When I first arrived in Moscow, I was in complete awe of the metro system. Compared to public transit in America, it was fast, efficient, and cost virtually nothing. Riding it was a pleasure and I used the valuable time on the metro to read and study vocabulary flash cards. Sometimes if I was lucky I could even overhear conversations and use those to exercise my listening skills. However, I thought that beyond those two means that the metro would never afford me an opportunity to practice my Russian language skills. Then my student metro card disappeared.
Whether by the help of another pair of hands or the cruel caprices of gravity, the card by which I speedily and cheaply zoomed around the city was parted from me. If before its loss riding the metro was a joy, then after its loss riding was sheer misery. All the other students and pensioners seemed to mock me with their cards which continued to work and afford them cheap transit while I had to buy rides individually. Therefore when my resident director mentioned to me that I could receive a replacement, and more quickly than I had received the original, I was in seventh heaven and could not believe my good luck.
The process began rather smoothly. Again I received the application, and following the instructions on the back I painstakingly filled out the form and turned it over to the university to be stamped. That process took less time than it did the first time around, and after a few days of the disappearance, I happily went to the strange, hidden exit of the Belorusskiy circle line metro station to turn in my application. The woman at the counter even smiled at me, gave me a temporary metro card, and told me to return in five days to pick up my new card.
Following her instructions, I returned to the more popular ticket window by the train station, and eagerly approached the counter. The women at this counter, seeing that I was trying to receive a student metro card, sent me to a sketchy door to the side, and told me to ring the doorbell, which was an exercise in listening comprehension because between the glass separating us and the general din of people arriving from out-of-town trains, I could not understand anything. I rang the doorbell, gave my documents to the woman who showed up ten minutes later, and then waited some more as she disappeared into the mysterious back area of the ticket counter. After I had waited more than fifteen minutes, and had seen her on the phone, I was beginning to become worried. She emerged twenty minutes later telling me that there was a problem with my application, and that it was being returned. I would have to wait more time to allow the application to be returned to the metro station, and then even more time after I turned it in again, after making the necessary correction.
In the end, I spent several hours talking to Russian women who were not accustomed to dealing with foreigners and walking between the two ticket counters of the Belorusskiy metro station. While I complained bitterly about the process, when I finally received my replacement metro card I understand what a great learning experience it was. I learned several new words, had a lot of bureaucratic conversation practice, which I would never have had otherwise. Having experienced the bureaucratic cogs in Russia, I feel like I finally understand this country, and why most people just jump over the turnstiles instead of dealing with it.
By: Chantal Taylor
Term: Summer 2011