visited Russia myself, I know the pride they take in their culture.

    You’ve almost convinced me to pack my bags, just for a visit. I know Jim will have a great time.

  10. It’s strange: I don’t feel I know any more about James or his reasons for staying in Russia. He doesn’t make it sound awfully appealing! Yet he obviously loves it. Or someone.

    But a very interesting post.

  11. That’s nice! I’m going to Russia for two weeks next month!

    Sorry about lack of comment lately Ellee, up to my eyeballs in my fieldwork – will explain soon!

  12. Brilliant post, James and I’ve learnt so much. I remember the Ustinov programmes and I’ve always been impressed by the ability of Russians I have met to speak good English and their wide reading – which has to be the result of the education system you describe. I once worked as an interpreter for a medical assisitance company and we would get several cases a year of British people being beaten up and robbed in Moscow. I know you don’t live there but does that still happen much? I’d like to know what a typical meal would be, too.
    You have painted a vivid portrait of the changes in recent years and I think you will surprise many people. I’d love to visit there.

  13. David Allen

    Fascinating posts both, JH and TP. I am now really looking forward to my my conference in Moscow in October. BTW, the Russian men seem pretty ‘peachy’ too, judging by the ‘specimens’ I’ve seen in the bars in London. They, and the Lats, Litviks and Poles seem so much more handsome, pleasant and well-behaved than the rat-like chavs from Ilford or Liverpool who used to pass for cute in local dives!

  14. nice to hear from JH about his choice to live where he does, much fun it sounds too.

    TP too, to understand why you live in Moscow. However, I don’t agree that the UK is as bad as you make out. The benefit of the free society that we live in is that good comes with the bad.

    In Russia, state media and the politico’s keep a tight rein on the public. hence the billionaires live in London and elsewhere to spend their riches.

    I have enjoyed my visits to Russia and would go back, they are a strong people with a great culture. Much that we could learn from them; but still much that they could learn from us too.

  15. Ellee, as I have visited Russia, I can definately agree that the girls are ‘peaches’! Very beautiful.

  16. Oh and Ellee, thanks for the chance.

  17. Taken aback, people. Didn’t realize that Lady Ellee had posted it already. By the way, Ellee, ny ugly mush covers your introductory text [physically, I mean] and we can’t read your full intro.

    Newmania – too true, I am concealing some. Maybe if Ellee ever invites me again …

    Lee – thanks.

    Linda – I’m coming looking for you.

    Tom – what you have added here is invaluable and I found it more than interesting to read. After I digest it, I’ll respond.

  18. James, you have left your readership wanting more information. That’s always wise. B^) Well done.

    Thanks for the link, but I am not sure my choice to stay here says much about Russia. Any fool could live a life of luxury in the centre of a major capital city and think he was in a great place. Your staying in your unnamed republic says rather more.

    Of course, “peaches” or not (don’t you just love Ellee’s vocabulary?), it’s the people who make a country interesting. I am as patriotic as the next Englishman but it would be ridiculous to deny that, on average, Russians are more educated, cultured and thoughtful than we are.

    They are also more patriotic. Their high educational standards, for example, are a matter of national pride. Perhaps the saddest of many sad things about Britain is that it’s hard to imagine the majority of the population caring about such things.

    Can you imagine an English taxi driver telling you who won the Booker Prize? Yet the Russian equivalent would not be at all surprising. My driver has a serious book on the go at all times and reads, listening to classical music, as he waits for me. He is teaching his young son about opera, which is his passion.

    I find it hard to imagine living again in a country that can lead the television news with Elizabeth Hurley’s wedding, as Sky News is doing this morning. Just as I find it hard to imagine living again in a country where someone like Terry Councillor Terry Kelly can be elected. I don’t comment on local politics as you know (it would be rude for a guest to do so) but, while Russians have wisely low expectations of elected officials, they would draw the line at a cretinous slob with no sense of his own ridiculousness.

    Best of all though, is the Russian zest for life. There is not a scrap of Puritanism in their psyche. All over the world, the best hotels and finest stores are awash with Russians spending the fruits of their success.

    Their enthusiasm for the finer things in life is nothing at all like the style-free, puritanical shabbiness of the British rich. Equally, their humbler citizens’ zest for simple, hearty partying is nothing like the rowdiness of the British chav.

    And of course, they are thoroughly innoculated against the deadly economic virus known as “Socialism”

    Any generalisations about 100 million people are of course inherently ridiculous, but I guess you can tell that – in general – I like them. I plan to live in another country or two before I retire, but for now I am happy to be in Russia.

  19. Interesting post. I first went to Russia (to Leningrad) as a 16-year-old. I went back to go to university in the year the Berlin Wall came down and back again in ’94 to work on a paper for 12 months. It was an amazing time and my dreams still take me back there. I’ll come over and read lots more, thanks.

  20. A wonderful, insightful expose’…only last night I watched a mini-documentary on the changes in Russia..Moscow…and you echoed what I saw. Thank you.

  21. Thanks Newmania, The things you guys do, you are incorrigable, I can tell Mrs N truly has her hands full.

    I have copied all your info for my project, it looks good stuff, many thanks, but I could not open the Telegraph links, the url link looks a bit short.

  22. Interesting James , I have a feeling with this post that you are concealing from us as much as you are telling us somehow. I can see you like it there but to be honest you make Britain sound better and god knows its not that great here.

    The women are nice abroad aren’t they. I think it often seems that way to a British man especially if you are from London where there are so many more men.

    Some friends of mine and I once drew up a chart of costs and benefits comparing different women from various places and some we knew. It wasn’t serious but a lot of information went in and a market analyst did some pseudo calculations. Marks were awarded for , good looks , sexiness, not nagging , coming through with a few quids and so on.

    You will not be surprised to learn you end up wanting to emigrate to almost anywhere.

    Having said that Conservative women are just fantastic. I may do a top chick spot which would have to have Ellee at number one…although politically way to left wing for comfort

    ELLEEI HAVE LEFT SOME BITS ON MY BLOG ON COUNCIL Racism

    The big thing here is the racism perceived to be against whites , in their own country as they see it , . hence the rise of the BNP , depending on where you are its explosive stuff

  23. James, Many thanks for a grat post. I would like to know what work you do there, how easy is it to actually move to Russia and set up a business? I know you don\’t live in Moscow, but which region are you based in and why? And do you speak the language, or you attempting to learn it?

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