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First Impressions
Text Jonathon Curtis

Six months ago, I found myself facing a big decision: Continue tripping down life’s simple, steady path in my native Sydney or move to the other side of the world to live in a city known for mafia, corruption, tall blonde bombshells, and vodka.

Of course, I had never dreamed I would have an opportunity to work in Moscow, let alone consider it. To say the least, it was far from the top of my to-do list. In fact, it wasn’t on it at all.

I was running a new cafe in Sydney and enjoying it, but a chance to kick-start my international cooking career was something I’d been hoping for.

There is a lot of talk about Moscow these days — oil money, most expensive city in the world, “managed democracy,” etc. In my line, though, the Moscow discussion centers on the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene. Of course, the move would be a big change, but I’m a worldly guy. After all, I lived in France for a year as a teenager with my family and later returned to work in Paris, right?

My research on expat life in Moscow yielded a lot of the same: Winter is cold and miserable, summer is mostly rain and miserable, the people are rude and miserable. The more I investigated life in Russia, the more off-putting it sounded. I guess I’d never really spent much time out of my comfort zone, and Moscow looked to be in a different zone altogether (the twilight zone?)...

I arrived in Moscow in late November, and it was cold. Very cold. Daylight — not to mention blue sky — was in short supply. I was picked up at the airport by the deputy director of the upscale restaurant where I’d be working. He had limited English and an approach to the road somewhat different from the Sydney norm. In short, one of the scariest road trips of my life, but aft er a 24-hour flight, who had the energy to care?

On my second day, I decided to take a short stroll around the city to (dis)orient myself. That seemingly simple task proved to be a little harder than I could have guessed. After surviving the previous day’s car ride from the airport, I almost got myself killed on what most Aussies call a pedestrian crossing. After walking up three streets, I was ready for home, and Moscow wasn’t it. A scary place when you’re 24.

Finding myself in the deep end, I swallowed my gut feeling and treaded water, hoping to make it to the shallow end. A new country, new people, a whole different culture and mentality. How was I going to adapt to my new lifestyle? Was it possible to get used to this?

The first two months were physically demanding. The language barrier was an everyday struggle for me: Shopping for basics was harder than I had imagined, and a simple cab ride was hardly simple. I was very lucky to be working with great people who understood what I was going through, and with their support, things started to look up. I discovered Moscow’s nightlife, and living took one big turn. As they say, Moscow never sleeps. A great place when you’re 24.

I still read on expat forums about how rude Russians are. Many say the same about the French. What I have found is that if you are willing to adapt and put the time into learning just a little of the local culture and way of life, Muscovites (and Parisians) are actually some of the greatest people in the world. They will look out for you and take you in as a part of their family at the drop of a hat.

I have now been in Moscow a little over five months. Though I never did reach that shallow end, I have slowly learned to feel more comfortable just where I am.

I have days when I wake up and think, “Why am I here?” And then there are days when I’m awoken by crystal-clear blue skies, sunlight beaming into my bedroom, and I think, “Where else in the world would I rather be?” Today, I can say I am having the time of my life. I am working with great people and living in one of the best cities in the world.

Jonathon Curtis is a sous-chef at Nedalny Vostok restaurant.

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