When one hears the word “Moscow,” the imagination tends to draw many things. The most reoccurring image usually involves snow falling upon the spiky rooftops of the Kremlin towers – a mighty fortress, which served for centuries as the seat of government for many rulers of this cold, frigid land. Despite the country effectively covering around 1/8th of the entire landmass of the Earth (“Russia” par. 1), it remains a mystery for us westerners. We, like the people in medieval ages, tend to view countries outside of our sphere of influence as shadowy and barbaric, where people with dog heads dwell.
In truth, Moscow is not very different from the rest of the large cities in the world. It spans over 970 square miles and is home for over 16 million people (“Moscow” par. 5). There are some countries smaller than that. It is a city of contrasts. The sturdy and imposing stone structures of the communist era, which possess a certain imposing majesty, could be found standing next to the modern office buildings, made entirely out of steel and glass. The city shows its transition from the planned economy towards a free market. These adepts of the free market rarely care about the architectural image of the city. The streets used to be wide, and now they are filled with many stands, which offer to sell you many things – from fast food to cheap Chinese clothes. Purchase at your own risk.
Then there are the people. They usually appear on the streets around five to seven o’clock in the morning, making their way to the subway stations, in order to make it to work, which often is located on the other end of this huge megapolis. This subway is called the Metro, is one of the primary arteries of transportation in Moscow. Its route length exceeds 200 miles, making it the fifth longest system in the world (“Metro” par. 7). The Russians are not that different from us. However, as one travels with them in the subway, one would start noticing the dreary atmosphere hanging about.
There are very few smiles about if any. The Russians rarely smile (“Why Russians Don’t Smile” par. 1). It is as if everyone puts on a stone mask, before going to work. Those lucky enough to stand near the windows usually gaze at it, their eyes made of glass, unblinking. The mask never gives any clues as to what thoughts lurk behind it. Are there any? Then there are the book-readers. Perhaps the Metro is the reason Russia was once called the most reading nation (Murray par. 1). There is a great variety of covers, found in the most unlikely hands possible. From adventure to politics, to epos, to light erotica – if one collects all these books during a single trip, they would have enough to fill a small library.
The city attracts working migrants from both inside and outside of Russia. They make up for more than 50% of Moscow’s entire population (Malinkin par. 8). Since the city is rich, the salaries here are a lot higher than anywhere else in the country. It is why many of them are willing to endure living in small, cramped apartments and give away half of their salary to pay the rent and send the other half to their family back home, only leaving enough for themselves to address the most basic of needs.
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the small businesses have seen a sharp growth. There are many markets now, big or small, bearing either a name written in English to appeal to the feeling of novelty, or a name in Russian to appeal to the sense of patriotism. The employees working there have yet to master the art of the American plastic smile. They do not smile at all since they were not paid for it, or make awkward attempts to do so. Professional etiquette is often overlooked, and the clerk at a convenience store might mouth you off if he or she feels you are purposefully wasting their time. The complaint books are there, but rarely anybody writes anything there. Even if they do, those complaints are likely to remain unread.
The tempo of life is very high in Moscow. A lot of time is spent traveling from point A to point B, leaving less time for personal matters. It is why the Muscovites are always on the move, trying to fit the rest of the day within the rigid time constraints. Crowds of people move back and forth, avoiding the holes in the asphalt, the numerous trading stands, and the cars parked on sidewalks. They are like ants in a giant anthill, and the cars are the beetles. These beetles always are stuck in traffic jams, which is a daily occurrence in the city. The roads are overfilled with cars, so much that when a jam occurs, many hundreds of cars could find themselves stuck for hours. The more industrious folks take advantage of that, delivering adverts, ice-cream, coffee, and whatnot, to the drivers forced to wait.
Life in Moscow has a unique tint to it. It has its own specifics and a certain mod to it. However, people here are more like us than we care to admit. A New York city dweller, after several months of acclimatization, would feel right at home.
Malinkin, Mary Elizabeth. Russia: The World’s Second-Largest Immigration Haven.
Murray, Marilyn. It’s True About Russia Being a Nation of Readers. 2016.