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Say [EAT DRINK WALK] to Moscow
A love story with Russia:
2011 till now, and then – forever?
Interview by Anastasia Gvozdeva
A look on Moscow and Russian soul through the eyes of a local foreigner – Yash Madhwal, an Indian living in Russia since 2011.
October 2011

The first trip away from India, the first encounter with Russia

Favourite town in Russia, also a hometown of his girlfriend

Favourite Russian word in Russian (literally – Whaaat?)
A couple of months ago I received a request for guiding tours in Moscow on our platform, a message full of sincere love for this country and especially its capital. After some time I realised that it has to become a story.
We met with Yash on a snowy February morning to talk about how an Indian ended up in Russia, and over time fell in love with the country so much that he sees no other way but to stay here for good. He takes every chance to speak Russian and accompanies every story of his Russian life with a very warm and loving smile. But let's start from the very beginning.
I asked: "So, nobody speaks English?", and they said "No, nobody speaks English, actually"
— So, let us start with basics. When did you move to Russia, how did it happen at all, and what were your first feelings, before and after you came?
— Let's start from 2011 when I first came to Moscow. It was October 2011 and it was horrible. It was actually strange because Russia was my first foreign country and I thought, like in India, that every foreigner should also be able to speak English. So when I landed, I came to the guy at the airport, it was probably the security guy, and I talked to him in English, asking where I can find the toilet. And he replied in Russian, probably"Shto?", like "What do you want?". That time I first realised that people don't actually speak English, and then, after I crossed the immigration desk, I met my parents who had already been here before. There were waiting for me, so I asked them "So, nobody speaks English?" and they said "No, nobody speaks English, actually". So it was a cold month of October and it was really a little tough to get around the city for me – but I was supposed to be staying at home, and my parents were here, so it helped. But I must say that I was very happy to go back. I went exactly 10 days later, because that was a vacation for me during an Indian festival, so then I went back. One month later I came again, and every holidays for the next 4 years I kept visiting Russia every 5 months, always for one month. Slowly slowly I got along this place – it was a change which took time to get over.
— And what was your biggest shock, except for the language?
— Climate, I guess. It was the first time I saw snow in my life, to be very honest. I never saw snow before.
— How old were you then?
— I was... let me count... minus 7 years... I was 18.
Photos are following the timeline: from 2011 to 2017
Then I realised that it's not that Russians don't smile, but climate is so cold, harsh and stressful, so that the situation makes you like that. They are very good people, they do smile but not in such cold climate. Because there's no reason to smile in the cold climate, right?
— What's the weirdest thing you find in Russian culture and Russian people?
— Actually, I don't find it weird, I find it normal. Because I'm also being a part of a weird culture. What happened recently is that I met a Russian friend in India and when I met him in Moscow he told me the he also stopped smiling. Then I realised that it's not that Russians don't smile, but climate is so cold, harsh and stressful, so that the situation makes you like that. They do smile! Inside the house, yes, outside – the climate is so cold, you need to rush to go to the metro, to go inside the house. That's the only point I see in why Russians don't smile. They are very good people, they do smile but not in such cold climate. Because there's no reason to smile in the cold climate, right? For example, in terms of temperature Canada is colder than Russia, but you would feel colder in Russia because of the winds, that's the only reason that makes it feel colder.
— If you leave Russia, what do you miss the most about it? If you go somewhere else, do you miss something from here?
— I went to Germany recently. And when I landed in Munich, when I went to my hotel, it was like little towards outside, outside of Munich. And I come from India, a country with a large population, and in Russia, especially in Moscow, there is a large population, but in Munich there is not much population compared to those. So I was staying in Munich, a little outside Munich… So, for example in Moscow, wherever you go, you will feel like it's city centre. The city centre is not really the city centre, it's a big city which is the centre. Almost everything feels like city centre. It's a big city, you know? Crowd, lights, beauty in the evening. It makes a big difference compared to lots of other cities. It's so beautiful in the evening! Because it's alive, you know that you are somewhere. And it's not the case with most of other cities.
The city centre is not really the city centre, it's a big city which is the centre.
— And is there something you miss when you're here?
