Monday, 27 July 2009

How do I learn to behave like a Russian?

Some glib cliches immediately; Russians don't like being told what to do and the English are too artificially polite and say sorry far too much. There is certainly something going on, even in these initial and lightweight email exchanges and meetings, sorting out what the job involves. I think I am showing that I am knowledgeable and capable by outlining what I intend to do; but increasing feel that it sounds as if I am ordering everyone about - I assume a give-take (customer service?) relationship, when maybe it is a different kind of ritual. And I am well aware that I sound mealy-mouthed, with all my please and thank you and the extent that I even want to say sorry for being so ingratiating. But of course, Russians often sound insulting to me, they say things so directly. The potential for taking mistaken umbrage on both sides seems huge.

And this is not trivial. I now learn that a previous (non-Russian) employee was thrown out of the office, not even given time to retrieve her coat and still months later trying to get money owed under her contract. Contracts just don't mean much here, so forging the right kinds of personal relationships (and having some solid leverage if things get sticky) seems the only way to go. But how? Or is this already a misunderstanding?

Making a move

So here I am - on something more than a whim but less than a fully thought-out career progression - leaving credit-crunch, fatcat banker, sleazy MP-ridden London for a job in mafia-run, bandit capitalist, blat-driven Moscow.

Thinking it is a good time to take some notice about what happens when you swop one place for an alternative, one set of stereotypes for another. So this is an exploration not just of somewhere else, but also of my own place in the world, wherever and whatever that is. Too much writing by the English on Russia is of the 'how to upwrap the riddle-inside-mystery-inside-enigma-inside-russian-soul-blah'. But moving to Moscow right now should be as much about what is going wrong with capitalism and post-communism in the early 21st century; and can surely offer a (personal) view into the complexities of cultural difference that we are all part of.