What is life about when you are 1. a stay-at-home dad with two kids, 2. in Moscow without speaking any Russian, 3. teaching in homes of oligarchs. I adore this guy, who is all of the three in one person. I've been following his blog for 2 years now, it is full of vivid descriptions, funny stories with no pictures sharing with us the details of his Moscow life. Visit www.englishdadinmoscow.com
E. D. Oh, yes, there are lots of clubs. When I first joined here, I joined the British women’s club. They do accept men, although they say officially they don’t. I was the only men, when I first arrived, then one or two others have started to join me. There are lots of clubs: there are breastfeeding clubs, I tried to join one of those. Well, I wouldn’t go there breastfeeding or looking at breasts. So, there are breastfeeding clubs, coffee morning clubs, baby group clubs, international women’s clubs. Well, I go to some baby groups sometimes. But there are lots of clubs revolving around babies and families.
Gingerina: Are these expat clubs, run by expats?
E. D. Yes, it’s the baby group clubs. Mainly Moscow is for women and babies, followed by husbands, and for single man, working here in highly paid jobs, who are single, go to the sports, get lots of women, have a great time and parties, bla bla bla… See, in my situation: I am a stay-at-home dad, my wife is not British, and she is not Russian either, so I am not in her language community, I am not in my language community, because I am a man, who is at home part time, but I don’t fit into the women’s community, because I am a man. I don’t fit into my wife’s language community because I am not from her country. I am kind of in a cage most of the time, I am in a goldfish bowl. Writing the blog helps me in that as well, when it comes to be frustrating sometimes, and I am a bit lonely, so the blog is a kind of release of frustrations as well.
Gingerina: How do you get on without knowing any Russian? Am I right, that you don’t speak Russian?
E. D. People always say that: it is not a problem. Before I lived in Russia, I lived in Slovakia for five years, and I didn’t speak any Slovak. I am not good at languages, and I don’t like languages, although I should try to learn them. You don’t need to speak Russian to live in Russia. With intelligence and observation usually you can tell by looking at somebody if they speak English. If you target someone under thirty, they’ll speak some or very good English. Someone under forty, the chances are they probably won’t speak much or any English. You don’t really need to speak English. You can use your hands, like when you want eggs: at the supermarket I make a chicken noise
Gingerina: So, you are playing constantly the activity game, by trying to use all the nonverbal tools.
E. D. I teach English sometimes to people who don’t speak English at all. So, I have become quite good over the years, I have been teaching English. Being a little bit of an actor by using my hands, mime I can make myself understood pretty well, without actually speaking the language.
Gingerina: How do you cope with situations which can get really frustrating for example when standing in a queue, and someone just gets in front of you? How do you explain yourself in these situations? Do you shout in English or you make the chicken noise?
E. D. No, no. At the supermarket in Russia… If you know about history, they used to have to queue for everything for years, and they don’t like queueing, they don’t like waiting. Being a British, queueing is a British thing, and we all queue, even these days people queue. But in Russia they don’t form one line, they often form two or three lines to get to the checkout for example. So, I cope. Well, you have to keep calm, or you can be punched in the face. If I am with my wife, she speaks fluent Russian, with Russians you have to… they bark like a dog sometimes, they shout at you, do what they do, if they shout at you, you shout back.
Gingerina: So, you just need to be loud.
E. D. You just need to be tough and be strong. You can let it go, let it go in front of you, or you can use your body, and kind of block them from getting in front of you. Once I was in a queue, and the woman went in front of me, she called me a foreigner and said to me why don’t you get back to your country, it is not your country!
Gingerina: Agh, I see, well, these things you face in any country, I think.
E. D. Yeah, you do.
Gingerina: in some frustrating situations.
E. D. It illustrates cultural differences. You just have to accept them, and you just keep calm. Everything here: they don’t like queueing, they are very aggressive drivers in Moscow, they don’t stick to their lanes, they share lanes, they don’t signal, they don’t use their mirrors. It’s the same in the swimming pool, or going to the gym. I remember in the gym people don’t stick to their lanes, they swim how they drive, they overtake you, they knock you out of the way, you know, it’s horrible.
