First Impressions: Moscow

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

My journey to living here in Moscow is most certainly an unusual story, which I’ll expand on at a later date, but in brief, having worked my way up and across the media industry mainly in the UK, I found myself accepting a position at an international news channel based in Moscow. It was an unexpected and spontaneous decision – one of those ‘what have I got to lose?’ decisions and I found myself arriving in the extremes of a Russian winter in December 2015. It’s funny how life can take you in directions that are totally unpredictable and as I navigated my way through security, past the stern, intimidating faces of the security personnel, struggling to understand instructions of passport control officer so that I could at least get out of the airport, I experienced a mini flashback.

You see, travelling to Moscow was actually a familiar but forgotten experience to me, as my parents used to drag their 6 children through an extremely long journey once every couple of years so that they could visit their relatives back in Bangladesh and the cheapest airline for then, back in the day was Aeroflot. The journey consisted of five stops, one being Moscow. The stopover could, as I recall, mean waiting around the airport for hours on end or even staying a full day until the next transfer flight. One of my clear memories as a child was going through security; looking up at huge security guards and having to hold the gaze of a person at passport control, who would stare so intensely, checking to see if the photo on your passport matched the person looking at them through the glass barrier, that I, as a child, was unable to hold that gaze for more than a second or two before embarrassment took over and I had to look away! On that first trip back as an adult, I realised that the passport control officer was instructing me to do exactly the same – my task was to hold that gaze – to stare them out – an unequal standoff (I’m a perfectly formed 5’3”) but there was no way that embarrassment was going to get the better of me this time. No way!

They let me through.

Phew, I thought then and onto the next challenge, which I’m sure that many of you who have visited Moscow would have experienced yourselves, was how to get to the hotel with zero language skills, an inability to read any signs and fighting the disorientation of being immersed amongst such apparently different peoples. But as is pretty much always the case, hand gestures coupled with terrible verbal communication can get you a long way and you’re going to find your way in the end. And so I did. Now as you’ve heard me recap my journey here – you will have spotted a fair number of prejudiced thought processes that went on in my mind throughout. Fear of Moscow and Russia. Ignorance of what the country is and a total lack of education about the history of the country, it’s global position, culture and I could go on and on. And how wrong was I to have doubt about one of the most important, influential and culturally diverse nations in the world. There is no doubt that as a well travelled person, I had been consciously or sub-consciously carrying ‘fear’ about living and working in Moscow and that fear had certainly been compounded by the negative rhetoric and portrayal of Russia and its peoples. So the following 24 hours of my journey really did start to raise questions about many of the misconceptions that influence perceptions about the Russian people and three years down the line, I have tried to piece together why this appears to be the case if we are to believe most mainstream global media.

Back to my first 24 hours. After a night at a hotel near Izmaylovskaya, I had my first experience of taking the metro. Partizanskaya metro to Semyonovskaya. The grand and delicate designs in each station were mind-blowing and to this day I’m astounded by the intricacies of Russian creativity not just in the designs around me but it seems intrinsically woven into the cultural psyche. I was warmly welcomed at my new place of work and within a couple of hours, whisked away to one of the most iconic places in Moscow to shop for on-screen clothes. GUM. You could say that the equivalent to GUM would be Harrods in London, Lafayette in Paris, the Dubai Mall in the UAE, Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele in Milan but GUM in Moscow absolutely, unequivocally ‘wins’ hands down in terms of the ‘wow’ factor, beauty, design, innovation, historical significance, openness, accessibility to the individual, fantastical experience and uniqueness. It manages to incorporate an authenticity coupled with fairytale in a way that I have not experienced anywhere else.

The contradictions in emotions, visual impressions, cultural judgement that I felt over the first 24 hours of my arrival back in December 2015 are still so vivid and clear. Over three years onI feel that it is now time to share some of my impressions, memories and observations as a ‘Little Brown Girl’ working and living in Moscow and occasionally, my ‘Big White’ partner in crime and I will blend those impressions and observations for our own amusement in the main.

First 'GUM' experience!

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