This is why I’m glad I’m currently in Moscow, as opposed to New York

On a completely unrelated note to Jill’s post about parents, kids & public spaces in New York City, these lines about New Yorkers stuck out at me:

You don’t chat with people in line at the grocery store; you don’t talk to strangers on the subway; you don’t interrupt or disturb other diners in restaurants. We spend so much time in public, surrounded by so many people, that even in public people feel a strong necessity to maintain hard boundaries when it comes to personal space.

See, I’ve long noticed that about NY, having been there on a few fairly long visits, and it’s something I would have a hard time getting used to. Even though Moscow’s huge, and cramped, people chat to each other in grocery stores all the time – or at least the grocery stores I frequent. People talk to one another on the metro. Public life bleeds fairly effortlessly into the private, or vice versa. Sometimes, it can be annoying, even infuriating. But after over a decade in the South, not talking to strangers as much sometimes makes me feel as though I’m trapped behind glass.

12 thoughts on “This is why I’m glad I’m currently in Moscow, as opposed to New York

  1. I think the exact same reasons you outline here are why people *do* want to live in New York, as opposed to say Moscow (myself included). After all, why would I want strangers talking to me on the subway or the grocery store?

  2. that line also jumped out at me, because I have found New York to be just the opposite. Jill’s line seemed so strange to me, because that has not been my experience of New York. In fact, when I moved here from Moscow last August, I was shocked at how friendly and chatty folks are, compared to Moscow. New Yorkers are friendly. Store clerks chat with you, folks on the subway platform ask each other how long they’ve been waiting (and don’t push you into the carriage when the train finally comes), people smile at a mom with a cute baby on the street, etc. True, in restaurants, the tables are very small and very close together, so you try not to eavesdrop too much or seem up in your dining neighbors’ business, but there are still pleasantries exchanged if you bump someone’s chair while leaving or whatever.

    In Moscow, I felt a lot of aggression from the people around me. Strangers rarely talk to one another, though I was often asked for directions on the street. I had good, friendly relationships with the Caucasian sellers at the rynok, but I have good, friendly relationships with the white and Asian sellers at the farmers market here.

    In short, I love Moscow, but I felt much more “behind glass” there than I do here.

  3. I haven’t been to Moscow yet, and I couldn’t get past how ugly&dirty New York was for long enough to even try to talk to anybody. It was just a place I passed through on my way south. And the whole time I was thinking, DO YOU AMERICANS PAY YOUR GARBAGE COLLECTORS WITH FREAKING FOOD STAMPS?!? No wonder so many people in this town go on crack and blow each other up. I’d smoke crack if I had to look at Brooklyn every freaking day, too.

    I get that feeling in parts of Toronto, though. Like the parts where people have more money than I do–like Yorkville, or the parts where people have considerably less than I have, like the Yonge Street Mission. “Touristy” places like the Ex, Mervishland and what used to be the Eaton Centre aren’t too bad. They’re always rebuilding those places, though. I don’t even know how many overpriced high-rise parking lots they’ve built on top of my favourite restaurants in the last 3 years.

    5 years ago Moscow was listed as the most expensive city in the world to live in or visit. Is it about the same now? Worse? Better? Or is there an “official” price list and an “unofficial” one, with a trick to getting deals on room&board and personal items?

  4. @Xena- those “most expensive city in the world” stats are based on what it costs a Western expat to live the exact same lifestyle he or she would live in Geneva or London. Building with a security guard, car with a driver, fancy gym, fancy grocery stores with all imported products, etc etc. Moscow IS very expensive, both for locals (whose salaries are smaller, of course) and for expats, but as a low-grade expat without a lot of money, I found it doable, and I was always mindfucked by the prices in London when I visited from Moscow. Rent is somewhat cheaper than NY (if you go through friends instead of a broker), transit is a LOT cheaper, some foodstuffs are more, some are less.

  5. You know, after a couple of years in the Middle East, and then coming home to Eastern Europe after the fact, it seems to me that it’s just way, way easier when you’re native.

    I have a ton of foreign experience behind my shoulders, I AM foreign in many ways – but in a place like Moscow (and Kiev, that goes without saying) I immediately feel like “Ok, I’m home now.” I flip a switch, involuntarily. I think I get relaxed as the result, and my body language and everything else about me says, “approach me.”

    I was stuck behind bulletproof plate glass in Amman, by contrast. I couldn’t feel at home in any way shape or form. It was exhausting. Not even trying to pick up Arabic helped.

    So I think I know what Joy means when she’s talking about the Moscow glass. I think a LOT of people feel it here, to one degree or another.

    As for how expensive it is – yes, it’s pretty expensive, but not catastrophically so, I don’t think.

    New York is expensive too of course, but once again, not catastrophically. I also think NY is very beautiful. I like Brooklyn a lot. What I remember of it.

    I think London is once again that one place where I couldn’t afford to live – no matter how badly I would want to down the line. *sigh*

  6. In my experience, Moscow and New York are pretty comparable in the level -and type- of social interaction between strangers in public. But I think this is too subjective an experience to go around making vast generalizations about. It probably depends a lot on how much you put yourself out there. If you’re not inclined to talk to strangers, you’ll probably find “strangers don’t talk to each other.” If you are inclined to make small talk, you probably think others are too. It also probably depends on your milieu too. Jill’s comment makes me wonder if the children don’t factor in too – parents being protective.

    I’ve noticed in the past decade -in y city at least- there’s a weird new dynamic with young parents and society. A certain isolationism and entitlement to their space. Now it seems young urban parents have a very suburban mentality. They want the good schools and cultural institutions that come with the city without all the inconveniences of it … like the existence of other people and vast swaths of shared space. Obviously this is not true of all urban parents at all – but there is distinct trend of this where I live. Also, America’s just in a bad mood these days.

  7. Oh the Daily Fail!

    You know, one of my aunts is a poor woman living in Ukraine. She has depression. She even gets treated for it, on the state’s dime. My perspective on all this is way, way different, I suppose.

  8. I still want to visit Moscow someday. New York didn’t impress me. Maybe it’s just because we Canucks get a little anal retentive about dirt, bad manners and greedy people that create more social problems than they can cure by being in such a hurry to get to the next red light.

    And I read the original article and the 8ooo repetetive comments about New Yorkers and Londoners and their squabbles over space for toddlers on the tube. Let’s not repeat THAT! I like where Nat’s trying to go with this conversation with strangers in strange cities thread.

    Is Stockholm everything I heard it was? It’s NUMBER ONE on my list of places to see someday. Warsaw and Amsterdam look pretty too.

    And depression is real for some, but overdiagnosed in some supply driven economies. Nat’s illnesses are for her doctor, not us, and not some British tabloid to diagnose. I’m very skeptical about on-line doctors. Always check for an MD and make sure it goes with a web page with a full bio at a leading university before you believe anything any “doctor” says about any kind of illness. Scientologists are everywhere 😉

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