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Jennifer: Russia Lite

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Moscow makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Moscow, etc.

I’m originally from the United States. I majored in Russian Area Studies at Columbia University in New York City, and after I graduated in 1989, I became a tour guide and exhibition leader and spent a lot of my time in Russia. I later opened an office in Moscow for the company I worked for and moved here permanently in 1992. I’m married to a Russian man. I would describe myself as an expatriate in the classic sense of that word since we are not going to be transferred to Dubai at any point as my husband works here for a Russian company and I don’t see that changing.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

In 2006, I stepped down from a very interesting and enjoyable job in the banking sector because I wanted to write full time. I was working on a book when an agent suggested I blog as well. My first blog, Dividing My Time was really all about finding my way in the blogosphere. I later understood that I was blogging in two different directions, so I split the two up into a food blog stream and a humor/travel/history stream. They are both now incorporated into one big site called Blogging really helped me hone my writer’s voice and many of the posts were great springboards for some of the scenes, which take place in my book, Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow (Small Batch Books, 2014). In terms of writing about food, this came as a real surprise to me, but I really love it and I get a big kick out of hearing from readers who use the tools on my food blog to help them navigate the culinary world of Moscow. I think that is super!

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

In my humor blog posts, I dedicate a certain amount of time to charting Russia’s many public and professional holidays. This blog “stunt” was also a big help in finding my voice. Some of these holidays are minor and some are really big deals in Russia. It’s a great way to learn more about Russia, her history, and her culture.

Some of my favorites are these:

On my food blog, the most popular post, however, for Moscow-based expats is this one, because it contains downloadable English/Russian shopping lists for the grocery store. And finally, a longer post about my life as an expat in Moscow.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Moscow differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

I’m a bit different in that I’ve been here for 21 years, although for the last 6, I’ve been commuting between the USA and Russia as my daughter is in school in New England. That may seem like a dream arrangement to many expats, but it does have its downside as well. It’s helped me see the differences very sharply. For example, in the USA, I don’t have nearly the amount of “staff” that I do in Russia. But, in Moscow, I have a much more interesting life, a far more congenial group of interesting people to spend time with and a lot more going on culturally. It’s a toss up.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Moscow? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

I think the best thing an expat can do in coming to Moscow is bring a very open mind and be prepared for things to be challenging here. Things like renewing your drivers’ license can be a three-day event, so I always bring a good book and a bottle of water, even if I’m just popping out for a loaf of bread. And chapstick. Moscow is fearfully dry.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

One of my favorite ones happened around Russian Easter. The traditional greeting Russian Orthodox Exchange on Easter morning is, “Christ has Risen!” to which the appropriate answer is “Verily, he is risen indeed!” One Sunday some workmen came to pick up a rug I wanted cleaned. I opened the door to them and was quite taken aback when they greeted me with “Christ has Risen!” I had forgotten it was Easter.

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Moscow?

  • Make an effort to learn the language: The expats I know who are happiest and most acclimatized are the ones who have put in the time to learn the alphabet and take regular Russian language lessons. This is liberating in terms of getting around the city, as well as helping them enjoy the culture.
  • Make an excuse to get out of the house every day: Winters are long here and sometimes very dark. It’s important not to just hibernate throughout the winter. Take a class, join a group, volunteer for a charity, or just go to the gym, but do something every day that forces you out of the house for a little bit.
  • Buy the best quality hiking boots you can afford: I walk everywhere in Moscow, but the footing can be really tough, particularly in the winter. It’s important to have sturdy and warm boots.

How is the expat community in Moscow? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

I talk a lot about this in my book, Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow. The community is roughly divided into two geographic groups: those who live in the suburban gated communities of Pokrovsky Hills and Rosinka, and those who live downtown. Usually that choice is made because the gated communities are near(er) to the foreign schools. But the two groups mix very actively through the many associations, clubs, Embassy groups, and volunteer and interest groups. Social life is very active, particularly in the winter, with a lot of charity balls, sports leagues, and weekly meetings. Again, I think it is really important to get out of the house and meet people when you first come. For women, the AWO, the IWC, Damas Latinas, and other nationality-centered groups are a great place to meet people and find out about what is going on. People here are generally very welcoming and friendly.

How would you summarize your expat life in Moscow in a single, catchy sentence?

It’s never, ever dull.

Jürgen Hofmeister

"When I came to Moscow I barely knew anyone, but now I've got dozens of expat contacts from dozens of countries. "

Caroline Hayes

"At the first InterNations Moscow event that I attended I was absolutely delighted by the elegant atmosphere and the high-quality expat crowd. "

Global Expat Guide