Conversations with a cabby - Russia styley

>> Monday, 13 June 2011

Not long ago I found myself in the unusual position of being driven to the airport by an English-speaking taxi driver. Unusual, because many people here don't speak English and consequently - with my dreadful Russian - I don't get to chat to many Russians outside my normal everyday life. I can negotiate my way through standard tasks of course, but I don't get the chance to have those 'you'll never guess who I had in the back of my cab...' conversations that seem par for the course for many taxi drivers back home.

So when this guy started to chat to me, I was very interested to see where it would go. And I learned some things...

Apparently people in the West (his implied capital letter, not mine) hate the Russians. He was at a loss to explain why, but there you go, it was just the way it was... I suggested that what he saw as 'hate' was in fact total incomprehension of what makes Russians tick by those who have never visited (or indeed, by some who have), since it's impossible to understand this nation's complexities unless you pay very close attention to it's recent history and actually, not many of us do that. Which of course strengthened his impression we don't like them very much still further because, well, why wouldn't you study Russian history?

The reason that people of his (and my) generation in Russia don't speak very good English is simple, he told me. (Bearing in mind that we were having this conversation in the very language he claimed to be bad at, I begged to differ, but he - in the way of all taxi drivers, everywhere - knew better). It all comes down to the fact that when he and his peers were at school in the 1970's and 1980's, they were told by their teachers not to worry if their English grades weren't high. Or indeed, if they didn't learn it at all. Why? Well, because very soon, the rest of the world would be speaking Russian... (No, really)

All the 'bad' Russians have left Russia and now live in - you guessed it - London. The UK government welcomes all the criminals who have ripped Russia off with open arms because they bring such vast sums of money with them.

I did suggest at this point that whilst the British immigration policy may be - ahem - a little 'forgiving' for those who have money, I found it hard to be believe that ALL the 'bad' Russians had now left, for the UK or anywhere else, since day-to-day life over here would suggest that there are still plenty of baddies to go around. He didn't agree. Although our respective definitions of 'bad' may be somewhat different, based on the next point he made...

The anti-corruption drive within the Militia (the traffic police) is nonsense, he told me (I brightened up at this point, thinking that finally we might have a point we could agree upon. But no...) All the rules and regulations that meant a motorist breaking the law now has to go to the station or ultimately to court to sort it out are just wasting everybody's time. No, it's far better just to bite the bullet, and hand over your cash on the side of the road. What happens to the money after that point really isn't any of his concern.

Russian schools are going to the dogs. He was particularly concerned that his son was not getting enough homework (let me tell you, Russian school is all about rote-learning; they work those kids hard...), because he worried that his grades might not be high enough for him to join the profession he (the dad) had picked out for him. I wondered what profession that might be. Oh, the government, of course. If you want to make real money in this town, that's where you need to go...

At this point we reached the airport. And then I spent the next 30 minutes trying to explain to Boys #1 and #2 that no, England is not full of baddies with Russian/UK passports. That's only St John's Wood and Knightsbridge...

Please note: in my usual disclaimer, this post is based upon a conversation with one isolated person, is not representative of Russian attitudes as a whole and - of course - I am not in any way suggesting that there are corrupt organisations in Russia; I am reporting the views of one isolated individual...


I'm So Fancy 13 June 2011 at 09:29  

That was both insightful and quite amusing. And I'm now going to clutch my wallet a little tighter, keep an eye out, carry a whistle, as I go to Harrods. :-)

Muddling Along 13 June 2011 at 12:30  

Interesting how views are formed isn't it

Loving this insight into the Russian mindset

MsCaroline 13 June 2011 at 13:09  

Now see, you could have spoken the most fluent Russian in the world and never gained insight like that. Aren't you relieved to be raising the Boys in such a safe environment?

Very Bored in Catalunya 13 June 2011 at 20:24  

I wonder if there is a country in the world where the taxi drivers aren't over opinionated and xenophobic.

Belgravia Wife - sort of 13 June 2011 at 20:28  

Oh Knightsbridge, what are you saying !! It's all Belgrave or Chester Square. Love the disclaimer though & my last cabbie 'had' Colin Firth. Don't get me started on fancy dress monkeys at the Eiffel Tower - I'll explain all over a cocktail xx

Potty Mummy 14 June 2011 at 08:02  

Fancy, so did you see any Russian baddies in Harrods?

MAM, thanks

MsC, oh of course I most certainly am...

VBinCatalunya, I doubt it!

BW, I imagine the monkeys were all holidaying from their day jobs in downtown Moscow...

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