— Yes, Indian food. Of course there are good Indian restaurants here, but I also started cooking by my recipes, I have spices as well so it's fine (later Yash admitted that Indian food in Russia is way more delicious due to the quality of local products – as long as you have the right spices and Indian rice for sure).
— What's your favourite place in Moscow and in Russia?
In Moscow I have many favourite places but I never mind going again and again to the Red square. I don't know why but there's something attractive in the Red Square, because when you see for example Saint Basil's Church, you don't see the way it was built, it feels like somebody had already built it and put it there. I don't know how to explain it but it's like somebody kept the structure, some beautiful structure, and just brought it there. And talking of Russia, I actually like my girlfriend's hometown, Vyazma. I've been to many cities, but Vyazma is very nice. It's a small city, with very nice people, and it's very calm.
— If I would ask you about a place, in Moscow or anywhere else in Russia that would be good for a foreign person to understand the local culture, what would it be?
Well, actually I've never been to the place but I really want to go there, it's Volgograd. Because there is that huge statue, Mother Russia, this immense statue, taller than Statue of Liberty, taller than Eiffel Tower as well, I think – a huge statue. I guess that would give a feeling of, you know, Russian motherland, Russian greatness.
— Is there any kind of a tip or advice you would give foreigners coming to Russia?
— Actually, nowadays, if somebody wants to come to Russia, I can tell that they are very lucky, because so many things have changed since 2011. People started speaking English. People do speak English, at least in Moscow. So they are very lucky to get to see things around Moscow, now you can interact with people in the places… and it's more beautiful now.
— And the tip?
Well, they should visit Moscow! They should, actually. In short. They should visit Moscow. It's not a stereotype but people think that people are cold, climate is cold… okay, climate is cold, but you don't feel that coldness for a long time. Maximum in your whole time you would feel cold for one hour, when you go from home to metro, from metro to work or wherever you go. So overall it's fine. They should come in winter too. It's so beautiful. Don't come to Russia during spring when the snow is melting, that it probably the sloppiest time in Moscow. March and April is the only time which I don't prefer in Russia.
— And once they come, what would help them feel comfortable and feel like they are part of this culture?
I think that if somebody wants to be a part of the culture, they should explore things on their own. But if you're coming with somebody who is getting you to Russia and getting you back to your own country, then you miss a big part of Russia. They need to come and explore on their own. Do some study and come. And the Russian language. The biggest part is the language. They think that Russian language is tough — I agree. Compared to English. But the best part about Russian language is that you speak what you study. If you go to India and enrol yourself to study Hindi, my language, what you will study in the class will be totally different from what we speak on the street. I think the same happens with German, probably. I don't speak German but I think so: what you study in class is totally different from what people speak on the street. In English what you study in class is what they speak on the streets, the same as with Russian.
— To conclude, if there would be one word you associate with Russia, what would it be?
Ah, good question. "Tschoo?!"
— This is actually the first word I usually teach my foreign friends! Well, as we are holding this conversation in English and internationals are going to read this, please explain.
You know, actually I don't know how to explain this in English. But I know the situations when, where and why to use it. There is a word "chto", if you translate it into English, it means "what". "Tscho?" would be like "Whaaaat?". I think so. "Whaaat?" "Are you crazy?" "What the hell?" – that's the situation. I also like the phrase "Da lladno!". What's most interesting about these words is actually the facial expression the person makes. You should look at their faces more. The eyebrows, the eyes, the interest, the shock – it's all there. "Da ladno" would mean "Oh really!", sarcastic way of it.
Well, it can also be non-sarcastic, when somebody is really shocked. But can be sarcastic too (then he showed all the different ways of pronouncing the expression, and it's a great shame we cannot share it with you here!).
— I see you are already professional in Russian. In informal Russian especially.
I had this kind of situations in my Russian language class. My classmates have studied Russian for 6-7 years in their home countries, I studied Russian in Russia. So we have a difference because when we were asked to ask for a pencil in informal way, the person next to me was like "izvini" instead of "izvinite" (English: excuse me, with a slight difference in formality of saying). When it came to me, I was like "ey, slushai…", and the teacher was also like "how do you know that?!". The same was with saying hello informally. They would say "privet" (hi), and I was like "cho, kak dela" (hey dude, wassup).
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