Richard Russian-Heart: A modern Brit looks at Moscow

He is Richard Van Poortvliet, 27, an RT sports reporter for a number of years. (RT, is Russia's 24-hour TV news channel broadcasting in English to audiences throughout the world.)
Richard met me in central Moscow a day before one of the season's most critical soccer matches, between Russia and Germany. He was already anticipating how to handle it: the preparations were set to start right after our walk. The whole of Moscow was getting worked up: you could see cars with Russian flags cruising around, and it was next to impossible to get a seat in a sports bar with a view of the screen. A ticket to the Luzhniki stadium, the match venue, could cost as much as 70,000 rubles ($2,300), but they sold out well in advance.

The sports complex, Luzhniki, that sits against the backdrop of the scenic Sparrow Hills (Vorobyovy Gory) is Richard's favorite spot in Moscow. He often visit to cover various athletic events and to roller-blade or cycle with his family at weekends. He's also fond of boat rides.

"I do like the area. It's green, clean, and there are few cars. It's not noisy either. And while you are on board the boat, the main advantage is that you can stop caring about things. No one can reach you. If your mobile rings and someone says, "Come at once, you are urgently needed!" you'd just reply, "No way. I'm in the middle of a river."

Richard is a sturdy, dark-haired young man that might be mistaken for a Caucasian ("Do the police check his ID, I wonder?"). He hails from Stratton Strawless, a village not far from Norwich in England. Richard explains, "It's 15 kilometers away from civilization and 200-300 meters to the nearest bus-stop. Its population is about 1,000." He describes his village as a kolkhoz (good Russian training, boy!): "A lot of space, clean air, a farm and some pets...''

During our conversation I found out that Richard has one habit acquired in England. He loves reading newspapers. Especially at home on Saturdays lying on the sofa. In London it was The Guardian, and here in Russia The Sport-Express.

Since he was 12 Richard knew he wanted to become a sports journalist. When Richard grew up and left home he chose to go to the University College of London, specifically the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies. He says the reason behind his choice was that the journalism department was not recommended and those choosing journalism as their profession are often told to specialize in another subject. Richard decided to learn Russian. First he was uncertain whether to choose Russian, Arabic or Chinese. The processes involved in that choice are very interesting as Richard explains:

"Arabs generally do not drink. In Saudi Arabia, let's say, alcoholic beverages are strictly prohibited. As for me, sometimes I like having a drink with my friends"

I asked why he didn't go for Chinese?

"I went to the Olympics last year. And I thought - thank God I haven't chosen to study the language. Going to China is like going to Mars. It's like another planet.

"Doesn't Russia look a different planet to you?" I asked.

"No, it is between East and West. And it is very much like Europe. Every year it is becoming more and more like it."

Richard found London huge. Fortunately, he had a chance to get used to Moscow gradually. He first came to the old city of Kazan as an exchange student when he was in his first year at university.

After Kazan Richard returned to London. He completed his second year at university, then he headed to Moscow to do his summer practice. After the third year he went to the city of Petrozavodsk in Karelia, where he studied for three months to improve his Russian.

When he was in his fourth year he took study leave and went to St. Petersburg, for a year. He rented an apartment at Moskovsky Avenue and worked as a journalist.

"I remember how they tortured us in the second year at university making us read Pushkin, big pieces, some 20 pages from the "Bronze Horseman". It's very hard for those who do not know Russian very well, as there are a lot of obsolete words there. So, once I came to St. Pete and saw the Bronze Horseman monument, it reminded me of that time. I still find this monument special. None of Moscow's other monuments impressed me as much".

When Richard graduated from university, he decided to move to Russia, although he was not sure what he was going to do there. In the beginning he taught English to private students and was looking for a job. Today he is a sports reporter and presenter.

Then I find out that Richard is not a big fan of Russian cuisine, and most of all - of the famous pickled products, like pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut...

"Unfortunately, the Russian cuisine and I haven't found a way to get along," he sighs. "Especially with this pickled stuff. In Kazan, when I tried vodka for the first time, I was first handed a shot glass and then a pickled cucumber to follow. I was so ill - not because of vodka, but because of that chaser."

"What about living conditions?"

Richard tells me that he's bought a flat. Masha has taken the remodeling issues off his shoulders since she is an interior designer by profession. But he pays all the bills. Richard thinks that everything has gone up in price. It's hard to compare the situation with Great Britain, because when he rented a flat in London, the landlord took care of the bills. Here though he pays 4,500 rubles per month - and that's not including the electricity and communal bills...

"I have no idea how pensioners pay for all this," he says.

I ask if he misses England.

"No, because my life is here. My family and many friends who I studied with, have also come to Moscow.

Richard goes to England at his own expense once every 18 months and more often on business trips. He socializes with the British mainly at work. His best friends are an American guy and a British girl. But they also know Russian.

"What do you think about the fact that many Russians now move to Britain? Your capital even has a nickname - Londongrad."

"Yes, many wonder why I came here to live if I have a British passport. They say I'm nuts. But - each to his own. I don't like to follow the crowd. I want to do what I want to do. As for many Russians in London - well, it's nice, actually. But I've noticed one peculiarity: when you go to London with Russian guys, they keep looking at the calendar, at their watch - they count the days to get back to Russia. But Russian girls, on the contrary, want to stay there. And many of my female friends have indeed moved to London."

At home, Richard and Masha speak Russian and watch Russian programs on TV, like a very popular comedy show about migrant workers «Nasha Russia (Our Russia)». But on the Internet, he visits mainly English websites.

Richard and Masha's son Nikita is the main reason why his dad chose to come to Russia. He understands English, but doesn't speak it just yet.

"We are now looking at different sports clubs for him. I want him to get into a typically Russian sport - hockey" says Richard. But Masha prefers gymnastics.

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