The Parallax Brief


Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

The Mean Streets of Moscow

It is a cliché of epic proportions to say Moscow is a city of contrasts, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. Nowhere else in Europe, and I suspect nowhere in the world since the American Gilded Age went pop in 1929, can one see poverty so starkly juxtaposed with screamingly conspicuous wealth. (In fact, the Parallax Brief sees plenty of parallels between the Gilded Age and the Russia of today, but that’s a story for another day.)

And it’s not just the gap between rich and poor which provides the contrasts – often nothing here feels congruous.

A personal anecdote to illustrate the point: the Parallax Brief is lucky enough to be able to walk home from work. Sometimes, though, if I’m in a rush, I trot to the trolley bus stop, and ride home to save ten minutes or so. When the trolly bus arrives, the queue, without fail, disintegrates into an unseemly mosh in which people push and shove their way toward the bus door with the kind of desperate aggression one might expect at a UN refugee camp when the oatmeal truck arrives.

The Parallax Brief finds it all a pretty depressing, but it is pretty representitive of the hard, rude nature of Moscow’s Streets

But I digress. My route home travels along a three lane road, the right hand lane of which is always blocked by diagonally parked cars. Not that this matters, because trolley buses travel along the middle lane, where the electric lines which power them are located.

But last night, my trolley bus was stopped four times (for at least five minutes each time), because some smart, considerate folk had decided that rather than taking the time to find a proper parking space, or parking further away from their destination and walking, they would just park in the middle lane and flick on the hazard lights. Double park, that is. Blocking an entire lane of traffic. In rush hour. Causing a traffic jam. And a log jam of four trolley busses that could not pass until they moved.

Quite apart from the brazen disregard of traffic laws, there is a pernicious undercurrent to the actions of these drivers: They are so self-important that they see small improvements in their convenience as outweighing massive inconveniences for (literally, in this case) hundreds of other people. Everyone of these selfish bastards cocks an unspoken “fuck you, Moscow” every time they park.

But the conclusions about Russia and Russians you might draw from the shoving at the bus door and the double parking would be completely wrong. That’s because nowhere – ever – have I been treated so kindly and graciously, or been the beneficiary of such warm hospitality as in Russia. Really, Russians offer those they invite into their homes the kind of old fashioned hospitality that is chicken soup to my soul: nothing is too much, and if you’re a friend of a friend or friend of the family, you are treated like you are the family.

What happens when they walk out their front door in the morning, I have no idea.

Filed under: Russia, , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. Luna says:

    OH, Mr. PB, how I agree! Although . . . have you have boarded a plane with Italians? Tried to get on a bus in Germany? (Their urgency in pushing and shoving always seems to be at the getting on point. Everyone is always more than civil and kind at the getting off point.) We Anglos (US/UK)are the only ones, I’ve ever found, to queue (spelling?) properly and have that sense of “personal space” (except for the geriatric New Yorkers who move to Florida who will ram a shopping cart up your a*se in the supermarket).

    I still have no idea why Russian hospitality is so incongruous with Russian street manners. Thank god they’ve got the hospitality part down… 🙂

  2. parallaxbrief says:

    And my they have got the hospitality part down. Russian hospitality is boundless.

    Perhaps it’s we English who are a bit weird with the street etiquette? I mean, does any other nation on earth queue for the bus?

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