An Englishman in Moscow

08/18/2002

I think we’ll start with a little background… Several years ago when I first moved to London, I stayed with an ex of mine who lived in Belsize Park with his boyfriend of the time. They had a spare room, and I had nowhere to live, so all-in-all it was a fairly amicable arrangement. My ex worked on the science desk at the Economist. One evening – fairly close to the point where I was about to move out and get my own place – he pulled me outside to ask my advice about something. He’d been offered the position of a foreign correspondent – in Mexico. I was, of course, thrilled for him and stunningly jealous. He didn’t know whether or not he should take it. But of course he should. I knew then that I’d miss him a lot, and I miss him still.

From the first moment he left the country he started sending back these group mails about what he was getting up to abroad – and to be completely honest I tended to delete them unread. They were ok reading, I guess, but I didn’t like how impersonal they were. But as time progressed they got more and more interesting. At a certain point I remember talking with him about this over AIM and suggesting to him that he should really start a weblog – that the life of an Englishman in Mexico City must be fascinating to so many more people than the group of close-ish friends his e-mail termed ‘The Privy Council’. But he never really agreed with me. Nothing was done.

A few months ago he revealed to me that he was leaving Mexico and moving to Moscow, again learning the language as he went, moving to a country where he knew no one at all. What a challenge. I’d have been terrified. But this time he’s finally got his act together, and while he hasn’t started a weblog, he’s done something that’s more suited to sporadic updates – he’s started a broadcast-style mailing list about what it’s like getting familiar with living in Russia – a mailing list that anyone can join…

You can go weeks without receiving anything, but increasingly they’re little gems of culture-shock, written unpretentiously and honestly. Here are some example chunks:

On crashing his car
“I shall spare you the rest, except to note that whereas a typical British or American police car probably carries a GPS system, video camera and one or two computers, a typical Russian one merely has three radios of which one does not work; and that when a Russian traffic policeman is dealing with an accident, he stops two passing drivers at random and ropes them into to take all the measurements of the scene and then sign the diagram, so that there are independent witnesses.”

On finding a flat
“Marklen, my temporary Man Friday, recovering well from the bump on the head I gave him in the car crash, explains that Muscovites renting out property do not widely advertise it because they are afraid that someone will come along, kidnap them and take over the premises. So we had to hire an estate agency.”

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