What Does It Mean To Be a Muscovite?

Guardian has done an amazing Guardian Moscow project this week! The well-respected media outlet decided to research all aspects of being a Muscovite. Being one, I do support and want to join the project with my opinions on the topic. Let’s dive in.

Who Is A Muscovite?

Let’s just make it clear. I am a Muscovite. I was born in Moscow and my parents were born in Moscow. So, I am a true Muscovite or “Moskvichka” as we say in Russian. No doubt here. But there are 12 (14? 16?) Mln of people living in Moscow. How many of them could be called Muscovites and what are the criteria?

I was happy to see that Guardian started with that definition. And I liked their approach. They asked people to define, who could be called Muscovites. Does one have to be born here to hold that title? Or does one have to live in Moscow for a certain number of years to be called a Muscovite?

Lenin lives next door book cover

Lenin lives next door, by Jennifer Eremeeva

Most people think they become Muscovites the minute they move here. But do they really? Do you become a New Yorker as soon as you move to the Big Apple? My wonderful friend Jennifer Eremeeva, who is living in Moscow for 20+ years, has a Russian family and who knows more about Russia, than I do, since she studied Russian history in Columbia and wrote two books on the subject – about her experience here and about the Russian history still does not think she is a Muscovite. Jennifer, you are more a Muscovite, than 90% of people, who live here! You even speak perfect Russian!

Btw – do you know how to distinguish a Muscovite from a person from  the other city? It is pretty easy. Ask me to pronounce Milk – Moloko in Russian. I will say Malako. I will reduce “O” to “A” in many other words too. If you speak Russian fluently – ask me how I call the living room at my apartment. I will tell you – it is “Bolshaya komnata” (a Big Room). It will never be a “Zala or Zal”. Ask me whether I ever  spent a New Year’s Eve at the Red Square – my answer will be NO. The same way New Yorkers do not go to the Times Square on the New Year’s Eve. Ask me if I have a dacha – a true Muscovite will have one.

What Is It Like To Be a Muscovite For Me?

I love and hate Moscow at the same time. If you ask me now, in the sunny month of June – I do love the city. What is there not to be loved – great weather, gorgeous parks, hottest night life, lots of dining options, dozens of competing cultural events every day! But ask me the same question again in November – the answer might be different.

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Most foreigners think that it is really cold in Moscow. It does get cold, but all the buildings and cars and public transport are well heated, so cold is not the issue for us. And not because “we are used to cold” as most foreigners think, but because it is not the cold weather, it is the lack of sun in winter months, that makes us unhappy.

However, the biggest problem of Moscow as we, Muscovites think, is that Moscow has become a city, where everybody living in the country wants to move. As was said in one famous Russian movie – “Moscow is not made of rubber”. Too many people create chaos for the transport system, that leads traffic jams, air and water pollution and also deprives a city of its identity. Moscow has become a Big Village instead of an intellectual capital. As a Muscovite I wish other cities develop too, so that we have several hub cities in the country, instead of having one or two (the second one would be St’Petersburg of course).

What Is Moscow’s Identity?

Moscow metro during rush hour

Moscow metro during rush hour

Moscow used to be the center of intellectual life of the country. And it probably still is – the Moscow State University is still located here, a lot of Muscovites still like to read. And we are proud to have so many theaters and museums in our city. But living in Moscow is stressful and commuting takes so much time daily, that most people only wish they went to theaters and art exhibitions at least once in a quarter. In reality, most people spend their life working and even if they have some free time, they often do not have energy to attend cultural events.

Moscow is also an expensive city to live in. For several years it was among top most expensive cities in the world. Now, after the collapse of our currency last year, living in Moscow became cheaper comparing to living in London, Paris and other cities. But it only became cheaper if your salary is in hard currency, which is not the case for 99% of local people. Moscow did become cheaper to visit, but more expensive for locals.

As Guardian Moscow mentioned – 85% of Muscovites are now living in the city suburbs, which are called “the sleeping districts”, and most of the historic center is demolished either during WWII or in the last 20 years. So, the majority of  Muscovites are surrounded by a really boring visual landscape.