Gingerina: And just to get you back to the positive side, Could you please name three things you like about Moscow?
E. D. I don’t hate Moscow, I don’t love Moscow, but I don’t hate it. Three positive things: the food, Russian food is very tasty. Can be very calorific. Very good soups, Russians make very good, tasty soups, very nice blini, blinchiki, cotlettes. Cooking is very tasty. Russian people love children, absolutely love children. It’s very child friendly, there is lots of playgrounds everywhere. Thirdly, the history and the culture is fascinating. These are the three positive things I can think of, living in Moscow.
Gingerina: What do you mean by culture? In your everyday life how can you get in touch with culture, cultural production?
E. D. The history, the history, the Russian history is fascinating, the architecture is fascinating, the Russian mentality is fascinating. I don’t see it all negatively, often it’s very amusing, it’s very funny. The way the Russians behave can often be very funny. They are very accepting of life, it can be very funny living here, you just have to see the cultural differences. Great art, great theater, fantastic opera, fantastic concerts, classical concerts, bla bla bla, there’s lots of positive things.
Gingerina: Do you manage to go to the theatre, concerts, or to the museum?
E. D. Not often, only sometimes. You know it’s expensive by time and money. You pay the babysitter for four hours, and go out, you pay for the restaurant, or something, you know it can cost you a fortune. I don’t go out that much anyway. I had been in Moscow before, I came here ten years ago, when my wife was my girlfriend and she was working here. We were here for six months. I went to the theater then. You wanted to ask me the negative things?
Gingerina: The negative things when you moved to Moscow. Actually I was interested in the first impressions when you moved.
E. D. How big it was, the traffic. Huge roads: six lanes going in one direction, and six lanes going the other. The smell. I moved here from Bratislava, Slovakia, a beautiful, fantastic capital city, where the air is fresh and clean. I noticed the smell of traffic here, it took me a year to get used to it.
E. D. The spitting. The spitting in the street, I absolutely hate. People blow their nose and spit in the street all the time, it’s disgusting. And the cost, the cost in Moscow, everything is very expensive. Renting, clothes, although food shopping is cheaper than in Europe. If you go to a place like Auchan, a French supermarket chain, for a family of four you can get everything for a month for about three hundred euros. It is far cheaper.
Gingerina: Do you cook Russian food?
E. D. I don’t have to cook Russian food. I know how to make pancakes, or blini. I eat those with Smetana (Russian sour cream) and red caviar, as you can’t get black caviar anymore. You can’t buy black caviar, only red caviar. I really love that.
Gingerina: so that’s one of your new habits, you picked up in Moscow?
E. D. We have a Russian nanny part time, she comes when I go out, and she cooks very tasty soups.
Gingerina: So your kids speak Russian as well?
E. D. My eldest kid understands Russian, but can’t speak it, but he understands it.
Gingerina: And you have some good hints and tips of Russian life from your nanny?
E. D. She doesn’t speak in English. Russian nannies are another topic, you should see in my blog. Russian nannies can be like Russian WW2 tanks.
Gingerina: (laugh) I have read those posts.
E. D. They are very tough. It’s like having my mother-in-law living here. My mother-in-law is a nice woman, but a Russian nanny is like the worst nightmare of a mother-in-law. She knows everything, you know nothing. As a man you don’t know anything about babies. You are an Antichrist. You shouldn’t be looking after a kid, you are toxic. You know, Russian nannies are another topic of debate. I have written about that on my blog.
I even taught an oligarch boy, he had two Russian nannies, and I was teaching, taking him and walking him into the community, in a private gated community, and there were all other Russian nannies. So I was surrounded by all these Russian tanks. They were gossiping about me, what’s this man doing looking after a kid, you know.
Gingerina: Do you really have to fear when you work for oligarchs for example. If you do something wrong, do you have a special fear in those cases?
