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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA

The Way It Is

Why does an ex-pat like me want to stay in Russia - part II
“Don’t try to understand — just feel it.”
Frank Ebbecke

Remember Natasha, my gas station-angel from part I? If not—no worries. You’ll discover more about the Russian soul trapped in a female body, and even more reasons to love Russia right below.

Russian women. Sure, there are pretty women in every corner of the world. But in Russia it seems that there are many more of them around. Easy to break your neck for 6-7 out of 10 while simply passing them on a sidewalk. Just beautiful.

It’s Christmas time, worth considering that where Santa Claus in Western countries has an assistant in the form of “Knecht Ruprecht”, an often rather unpleasant, nasty male character. Santa Claus’s Russian counterpart, called “Ded Moroz”, appears with “Snegurochka,” the “snow girl”—pretty and pretty nice.

But there is much more to most Russian woman than simply good looks.

Not only a charming lover and trustworthy partner. At the same time a gifted housewife and caring mother. Fully in charge of the elderly in the family. On top of all that: an ambitious, professional career-maker. Just admirable.

Well, this ideal combination of virtues is even stronger for girls who came to the capital from somewhere out there like Siberia, where many genuinely like nature and a more simple life. For these people, Moscow is their Mecca.

First of all many like to play their “pretty woman” and “big city girl” roles. One stylish girl in my office went a little bit extreme and even played the “femme fatale” role. I continuously had to ask her whether she wouldn’t mind working for a time or whether she wanted to go straight to a café or club. And to button up her blouse a bit higher please. It is hard to get any serious work done when the “clack-clack-clack” accompaniment of her high heels dictate the rhythm of my workflow. Hard to keep your eyes on the laptop screen when distracted from work by swinging bumps (no wonder the art of ballet dancing has been created in Russia?). To be honest, I didn’t mind her appearance and behaviour at all because she was as good at her job.

This is how it always starts. But in the end they’re looking for the man of their life.

Ideally with big pockets. Striking for a good home, fancy lifestyle, security (for her and for the whole family). When they’ve then caught the fish, the man certainly will be the head of the family but she will be the neck—as a Russian saying goes.

They often marry very young. And if it doesn’t work? A quick, uncomplicated divorce. Who cares that there are more females than men in Russia. Life is too short. Just give it another try.

One younger lady once said to me, with a most charming smile: “Men are obliged to give gifts to women.” Well then, “ladno” (OK), if that is so I’ll keep presenting them gifts. At least flowers. I have never seen so many flower shops as here—and certainly any more expensive ones. In the end, a lot of them deserve the presents. They’re the salt of men’s lives (and sometimes the pepper, too).

Let’s come to some more serious, more rational than emotional reasons (in the end I’m a German) why I’ve no problems becoming a long term guest-citizen in Russia.

First of all, there’s the whole issue of my age. I’m in the autumn of my life. In my job, at home, I’d be probably already disposed of. Here I was given chances I’d never imagined. I was asked to preside over a group of Russian marketing communication agencies. I’ve registered my own consultancy (FE Communications). I run a small company for the procurement of young musicians (LISYAMUSIC), together with Yulia from Irkutsk, my partner, who has an amazing talent on the piano and even bigger talent for singing jazz.

Here there is a greater respect for age, for people’s lives, not just professional experiences. Just everything seems to be possible, providing you develop the right feeling of how to play the game. Russians are highly emotional people. And they bring their emotions to work. Friendship and business are heavily intertwined. But friendship always comes first. It might take longer than elsewhere. But once you have made real friends with a Russian, you’ve a friend for life, in good and not so good times.

In this huge country there is a fresh and young breed of talented, well-educated, ambitious people in almost every professional field. However, and per definition (reminding that it all “restarted” only 20 years ago) they still lack a certain amount of experience to truly qualify them as “global players” or make valuable contributors to the development of the national economy and infrastructure. In addition: too many of them dream to speed up their career and their lifestyle elsewhere in the world and do not wish to come back home from their studies or temporary assignments abroad.

The crisis that started in September 2008 and its consequences have proven that the unilateral adjustment to the export of raw materials can lead to strong dependences. Russia, in many aspects, is, in spite of the leadership role it is adopting, still a developing country. The economy has to be lifted to modern standards and has to be widely diversified. This will probably last a full generation (some say more) until Russia really is up to speed in this brutal global competitive environment. “Made in Russia” has to become an internationally respected quality label. Especially the group of highly innovative smaller and mid-sized enterprises is dramatically underdeveloped. Partly because of Russian bureaucracy and other general conditions. Favorable changes are underway, driven by both the President of the Russian Federation and the national government.

Therefore and for the time being, ex-pat experts in almost every area of economic, scientific, cultural and social activity are vital. The respected Boston Consulting Group (BCG) recently (September 2010) predicted that Russia will still have a “likely large shortfall of qualified personnel from 2020 to 2030” in construction, traffic and communication, retail as well as in the agriculture.”

It’s the size of the Russian territory. It’s the greatness of the Russian soul. It’s the wide range of the opportunities available. Russia can be home. I’m here. Where are you?

PASSPORT welcomes personal contributions to the debate about the pluses and minuses of life in Russia. Please feel free to mail contributions to the editor.

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