No country is perfect. Everyday I find this statement more true than ever. I miss some things about living the expat life in the USA, but I also appreciate cultural differences, so whenever I start fantasizing about how great New York was or find myself complaining about Russia, I try to step back and remind myself that there was a reason why I came back.
1. Wider personal space.
If you are in a subway right now and no one is heavily breathing down your neck, then you are most probably not in the Moscow subway. People standing 10 feet away from you while you get cash at the ATM – forget about it. American norm of personal space is wider than Russian and I miss it immensely. I want to live in an environment where everyone is respectable of each other and do not step on others toes, and despite its enormous size Moscow failed to becomes such kind of place. Yet when it comes to the space reserved for friends and acquaintances Russians are more reserved and do not let total strangers into their lives, while Americans will already be hugging and kissing you on the first day. It is harder to make friends in Russia, but make it a priority and put effort and Russians will stick with you forever.
“I am doing this tonight so if you feel like joining me later – feel free” – I loved how Americans made plans! It was quick, easy, without any obligations and there was never a sense of guilt over not being able to support your friend at a social gathering. You are usually informed about what is going on and are free to determine how to act. I am not sure if genuine friendship can be formed that way as such approach lacks responsibility and commitment, but it was somewhat liberating. Because life is already hard enough to allow others define what a true value of friendship stands for.
3. Nightlife, drinking, small talk and social culture.
Moscow is perfect for raising a family, New York is the city for singles. It is not really the clubs and bars that I miss most but the ease of socializing and meeting new people. I don’t know if it is the isolation from the family or the extreme individualism but people in America seem to have more energy and willingness to experience new things. Meeting new people is an experience of its own and the most accessible one in a big city. Moscow on the other hand is a very patriarchal and family oriented city so people, imbued with family comfort, are rarely passionate about anything, be it bad drinking habits or creative obsessions. New York is full of crazy artist and always busy entrepreneurs who drink a lot, party a lot, network a lot, but also create wonderful things and have meaningful intellectual conversations, that inspire and evoke strong emotions. It is hard to beat New York social scene.
4. Total indifference to one’s outside appearance.
It is what is inside your head that counts not how you look or what you wear. The majority of Americans are so absorbed by their work or the world problems, that they have very little time for taking care of themselves. You really start looking beyond outside appearance and stop judging people based on their looks. Instead you start looking for something else, something more subtle, and yet more important, something that makes one smarter, funnier, kinder, loyal, creative and personable. Compelling personality shines through no matter what you wear and it is all that matters in the land of freedom.
5. The beach and seagulls.
I don’t care about the beach in its usual sense. I don’t like the sun and creepy guys who hit on every single girl. I am talking about different kind of beach, the one that magically transforms you after long week of hard work, the one that leaves you totally overflown by loneliness and evokes insatiable wanderlust, the one that in its essence symbolizes freedom. I miss long rides on the A line to the Rockaways beach, surrounded by cheerful crowd of surfers and families with picnic baskets, I miss sitting on the bench in the Battery Park facing the bay and reading the book, I miss the Staten Island ferry rides, that take you back in time to the immigrant shores of America. Apparently, we don’t appreciate what nature offers until we are totally deprived of it. Moscow does not have an ocean, and sometimes I feel trapped in a place with no clear way out.
It is easy to get hang up on comparing one place to another. I know Moscow is not perfect but it gave me a purpose while New York, being the awesome and inspiring city, left me stranded and lost. Ultimately the two cities taught me the best life lesson ever aka “be grateful for what you already have”
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