The kids are alright

>> Monday, 7 May 2012

It has to be said that Russians are not universally perceived as having a caring attitude.  A friend told me recently that when her father slipped on the ice and broke his hip here a few years back, the majority of passers-by simply stepped over him, assuming he was drunk.  Certainly, the Muscovite air of purpose, of ‘get out of my way’, can be overwhelming when you arrive here for the first time and are looking around you with the panicked eyes of a deer-in-headlights.

The customs officials who greet you at the border are cold, the waiters are brusque and rude, the shop assistants clearly have better things to do than attend to your needs, and anyone in an official uniform is downright intimidating if not scary.

And yet...

Arrive in Moscow with young children in tow, and the situation is completely different.  Strangers will go out of their way to offer them a seat on the crowded metro or to show your family the way to the correct office to get your immigration forms stamped.  Elderly museum attendants will – once they have overcome their innate suspicion of children not clad in snow-pants in Septbember – smile benignly and ferret around for cards giving you a translation of the legends on the wall.  And the dreaded queue systems... well.

Not long after we moved over here, my sons (then 4 and 6) and I found ourselves in the old Sheremetyevo terminal, trying to check in for a flight.  It was madness.  There were no staff on the 3 desks assigned to our flight, the crush was getting tighter and tighter, and the minutes were ticking away until the plane was due to leave.  Then, when only 2 check-in staff arrived for the 3 desks, whatever space there had been between aspiring passengers disappeared as the mass of people surged towards the open desks.  It was not a comfortable situation. 

Suddenly, almost out of thin air, we found ourselves surrounded by an honour guard of babushkas.  They pushed and fought their way to the front of the business class queue, having formed a sort of cordon around the boys and myself, and carried us along with them.  Any foreign business-class traveller green enough not to know the score and to question their right to do this was firmly put in their place as it was pointed out that I had young children with me and that they should be ashamed of themselves for not stepping out of the way without being asked.  Needless to say, I was not travelling on a business class ticket.  Needless to say, when faced with my security detail of formidable babushkas, the woman on the check-in desk passed the three of us through without comment...

I have to admit that over the last couple of years, I’ve become accustomed to this preferential treatment when I have the boys with me.  Indeed, I now walk straight to the front of boarding queues in airports, and shamelessly seek out the diplomatic channels with the shortest lines at immigration (although the introduction of the ‘pen’ system at Domodedovo will probably make that unnecessary from now on, thank heavens).  So when recently arriving at Heathrow and dealing with a small boy desperate for the bathroom, with not a working loo in sight and immigration lines of record length I had no hesitation in walking to the woman at the entrance to the empty Fast Track lane and asking if I and my sons could use it to gain quicker access to the toilets which I knew were just on the other side.

To say that her face was a mask of horrified surprise at my request was an understatement.  Go through the Fast Track without the official right to use it?  Just because my little boy needed the bathroom?  The answer was an unequivocal no.  Instead we were sent to the back of beyond – my younger son’s legs crossed as he walked – to find a toilet that was open.  And I was left asking myself where on earth I had thought I was flying into...

It certainly wasn’t Russia.

This post was first published on my other blog 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' over at The Moscow Times Online


Irene 7 May 2012 at 15:30  

Imagine not letting a child use the toilet in a hurry because of some silly rules. Really!

nappy valley girl 8 May 2012 at 00:05  

That is typical of the UK jobsworth attitude.

In the US, they have all sorts of fierce rules, but are often quite happy to break them. I wonder how they would have reacted? We're often waiting in line for over an hour at US immigration.

MsCaroline 8 May 2012 at 03:07  

I really have always perceived Russians as being very stoic (and whatever the opposite of 'cuddly' would be.) I love the insight into what (you must admit) seems to be an otherwise pretty fierce public image. God bless the babushkas. I'm pretty sure the ajummas here in Korea would have done the same thing!

Potty Mummy 8 May 2012 at 11:25  

Irene, sadly that's how it can be back in the UK...

NVG, your words not mine (but yes!)

Ms C, and much of the time your original perception of them would not be far wrong. But then I suppose you need to think of their start point. (more of which in another post!)

manycoloured-days 8 May 2012 at 15:16  

Spot on and hats off to the Russians - this was always exactly my experience. Whenever we entered/exited the country, we were almost always taken through the VIP corridor. Same here in Ukraine (actually, when I first visited three years ago there was even a separate line at immigration for families with kids. At least at one of the terminals, not the one we arrived at this time, but we were, yet again, ushered through the diplomatic window).

Mrs. Munchkin 8 May 2012 at 17:47  

Dont even get me started on the US Immigration lines, rules, etc here in the States. Recently upon entering at JFK there was one line that zigzagged for US citizens where at the end of the line an officer would point you to one of two windows. Now the foreigners entering the country had every other line, window you could imagine. If I had my children with me and one needed to go potty, there would be absolutely no way I could skip in this line!

I will gladly hold my head high traveling to and from Russia with my children in hand and take full advantage of having them! And when they grow, I will make them walk on their knees to still remain children!

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