A small grey sparrow, making a sharp turn on his left wing, landed on the edge of a round table at which I was sitting, looked me in the eye and chirped demandingly; apparently, he liked my sandwich. If not for this little gangster, who nearly helped himself to my coffee, I could have easily imagined that I was having lunch at Le Pain Quotidien on Hudson Street in the West Village – that is, if I turned my back to the neo-classical and eclectic style buildings of 500 year old Kamergerskiy Pereulok in Moscow, a pedestrian street a few steps away from the Red Square, lined with cafes and restaurants; crowded at any hour, day or night.
Today, the terrifying scarcity of the 90s seems like a bad dream. There is an abundance of shopping malls, global restaurants and coffee chains, newly built business centers, private medical clinics and schools, exotic produce at the local supermarkets and lines for the “in” places. An echo from the past, free education, kindergartens for under $30 a month, free medical insurance for basic health needs, a year and a half pregnancy leave and a gorgeous subway system, with trains running every 30 seconds. Just how much more comfortable can it get? Most of the locals say – a lot.
Climate is one thing to blame and Putin is another. High real estate and clothing prices are taking tall on consumers’ wallets, corruption is still alive and well, and taxes, in their minds, are unfairly high (income tax in Russia is 13% flat). The size of a small European country, Moscow is not a commuter’s dream either – with the most over-crowded subway in Europe and round-the-clock traffic jams, this city can wear you out by the lunch hour.
So what seems to be attracting people here, from the lowly Tajik construction worker to the Oxford educated British executive? The answer is simple – money. Competition is still not at the levels of the established economies, whether it comes to business or talent. Furthermore, although with difficulties, business can be done here, although locals don’t see it that way, despite the obvious confirmation of this fact in a form of multiple shops, restaurants, services, companies and so on.
Blaming and complaining seems to be a cultural thing. Two of most popular shows are on Channel 1, “Let’s get married!” (a dating show) and “Let them talk” with Andrey Malakhov, which reminds me of The Jerry Springer Show. I have no idea, where they find people for these programs, because the characters you see will make you think that you live on a weirdo monster planet that is occasionally visited by a Russian celebrity or Naomi Campbell (she is a Muscovite nowadays, too).
What do I personally think about living in Moscow? It’s not a rose garden, but count your blessings helps – and there are many. Come visit, I will show them to you.