Monday, May 4, 2015

Living in Moscow - The Pros and Cons

It seems it’s that time of year again, when Foreign Service bloggers turn out in droves to write their “Pros & Cons” posts for the bidding season.  I know at least one other blogger has covered Moscow, but I figured I should add my own post anyway.

Pro: Public Transportation. Moscow’s bus and metro system puts the U.S. to shame. We have multiple metro stations within walking distance, and a ride costs somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 cents, regardless of distance traveled. Metro cars run every few minutes, even on weekends and evenings. No, I do not miss DC’s metro. The bus routes are great too. If the metro can’t get you there, the bus can. (Though admittedly it helps if you speak/read Russian.)

Con: Using any form of non-public transportation. We brought a car, but we almost never use it. Most of the time, it’s easier and cheaper to walk/metro. It’s faster, too. By the time I walk to the garage where my car is stored and then fight traffic to get to the school, I could’ve been home and back on the metro. The fact that you can’t turn left in this town doesn’t help, either. You can see your destination ahead, but if it’s on the left side of the road, it’ll take some doing to actually get there. (Note: A friend just turned me on to the Get Taxi app, and I’m actually loving that as an alternative to driving. Turn on your 3G and it’ll figure out your location and send a taxi right to you, usually within minutes.) (Double note: If you choose to live out by the school, you’ll likely need a car. But if you’re in the city or on compound, maybe reconsider bringing a car.)

Pro: Long days of spring and summer. Kids can run around until late in the evening. Adults can stroll down to the Arbat or attend a potluck out on the Embassy green. The weather can be beautiful in the spring and fall. Even the summer is nice, if a bit too humid for my taste.

Con: Winter. This is a huge one to understand if you’re thinking about moving here. It gets cold. And worse than that? It gets dark. You really have to force yourself to leave the house when the sun sets by 4pm and the snow is blowing sideways. I chugged a lot of vitamin D, baked a lot of cookies, and logged some seriously long hours in the gym to get through the winter.

Pro: Compound living. Some people would list this as a con, but I love it. I get to see my husband during the day because his office is literally next door. The kids have free run of the place. We’re right downtown, mere minutes from the Kremlin, the Arbat and other fun places. But on those days when I just want to stay in my American bubble, I can do that with ease.

Con: Community fragmentation. If you’re on the compound, you don’t socialize much with the Pokrovsky folks – they’re so far away, out there by the school! Some of my favorite people live out there, but we almost never see each other. And if I hear one more person make a snide remark about “town house ladies,” I’m going to pull my hair out in frustration. Groups here – as everywhere! – are segmented mostly according to family status, NOT work status. So I tend to hang out with other people who have kids close in age to my own. I also hang with the gym rat crowd and the open-air-market folks. Not because I don’t like the rest of y’all, but because these are the people I see on a day-to-day basis, so they’re the ones I make plans with. But I do hear people complain about Pokrovsky vs Compound, City vs School, etc. So I guess it’s a thing. Whatever. There are so many people here that it’s easy to find a group of like-minded folks with whom to pass the time if you just make the effort.

Pro: Quality of the school. With few exceptions, I’m quite pleased with the school. The teachers are mostly excellent, the facility is gorgeous, the nurse’s office, the cafeteria, the music rooms, the pool…. all are great. The middle school has the world’s best principal, and the MS counselor is beyond wonderful. (I don’t know the ES or HS principals, so I can’t speak to that.) In the ES, where I tend to spend more time, both the classroom teachers and the specialty teachers are terrific.

Con: Distance from the Embassy to the school. Wow, but it’s a pain in the butt to get out to the school some days. It’s 45 minutes to an hour, one way, so it takes some planning to get there. And because I’m so far away, I don’t feel like I’m quite as in touch with what’s going on there as I’d like to be. Particularly on the high school level, where I don’t have connections with the teachers, I’m constantly feeling somewhat out of the loop.  In both Amman and Beijing, we lived very near the schools, and I felt a lot more knowledgeable about my kids’ lives back then.

Pro: Local food. Georgian food is beyond delicious, and there are several great restaurants nearby. The open air vegetable market sells the most amazing strawberries and tomatoes from Azerbaijan.  Russian pickled vegetables are delicious, as, of course, is borsch. There are 3 Starbucks outlets within walking distance – okay, it’s a looong walk, but still. And did I mention Krispy Kreme just came to town? Now, if only I could figure out how to get people to deliver food to the compound…

Con: The work load/ work environment. If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll know that relations between Russia and the west are not so great these days. This doesn’t typically affect me on a day-to-day level as I run around town getting my chores done. But I think – and this is me talking here, not some official USG representative – I think the work environment is hard if you’re an expat or a diplomat. There’s too much work to be done, always. And the person-to-person contacts aren’t always easily made. There seems to be a lot of suspicion on both sides of the fence. So, yay, you’re doing important work for your government while you’re posted here! But, boo, why does everything have to be so difficult? As a spouse, you’ll be frustrated by the fact that you can’t work on the local economy, but there aren’t enough jobs at the Embassy to go around.  I got around this by developing a work-from-home project, which the Embassy approved, but they take a sizeable chunk of my income because, they say, I’m using USG property to earn my income. And that’s all I’m going to say about that particular frustration in this blog post!

There you go – my Moscow pros and cons, for all of you potential bidders. This is our second time here as USG employees, and I can tell you that there is so much to see and do around town that we still haven’t seen it all. It isn’t really possible to get bored here. Cold, yes. Confused and frustrated, definitely. But bored? Never.

See you next year?


Momofgirlsw/curls said... [Reply]

I was wondering if you had the link to the other blog that talked about the pros/cons of living in Moscow? If you would be willing to post, I'd love to see another perspective as well.

Donna said... [Reply]

The link is here:

Natasha said... [Reply]

Problems USAID families don't have: Debating whether to bid Moscow. Sounds like a nice place to visit at least!

As someone compound-bound in Kabul, I understand the pros of compound life. Safety, zero commute, the ability to do laundry in the middle of the workday, free, ready-made food at the DFAC! OK, that last one is unique to Kabul. There are a lot of cons as well (the bubble) but I am trying to remind myself of these positives as we're getting ready to leave, and I'll once again have to do things like sit in traffic and run errands.

Please. Write your own stuff.