A Life Less Ordinary

>> Monday, 2 April 2012

So as Spring sets in (finally! Hurrah!) we’re reaching that time of year again in expat-family-land; the time when friends on rotation announce matter of factly that their 2/3/4 year contract in Russia is coming to an end and that when the end of the school year arrives, they will be packing their bags and braving the journey around MKAD (the Moscow equivalent to the M25) to the airport for the last time.

Some of them are delighted to be sharing this news; they feel that they can’t shake the dust of this city from their shoes soon enough. The long winters, the traffic, the bureaucracy, the language, the traffic, the expense, the long winters, the traffic; it’s all too much and they can’t wait to move somewhere more comfortable / warmer / more user-friendly / just more like home. Or, indeed, to move Home.

I’m pleased that these people are getting what they want, but a little sorry they didn’t enjoy their time here more. They may have made the best of it that they could, but these unwilling residents rarely open themselves up to all that the city has to offer, preferring instead to stay within their safety zone and limit their exposure to the lows of Moscow living as much as possible. Problem is, if you limit your exposure to the lows, you’re unlikely to get the chance to feel the highs, either.

For other expats on rotation however, leaving Russia is a wrench. This country can get under your skin in a surprisingly short amount of time. Mundane tasks like buying your travel ticket take on an added dimension when you’re doing it in the glamorously dingy (yes, a contradiction in terms I know, but somehow it works) Moscow Metro. Trudging through the underpass from one side of Tverskaya to the other, past the tiny underground kiosks selling everything from stockings to cigarette lighters, from fur hats to chocolate bars – all within a 100 meter stretch - should be a chore but only serves to remind them that, wow; they’re in Moscow. Wrapping up properly against the minus 15degC chill in the winter somehow seems – to them - much more bearable than rushing out into a +2degC morning back home wearing only a raincoat. Even battling the rush hour here can seem more of an adventure than it does elsewhere.

Life may not be comfortable as an expat in Moscow – especially when you first arrive – but it’s certainly an adventure, and before they know it, many expats have become a person living ‘a life less ordinary’ – or at least, a life less ordinary than the one they left back home – and that can be addictive.

I freely admit to falling into the latter camp and know that when my time comes to move on from here, as it will eventually, I also will be left with a sense of unfinished business and a sense of nostalgia for the rush that living in this city can give you. So saying goodbye to friends is bittersweet; I hate to see them go, but at the same time it’s a useful reminder to make the most of the opportunities here before we, too, have to return to a life more ordinary...

This post first appeared on my other blog, 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' at The Moscow Times Online.


nuttycow 2 April 2012 at 11:12  

I think no matter where you are, people fall into those two categories. Those who want to make the most of their new situation and those who... don't.

I'm with you on the whole enjoy what you've got thing.

Pippa W 2 April 2012 at 13:40  

Oh I agree with Nuttycow! It makes me wonder though I love reading what you have to say about the place and can't help but wish I'd be more adventurous if I ever got the chance!

Expat mum 2 April 2012 at 17:10  

That reminds me to recommend a new book to you. It's called "Expat Life Slice by Slice" by a friend of mine, Apple Gidley. Talk about making the most of expat life. She began her serial expatness at the age of one month and has lived in 12 countries, and moved 26 times. Her stories are amazing and she writes really well too.

Iota 4 April 2012 at 20:28  

It's a strange mix, isn't it? You want to be at home, and being at home involves relaxing and not having to try too hard all the time. But you also want to make the most of the adventure.

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