E. D. Well, I do have a fear, you can never ask personal questions from the mother. You never ask personal details, you keep the conversation very neutral. You have to care for the nannies as well. Because often these rich kids have one, sometimes three nannies, and if you upset a nanny, she can make up stories about you. You could be jailed, you could be arrested, in that country. You have to be very, very careful of Russian nannies. Be careful especially as a man. I am a father and I have two of my own kids, and they don’t know that. But you have to be very, very careful in these families.
Gingerina: The places where you go to: do you know these addresses? Are you carried by a driver?
E. D. I take the metro to a certain stop, and their driver collects me, and takes me out to their house. You arrive to the house, massive, electric gates, you go through the electric gate, a few steps, and you are in the house. Cameras everywhere, you can be nervous. If you think about it, you wouldn’t go. But the money is very good. The money is very good, and that’s why I go, the money. I don’t really like teaching very spoiled brats, I don’t really enjoy it, but the currency is good.
Gingerina: Are these long-term assignments?
E. D. No, not long term, six months usually.
Gingerina: Can you get any result in six months?
E. D. You mean in English? Yes, you can. I used to help two twins, who didn’t speak any English, a brother and sister. The boy was a nightmare, I think he had some attention deficit disturbance, the girl was very spoiled. They didn’t speak any English, but I used flash cards, I use games and activities, fun games, cause a kid can’t sit at a table for ninety minutes. And you do get results. The mother wanted them to go to an International School, the mother wanted them to take a test to enter it, and they did get in, after I was working with them for six months. I used to go three times a week for three hours. It was really hard work, but the currency was good, so I did it. It was a challenge.
Gingerina: Just to get back a little to the expats in Moscow. Your recent post was about expats, the different types of communities. Could you spend some words about that?
E. D. Basically, there are three types of people: who come here with their families people come here for work, and people who come here for love. People come here, because they are sent by their employer, usually working for a big international company, with a fantastic carrier, a lot of them directors. The second type are women and occasionally men like myself, with their partners working abroad sent to Moscow, and thirdly usually men, who meet Russian women on dating sites. A lot of these men are divorced or widowed, their wives died, they are usually to my experience, in their fifties, financially secure, got no more debts, got a house in the UK, they don’t have any more debts on it, they got grown-up kids.
Gingerina: Why are they attracted to Russia?
E. D. I think they are attracted to Russian women really.
E. D. Russian women can be very beautiful, but also… Russian women are.. I did not dated any Russian woman, obviously. But I think they are attracted to Russian women, because they look after them, these Russian women look after these guys, you know, they cook for them, they clean for them, they care for them.
Gingerina: Maybe these differing cultural traits? Which we have talked about…
E. D. I think it’s positive for these guys, they set up homes with Russian women. Because in the United Kingdom it’s very equal-equal, there is gender equality, and here it is slightly old fashioned. I think they are attracted to that.
Gingerina: so, they are getting relaxed…
E. D. Yes, they are getting a new lifestyle, they don’t have any debts in the UK, they’ve got something to offer to these women, you know, money in the bank, they come here. There is also the single guys, who come here to have a great time, they party, they are high paid. The expat community in Moscow, I’ve got some friends here, who are expats, and as I said on the article, when you meet genuine people in Moscow, you have to keep them as friends, stick to them, because it’s hard to find genuine people. A lot of the expats, they are false. They are as genuine as a Gucci handbag bought in Tokyo. They are not real, it’s all a bit false.
Gingerina: It sounds quite lonely.
E. D. It can be, it is lonely if you are a man looking after a baby or babies here. If you are a woman here, looking after a baby or babies, you are fine, you’ll be fine, because there are hundreds and hundreds of other women doing exactly the same thing, so it’s no problem. If you are a single man or a single woman, you’ll be fine. There’s many clubs, there are websites for foreigners who want to network, There is lots of clubs. But if you are a man looking after babies here with a partner who isn’t Russian, who isn’t from your country, it is difficult.