Typical view from a home of a Muscovite

Typical view from a home of a Muscovite (actually, a view from my place in Winter)

I read and watched all the materials that Guardian posted – it is a truly 360 view of my city. And an unbiased view I would say. Guardian talked to people of different social status and occupation and really tried to understand what it means to live in Moscow for different social, ethnic and income groups and how the city performs for them.

It was very interesting to see that the overall feedback was quite positive from all the groups. As Chris Michael said in his interview – “Russia’s capital has begun a “liveable city transformation”. Let’s explore, what are the most notable changes, both positive and negative.

Is Moscow Becoming A Liveable City?

  • The biggest positive change, which happened in the last several years – more and better public spaces. Public spaces is a new topic for Moscow, this definition emerged just several years ago and Jan Gehl and his team did contribute a lot to that. Better public spaces mean more friendly parks, more bike lanes,more opportunities for the outdoor fitness, more time people spend outdoors and enjoy that

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  • Parks are especially worth mentioning.  The city seemed to master the science of turning ill-kept, unsafe and boring parks into the centers of recreation.  Just cleaning the parks and planting flowers is not enough to make the park popular. Adding free wifi and smooth roads for rollerblading attracts crowds of young people. Having many people in the park at all times attracts businesses, that want to sell food and entertain park visitors. Free sport equipment attracts even more people. And people mean safety, so moms with kids now also like to spend time in the parks. All that is best described by Jane Jacobs in one of the chapters of her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. I am happy to see that Moscow is using best practices. That movement still has to develop in suburbs though. Outside of the center there is still a lack of gyms, swimming pools and good parks.
  • City responds to the lifestyle of people – it has become a 24/7 place, where one can find food, do a manicure or buy a refrigerator late at night. IKEA in Moscow is open until 2 am in the morning. That is both a bit crazy and very convenient. And there are other things that add to convenience and that we, Muscovites, take for granted – such as clearing the sky on major holidays so that we could enjoy fireworks
  • A very good initiative is a paid parking in the center. People who live in other big cities will be surprised, but even several years ago parking in Moscow was free and not regulated. One could basically park anywhere and people did park their cars on pedestrian sidewalks etc. Now all that is gone, and traffic in the center got better. Also – now it always possible to find a parking space.
  • Muscovites seem to have a more control over the city now. Active Citizen app allows to vote for the good initiatives and ban the bad ones. Various apps allow to reach the city officials when there are housekeeping problems. Does that work? My personal opinion is that it works at the beta level. I am a member of the Active Citizen community and I participate in their opinion polls. Last week’s poll asked me whether I want to have mini Zoos established in my neighborhood or I think that touching animals is making them stressed. I said, yes, I do think that. And thought – is that the most pressing issue in my city now? To me personally, I could’ve named a dozen more important topics – starting from why tourists, arriving to Moscow airports are attacked by shady taxi drivers instead of having an official city taxi service. And to planning to build a huge monument at the hill near my University (the monuments is not relevant to the University, is ugly, huge and may even cause a landslide in the area)
  • Taxi_woman_NYAs a lot of Muscovites I think that the migrants is one the most pressing issue of Moscow. I have nothing against migrants, in fact I vote for more diversity and skilled workers. But that program was not managed well. Thousands of people were moved from nearby countries (former USSR Republics) to work in Moscow. Most of them did move with an intention to work and started with a great enthusiasm. And I have seen the benefits of that in my neighborhood – for several Winters there was no snow on pavements and roads around my apartment building – it was all cleaned before I even walk up! But moving all these people was not thought through. A lot of them did not speak Russian and had trouble to integrate, many received below minimal payment, none had any cultural integration training. That made life really difficult for them and for us, inhabitants of Moscow. For example  – many migrants started the unofficial taxi business. That did not go well. You are trying to catch a cab and an unknown, shabby looking car, which does not have a taxi sign stops near you. A driver asks in a poor Russian – “Will you show me the way?” That kind of business is not good for both the city and the citizens.
  • Another huge issue for me as  Muscovite is a “New Moscow”. My government did not ask me and just decided that a huge area outside of Moscow is now part of the city. That idea was initially sugarcoated with the idea to move Moscow government there (Moscow officials do not take public transport, for the top bosses streets are usually blocked for their daily commute). Moving them outside the city was a good idea, but no Muscovites believed that will happen from a very beginning. And we were right – Moscow government decided not to move from the city center, but for some reason we, Muscovites are now paying our taxes to expand the city limits. I do not find the idea of New Moscow cool.

