John Mark Fitzpatrick: 'For me, living in Moscow is easy and convenient.' Source: Zarina Kodzaeva / Afisha
On arriving for the first time
I arrived in Moscow more than seven years ago. I studied Russian in school and at university. It was 2006, when the economy was still in good shape, and I was thinking of getting a position at a bank, but instead I got into the advertising business. I met an Englishman, a top manager in an international advertising agency in Moscow, and he hired me.
At first it was difficult. I was 24, I had just graduated, and I immediately moved to another country. My salary at first was 20,000 rubles, 10,000 of which went to my rent, but I was able to get by on the rest. However, I quickly progressed in the company and received a promotion. At first I thought I’d just be here for two years, but then I realized that I’d come to like it here and decided to stay. In 2011, together with our partners, we opened Slava, our own advertising agency.
My first impression of Moscow was how reserved people were and how stern the looks on their faces were. Me, I’m an extrovert, and I like to communicate – but here I felt awkward. At first everyone was very restrained. It’s true, though, for the first few months I couldn’t speak a lick of Russian, but once I started more or less to speak fluently, everything changed. Now I have a lot of Russian friends, almost all of my colleagues are Russian, and so is my girlfriend. I have a circle of English friends here, too, and sometimes we meet up and remember what it’s like to be English. But I wouldn’t call us patriots, because we don’t believe that England is the best country in the world.
On time and distance
If you and your friend live in London, but at opposite ends of the city, you will never see each other. No one wants to travel that far. In Moscow, all you’ve got to do is just call them up and meet somewhere in the middle. In London, no one will ever call their friends at 1 a.m. to meet up, but here it’s normal. Moscow is more carefree. Here, I think, people are more oblivious to these sorts of things.
For me, living in Moscow is easy and convenient – everything is always open, including shops and restaurants, and you can find any film playing at the cinema. In England, pubs close at 11 p.m., but here they work until midnight, and then the bar staff go for a drink somewhere else. Of course, some minor things do irritate me, like when a taxi or a store doesn’t have change. It's a shame, especially if I want to buy something.
The mail is annoying here. My friends from abroad send me letters or postcards, and they come six months later. My brother jokes that he sent me a postcard, but, apparently, the Russian mail goat that delivers the mail broke its leg somewhere in the mountains.
On going out
The rudeness of people on the streets doesn’t bother me – it’s rather amusing, on the contrary. What does annoy me, however, is when a waiter is rude. One day I went for breakfast at the Chocolate Shop and ordered oatmeal with raisins, and I found a small raisin-sized pebble in it. I called the waitress and showed her the stone, to which she replied, “I didn’t put it there!” To me, that was a shocking reaction: I didn’t care who put the stone in there, I just wanted them to at least apologize or give me the porridge on the house. I didn’t react this way just because I'm English but because I work in the service industry. It’s a serious business.
Moscow is great also because there is always something new opening up. It’s cool, for example, that we opened a Shake Shack, just like in other parts of the world.
I don’t frequent the English pubs here because they aren’t authentic. In England, people who live there go there, and everyone knows each other. But here, people in these pubs come from all over the place, and they are mostly tourists. In England, smoking in pubs is banned now, but here in Moscow pubs, the smell of booze and cigarettes makes it hard to breathe.
Most of all, I love going to the movies. I watch movies in Russian and with subtitles. Some recent Russian films that have impressed me include Stalingrad and Gorko! I know that some Russian dislike the latter film, but I think it’s just because it is too accurate in its portrayal of reality.
What I love about Russians is their curiosity and that they are surprised that a foreigner can speak Russian. Even random strangers who you might strike up a conversation with start to ask: “What are you doing here?”, “What’s it like to live in England?”, “What’s it like to live in Russia?”, and “Is England part of the United States?”
What really strikes me here is how much these people like to argue. In England, people argue their position. In Russia, their secret weapon is boorishness. You might debate something with someone using evidence, but they begin to think you are attacking them, so they have to retaliate. I never learned how to be rude, although perhaps it’s a useful skill.
Working with Russians is challenging. But if it were easy, it wouldn’t be interesting. In Russia, it is very important to maintain a good, trust-based relationship with your partners. You often hear how startups in Russia fall apart because the partners begin quarreling among themselves.
Problems and misunderstandings do arise. Sometimes, for instance, people may not get my jokes. One time one of my colleagues said, “I'm going off to the washroom.” And I responded, with a completely straight face: “No, you’re not allowed.” Everyone was seriously caught off guard. It's strange: One of your jokes falls flat, but another, which has exactly the same meaning, makes people laugh.
Our office is located near Arbat, in an old mansion. Yes, the rent there is expensive, but we have to afford ourselves this luxury. In advertising, the office is one the key components of the company image.
Outdoor advertising in Moscow is like garbage. It’s the city’s visual pollution. All these banners and ads on the pavement – who even looks at them? For the most part they’re meaningless. Advertising should add something to people's lives, shock them, and make them think. I liked the S7 poster, which advertises flights from Moscow to Kiev with Pacific. I am sure they are going to have problems because of this one, but I take these things for granted here. And then, there is no reason for advertising agencies to even get involved in politics. Russia is simply not ready for this yet.
The full version was pubslished in Russian by Afisha Gorod.
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