My first impressions of Moscow during my first month here have been overwhelmingly positive. There are many aspects of this city and culture that I enjoy when comparing with the American culture that I am familiar with. I might not be able to go into depth on all of them, but I will mention a few of the biggest ones.
The Metro (Метро) and Other Public Transportation
The Moscow metro is known as one of the best in the world. It has served billions of people since it opened nearly a century ago. It is constructed from two circle lines which surround the center of the city and many linear lines projecting outward. It’s possible to get just about anywhere in the city very quickly by using the metro. Trains generally arrive every couple of minutes – 30-90 seconds during rush hour. The stations are also very beautifully built and are kept very clean. I have noticed very little trash on the ground in any station I’ve been to thus far. Aside from the metro, there are buses, trolleys, taxis, and trams all over the city. As with the metro, buses arrive every few minutes and go everywhere in the city. Trolleys and trams aren’t as readily available, but they will get you where you need to go. All of these, besides the taxis, can be accessed with a troika (троика) card. Taxis are never more than a couple minutes away. So far, I have been very impressed with the ease of traveling using public transportation here in Moscow.
People in Russia are generally much more authentic than in the United States. Here I don’t feel like I need to be fake friendly to every person I meet since smiling at strangers or otherwise acknowledging their existence is not an aspect of the culture. However, the stereotype that Russians never smile isn’t completely true. People smile a lot here, but they don’t smile unnecessarily. Situations that warrant a smile include spending time with friends or family or doing something enjoyable. Situations that don’t require a smile include making eye contact with someone on the metro or someone you pass on the street, or when interacting with cashiers or other people you don’t know. In fact, interacting with others you don’t know in a friendly fashion can imply that you are after something more from them other than the small talk, and in general unnecessary interactions don’t happen. People keep to themselves here. It’s honestly such a relief feeling like I don’t need to expend energy interacting with people I don’t want to interact with.
Another aspect of authenticity that is found in Russian culture is blunt honesty. Someone doesn’t like you? They will say so. Someone is annoyed with you? They will say so (or in my case roll their eyes and make an exasperated noise whilst turning to talk with someone else…). Your babushka thinks the shirt you’re wearing is ugly and doesn’t want you to embarrass yourself? She will tell you. You don’t wear a hat in the winter? Your well-meaning mother (and maybe even strangers) will tell you to wear a hat. It’s important to note that bluntness here doesn’t imply rudeness (unless of course someone is annoyed as mentioned). A lot of comments from parents come from a place of wanting to help and make sure that you’re safe. I think this aspect of Russian culture will be good for me since I’m so hesitant to be direct. I imagine once I come back to the States I’m going to be mistaken for being rude much more than I am now!
Moscow is definitely one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever been to, especially considering its size. With around 15 million people, one would expect maintenance of the city cleanliness would be near impossible. But Moscow succeeds. All over the city are street cleaners – workers sweeping walkways, collecting trash, wiping down metro station rails, and just about anything else that needs to get done. On top of that, there are street washers all over the city – I’m not sure the technical name for them but they are large trucks that spray down the roads to wash them. I’ve either seen the trucks go by or notice a wet road almost daily.
I have always been a fan of beautiful and unique architecture and parks, and Moscow has no shortage of either. Moscow is built in such a way as to feel cramped and grandiose at the same time. There are numerous very large, grand, and detailed buildings, but within these buildings there may be tens of small businesses and hundreds of people. Walking down the main highways, you can see 10 to 15 lanes of traffic, yet turn down a side street and there are cars parked on both sides with maybe two lanes of space available for driving. There are parks everywhere, many of which have statues, flowers, trees, and benches scattered throughout. Beloruskaya Station is a structure that is hard to describe in words, but I hope some pictures I took can help with that!
By: Rebecca Lawson
Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program Moscow, Russia
Term: Fall 2019