The Topic That Surprised Me Most in Guardian Project

From all the topics – it was a conversation about a role of a woman in Moscow and the expectations for a woman in Moscow.I found quite amazing that Guardian has picked on that topic. For me that means that they did a really thorough research.

It is not easy to be a male Muscovite – you are expected to be intellectual, educated, successful at work and affluent. Guess what?! If you are a female Muscovite – you have to be all the above AND also be pretty. And I do not mean to be pretty smart or pretty funny, I mean pretty gorgeous. I agree with Guardian Moscow – that is the first thing you are expected to be if you are “Moskvichka”. Be beautiful, well groomed, wear heels and make up all the time. In your spare time you can start successful businesses, but if you fail to be pretty – you will not be considered a success. I personally find that ridiculous and really hope that will be the next change in Moscow. And then on the 8th of March, the International Women’s Day, women will hear compliments about their professional achievements and not about “how they beautify the city offices by their presence”.

I did enjoy Guardian project a lot. Great coverage! As I write in my disclaimer statement – I write about Russia, but since I live in Moscow – it is mostly a blog about day-to-day life in Moscow! I will continue doing that. What else would you like to know about Moscow, that both I and Guardian have not wrote about yet? Tell me in comments please!

Leave a Reply

  • crazyaboutukraine - 7 years ago

    Hi Tanya! :) Thanks for this good post. Moscow is a really intimidating city for me- I dream of living someday in (the slightly quieter?) Nizhniy Novgorod- but it’s fun to read about. Just like the other big capitals of the world, Moscow almost seems like a country in itself.

    I thought this post might interest you- it was written by an American woman who lived in Moscow for several years and talks about her perception of Russian women:

    By the way, I’m drooling over the coursera certificate on your About page. I want to take that class too, fun! : ) Katherine

  • Даша - 7 years ago

    ахахах, полностью согласна со всем, что ты написала
    особенно про женщин – меня всегда так бесило, что на 8 марта говорят о красоте, а не о достижениях :( Ведь именно 8 марта (по новому календарю), с марша женщин-рабочих, в 1917 году началась февральская революция! Эти девушки заслужили праздник за то, что защищали свои права, а не за то, что глаза у них голубые.

  • Beth - 6 years ago

    What about people with disability (deaf, blind and any other handicaps-how is life for them in Russia compare to other cities in the world?

  • James and John Gaines - 5 years ago

    Every American should read this blog and it would change the misunderstandings we have about Russia.

    • Tanya Golubeva - 5 years ago

      Thank you SO MUCH!!! Your warm words totally made this cold and snowy day in Moscow bright and sunny for me!

  • Anonymous - 5 years ago

    I found your article because I was reading another article and didn’t know what a Muscovite was. Not just a kind of rock I guess! Great read thanks for it.

  • Aaron Miller - 5 years ago

    Thanks for the informative article Moskvichka!

  • English_For_You (Shirley Marie Bradby) - 5 years ago

    Thank you for this well-written article that shares so much information and knowledge about Russia — and what it means to be a Muscovite — in particular!

    As a freelance ESL Teacher who teaches English via Skype I have had the pleasure and the honor of teaching many Russian students English online over the years! I have also featured Russian students in my English_For_You Web magazine (WordPress) which you might like to take a look at when you have a moment.

    Many of them have been living and working in Moscow but were not born there…so when I get a student who was actually born and raised in Moscow — it is a double honor! :)) i

    In any case, I really enjoyed reading your wonderful article! Thank you! Keep up the good work!

    • Tanya Golubeva - 5 years ago

      Thank you very much Shirley Marie,
      I will give your contacts to a friend, who was recently looking for English lessons via Skype!


  • Nicholas R Wothe - 1 year ago

    Thank you for the history lesson!!!!! the Allfather’s number one mission was to aquire knowledge! I wondered who all was on a tafl board, now I’m sure! The Rus clan are old brothers to me and i hold all Rus in high respect. My last name is Wothe. It used to be Voth back a thousand years ago and my name was a word… it meant bad temper or berserker. I traced it to Denmark, a dark dane klan that was widely known as ulfhednar. thanks again!!! and safe travels, Brudrminn.