Monday, 22 September 2008

A few cultural difference

My blog has become like a London bus you wait ages for a post then three come along at once, this is because I am basically too lazy to carry my laptop to a wifi point somewhere in Moscow and too cheap to pay for internet in my flat. Anyway having blogged about some of my adventures and run ins with the police, traffic and random Russian folk I feel it is time that I explain a few of the cultural and legal difference here in Moscow as Russia really is very different from the United Kingdom. I know that this can be said about any other country in the world, but of all the ones I have visited this is the one where I have been most surpised by the differences in manners, culture and everyday life.
I guess the biggest difference I have felt so far has been the noticeable police presence here and the manner in which they relate to the public, in one of his new years address Prime Minister Vladimir Putin once commented that 'the people of Russia are more scared of the police than they are of each other or of criminals'. The vast majority of the time the Militisia ignore you (unless it is 11pm and you happen to be the wrong side of a safety barrier near Red Square!) but there are two very small things that can get you arrested here. The first is not having you passport on you when questioned, or my case my visa, migration card and student card, and the other is being drunk in public, in the UK if either of these things happened then it would not be a bit deal but this could land me in prison for the night or even deported depending on my state of drunkness. It has happened in the past to Foreign students apparently.
The other thing that I have really noticed here is that officialness of everything, every job has a proper title, everything has to be stamped and everyone has to have a uniform- even if you are simply a cleaner on the tube. This is a spill over from Soviet days and does still surve a purpose in a country with such a high unemployment rate and does add a grandness to the country that we do not have in the UK.
Another thing that in someways is a relief is the level of Health and Safety or lack there of compared to the UK. I previously blogged about our Metro game which surely would have been banned in the UK. In some ways this is good as we are freer to do things and not worry about meeting health and safety laws but in other respects it can be annoying, for example the lift in my flat scares me witless each day as the doors never close fully and it sways from side to side as it descends to the first floor to let me out. On my first day I asked if it always worked and this was met with the reply 'in principle it works' and when I asked what to do if it broke and I was inside the reply was simply to scream 'HELP!' very loudly, this worried me a little.
I supposed the thing that seems to dictate my antics the most is in Russia is having an English passport, where ever I travel in Russia I have to register my passport for example if I wanted to go to Ekaterinaburg to visit my friend for the weekend I would have to register my passport once there to say I was there and again upon my return to Moscow to say that I have changed location. Such a difference from the EU where I was living in Paris but decided to go to Berlin for the weekend nothing would happen to my passport at all.
So far I have loved my stay in Russia even if what is considered good manners in Russian is not in English. For example people NEVER queue, the word 'please' is only used by the English or by Russians when addressing someone elder or someone official, and if you order a three course meal in a restuarant you should expect all three courses to come at once then about an hour later your drink should arrive. Brushing all of this aside Russia is a beautiful country and I am loving staying here even if it's freezing outside and the officials refuse to turn on the heating until October 1st, 8 days to go not that I'm counting!

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