“Moscow is the [most] comfortable place to live, but If you want to see the real Russia, go 50 km outside of the city,” says 48-year-old Luc Jones. He is one of those rare foreigners who witnessed how the country changed after the fall of the USSR through to today. Luc moved here from the UK in the early 1990s to study Russian. At first, he was motivated by curiosity and a desire to see the former closed state. But, the longer he lived here, the more he enjoyed the country and soon he became a big travel enthusiast, who went on to visit all 15 former Soviet states and all 85 Russian regions.
Left: At the Sibur petrochemical plant in Tobolsk, Siberia. Right: With his book called "Why Russians don't smile",Personal archive
In fact, Luc is well-known in Russia not as a traveler: for the most part of this career, he was a top manager of Antal, and later Fircroft, recruitment agencies and was often a guest at business events. He also wrote expert articles about hiring and explained how to sell yourself to an employer.
Based on his big experience, he wrote a guide for foreigners who want to find a job in Russia. His book Why Russians Don't Smile reveals how to move here and how to be a part of a Russian team.
Last summer, he decided to repeat a trip around Russia and CIS again like during his student days.
“I traveled the whole Baikal–Amur Mainline from Bratsk to Tynda by platzkart [the cheapest train ticket available - ed.] last summer. And ate ramen noodles in the carriage,” says Luc. That time, he visited Komi, Salekhard, Khakassia, Tuva and posted some videos. “They became popular and I decided to continue and make a vlog on YouTube.”
Left: Ferry on the Ob river, between Labytnangi and Salekhard. Right: Olkhon island, lake Baikal.Personal archive
“The original idea was to make videos for foreigners as international media are mostly negative about Russia,” says Luc. But now, he has many Russian fans who ask him to make videos in Russian or at least add some subs. “It turns out that a lot of Russians are interested in what foreigners think about them, which is funny, because I don’t think we Brits care what anybody thinks about us.”
On his channel called Russia! The Other Way, he shows the sometimes not so obvious places to enjoy as a tourist. What to do in Kirov, Penza, Izhevsk? He finds tourist values everywhere. “When I go somewhere, I ask locals to show me the city or I meet my former colleagues and friends who live there,” he says.
Luc in 1993 in Moscow and Volgograd.Personal archive
“Tourism in the 1990s was a nightmare,” Luc recalls. These days, most Russian cities have international hotels with high levels of service, lots of restaurants everywhere and you can order tickets and hotels online, so traveling has become much more convenient. “I studied Russian in Yaroslavl and [went] back there many times. In the 1990s, there was nothing to do, but now everything is different. There are good hotels, stores and cafes. For me, this is the real Russia, when the city architecture combines the ancient, the Soviet and new styles.”
As he says, traveling is still his main hobby. “I usually joke that I don’t grow potatoes on a dacha and don’t beat carpets on a weekend. But there’s a group of foreigners with whom I go to a banya sometimes.”
Left: The ancient capital of Siberia Tobolsk. Right: The monument to the BAM worker in Tynda.Personal archive
Life here is easier if you know Russian, especially in the regions, Luc says. And Russian language doesn’t seem very difficult to him, except for some letters like “ы” and the 108 or so word endings. He also speaks very good Spanish (which he learned at school), French (his mother is from Canada) and Polish: When the 1998 economic crisis hit Russia, he left for Poland and returned in 2002. “Moscow has all the conveniences of any other big city and you can fly anywhere from there. Also, competition is very low in Russia and it’s easy to win in business,” he says. “Sometimes, Russians tell me they want to work in Europe and I always answer: ‘Check the taxes, you’ll give away half of your salary!’”
On the other hand, foreigners who come to Russia, also sometimes have communication problems: “I think the biggest mistake is to think that Russians have the same character as foreigners have and they should act like them,” he explains. “Russians are more spontaneous, our lives are based on logic and pragmatism, while Russians are more emotional and they usually don’t plan anything, because they survived many turbulent periods and planning in the past was pointless.”
Nevertheless, one of the main things Luc really appreciates about Russians is they do many things from the soul - ot dushi, as he says. “Western people do something for someone because this person helped them in the past or they hope that it will be in the future, but Russians don’t expect that the help will return. And I feel like I started to be like that, too. Not much, but still...” Luc concludes with a smile.
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