Gingerina: Getting back to the blog itself, it can be defined as a travel blog giving hints for those who visit Russia either for a longer or a shorter term.
E. D: I want to help people, because before I moved to Moscow, I did some research about it, I joined a couple of forums that had a lot of strange people on them. I’ve found out some stuff about Moscow, I knew how difficult it was. This is my second country of being abroad as a partner. I wanted to help people, that’s why I did these how-to tips on the blog. I wanted to help people who are thinking of moving here, it’s scary moving abroad, it’s very scary moving to a place like Moscow, so I wanted to help people really.
Gingerina: Are you planning to put these posts together and edit, make a book out of it? Or even two books: a travelling guide, and about your experiences of social life.
E. D. I could put it, as in Amazon you can write your own book, I could do that, maybe later, I don’t have the energy and time, it’s difficult with kids. I could do that. I make some money from advertising, there are lots of adverts on it. The money I make from adverts I use to buy books for my kids for reading them bedtime stories. I buy books from Amazon from any money I make from the blog I use it for my kids. Really, I write the blog, because I dream of writing a book one day.
I am writing the blog as a kind of practice of writing, and I love writing. And also I use it as a kind of public, private, sociological study of life as a stay-at-home father and life as a foreigner living within an expat community in Moscow. That’s why I do the blog.
Gingerina: Do you know something about the readers? Do you get feedback? I was trying to read the comments, and what I found was that comments do not come that often.
E. D. Because I’ve changed the comments. I used to have comments settings open to everyone, but occasionally I got some very nasty comments from people, some strange comments. And sometimes I was getting a comment after comment from some person in Moscow who didn’t really speak good English and I got bored of it. I’ve changed the comments settings to people who’ve got Google accounts I think, email accounts, and stuff like that. A lot of the readers come from America, a lot come from the UK, a lot come from Russia, a lot of women read the blog, some former expats read the blog, because I get emails under the contact me. I get contacted by people who are asking me could I write some stuff free for them, could I post an advert free on my blog, when nothing’s free, I always say no. Sometimes people contact me to say how funny the blog is. Some Russian people contact me who are living in America, say how funny the blog is, what a great observation I have about life in Russia…
Gingerina: SO, Russian migrants know what you mean.
E. D: I get comments from Russians living abroad. I get a lot of emails, not so many comments now, since I’ve changed the comments settings.
Gingerina: Do you edit your sponsors, advertisers, or anyone who actually pays on the online surface books the place itself? Do you select your advertisers?
E. D. Not really, well, I do. No one has approached me, with can I put dental care on your blog, the adverts I have on the blog are perfectly OK. I don’t let set adverts on online dating on, I wouldn’t let set any strange advert, no. I only accept adverts related to travel, expat life, these kind of things.
Gingerina: Do you plan some new features on your blog?
E. D. I still have Ask Auntie Olga.
Gingerina: I miss that!
E. D. It was quite kind of fun. New features… well, I think of sponsored posts. People who want to write a feature about their company, they can pay me for it. I thought of putting a forum on the blog, you can easily make a free forum, but as I have found out with forums before, there are lots of expat forums, forums usually attract crazy people, so I’ve changed my mind.
Gingerina: and it could break the structure of your blog.
E. D. My blog is more like a magazine type kind of style. More like a journal, magazine, type of style. I don’t want to make it a chat site, it’s not a chat site, or a forum. It’s a kind of online diary, an online journal, you know what I mean?
Gingerina. I have the impression that you are planning to stay, or willing to stay a couple of months or years in Moscow.
E. D. We have been here 4 years, and probably will be here longer.
Gingerina: that’s good news for us readers, because we can follow your life in Moscow for more years.
E. D. Yes.
Gingerina. Thank you very much for having you englishdadinmoscow.com
I wish you good luck, and very nice experiences in Moscow. Thank you very much, and bye-bye.
Published on, AZ Orosz OK, January, 2013
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