By JOHN KOSMATKA
Now that I’ve been here for two years at the American Embassy, Moscow Russia
continues to be on exciting challenge with almost daily surprises, both good
and bad. The highly educated residents of the world’s third largest, as well
as world’s third most expensive city, seemingly go out of their way to “Test
their English” on a real American. They have a thirst for wanting to know
how the rest of the world views their way of life.
I continue to study the language, although my “Russian” quickly identifies
me as a foreigner. However, I seldom encounter difficulty in day to day
In some ways Russia exceeds our great country, while in other ways they
remain many years behind. Throughout Moscow there are numerous parks
encompassing many square blocks of natural habitat. Their educational system
is world renowned, especially in terms of their math and science scores.
College degrees are almost expected in much the same way that high school is
here. While my daughter is getting an architectural degree in the US, she is
accumulating thousands of dollars of debt. Russian students have no such
situation. Their transportation subway system carries over nine million
riders daily. You can go from one end of Moscow to the other in less than an
hour for about a quarter.
Water quality remains “suspect” so almost everyone drinks bottled water.
Everyone (except me) drinks tea. Coke and Pepsi are the soft drinks of
choice, and Snickers (pronounced “Sneakerz”) is the most popular candy. The
McDonald’s near Pushkinskaya metro has 24 cash registers and is always very
busy. The average Russian earns about 300 dollars US equilavent per month,
but housing was given to them during the “changeover.”
The average life span of an adult male is 56 years . Cigarettes and alcohol
are priced very low so alcoholism and lung cancer continue to be a problem.
There are no taxes on items bought in stores. The price you see is the price
Russians have an affinity for wild dogs and feed them without giving it any
thought. Packs of dogs who reside near the metro subway (called Metrodogs)
can often be seen sleeping in the sun. One friend at the embassy was
recently bitten and had to undergo a series of painful rabbi shots.
My residence can best be described as an upscale condo townhouse. I live in
a scenic gated community, just north of Moscow, which is considered one of
the city’s best neighborhoods. It’s not uncommon for most Russians to live
in extremely small apartments where the tiny living room also doubles as a
Fortunately for me, I’ve done some traveling while living in Moscow. Russian
holidays are also days off allowing for many a three day weekend. I look
forward to Russian Independence Day and International Women’s Day as travel
opportunities. So Petersburg, Kiev, Bucharest, Cairo and London are just a
few of the places I’ve been to.
Almost all Russians have mobile phones. Days of shortages are in distant
memories. Most Russians now accept the fact that they are in a global
English remains “The Language” to learn. I wanted to buy clothing to send
back with cyrillio writing. Finding none available in local markets, I
finally had to go to a souvenir store. NY Yankee and “Bulls” apparel remains
popular. Russia is also the land of “Counterfeit everything.” DVD’s designer
purses, and Rolex watches costing only a few dollars come to mind.
Outside toilets downgrade the city with both sight and smell. They cost 35
cents and seem to be everywhere. Customer service lags far behind the west.
Trying to return anything usually takes 15 minutes of arguing as well as
your passport being shown. Cashiers always try to insist that you pay with
exact amounts, have not learned to smile, and often act like they are doing
you a favor.
White lines marking the road lanes are only “suggested” lanes. A two lane
road quickly becomes three lanes and drivers often use sidewalks.
Consequently, city runners have all been run over or choose to run in parks.
As for my personal running course, I begin near the stadium of the ‘76
Olympics. I run along the Riverbank to the Kremlin and back again for a
seven mile adventure.
Most busy intersections have underground tunnels allowing one to safely
cross the street. I often think of the possibilities of something similar on
Indian Boundary and the Bypass.
With the numerous museums, art collections, English language club
activities, running club, and health club at my residence, there is seldom a
dull moment. I play on our embassy softball team which almost always wins
games of our National sport (Although the Cubans are usually competitive
with us). Thanks to a direct phone line to Washington, D.C., I can call
Chesterton with a phone card cheaper than someone from Chesterton can call
Because of modern technology I try to keep up with day to day local news by
logging on to the Chesterton Tribune website. I’ll be here in Chesterton
till July 8th before returning. If anyone has any questions I’d be happy to
I’m even more convinced now then before that
Chesterton is the best place in the world.
—June 20, 2006
P.S. The color black is still the color of choice. In order to try to look
more like a “Local” I wear black as often as possible (coat, pants, shirt,