Fast Food: Can Russians Afford It?

Posted on 03. Sep, 2014 by in Culture, Russian food, Russian life


When I was growing up, I had heard of McDonald’s but had never been to one. When I first returned to Russia back in 2006, I was greatly surprised at the number of fast food restaurants that could be found. You may expect to see them in a large city like Moscow – they have everything there – but to see them in smaller cities was strange.

According to Euromonitor International, “in 2012, fast food was the fastest growing channel in current value terms with Russian value foodservice.” Russia now has a rapidly-growing taste for western fast food. This means that for some Russians, disposable income is now in their possession. As I stated in an earlier blog, this is a double-edged sword because, we in the west are well aware of the dangers that fast food possesses; Russians may not be as aware yet. They likely understand that eating this type of food is not a wise choice, but they may not understand just how dangerous the food is. They may also not understand what the fast food industry has done to farming in terms of genetically modifying the food to produce higher yields.

Not too surprisingly, McDonald’s was the first fast food chain to plant itself into the fertile Russian soil back in 1990. Pushkin Square, located in central Moscow, saw huge lines filled with eager citizens. Ronald McDonald now has hundreds of establishments set up all over the country. Other fast food chains like Burger King, Domino’s, Taco Bell, Papa John’s, Carl’s Jr., and more, are all expanding as quickly as the Russian waistlines.

According to a New York Times (1) article in 2011, Russians earn less money than Americans each year, $7,236 compared with $43,529, but they have more money left over after paying expenses because they do not carry the high level of debt that many Americans do. This means that the fast food franchises can often charge more money than they otherwise would in America for the same products. The Business Insider (2) posted an article in which they stated that the average American spends $6.50 on a fast food meal and a Russian spends $8.92. A pizza with “the works” at Papa John’s costs almost $7 more in Moscow than it would in America. Ironically, according to a Moscow Times (3) article, Wendy’s is pulling out of Russia due to problems with the new management’s “lack of interest in the Russian market.”

As one that has been in America for over 10 years, I have eaten at many of the fast food franchises, but I do not really enjoy the experience. If I do eat fast food, it is simply for convenience – as it is for many. I can see why so many Americans eat as these places. People have long and arduous commutes to work; they have families to feed after working long hours. In many cases, it is simply cheaper and more convenient to feed a family at McDonald’s than it is to buy groceries and cook dinner. Even though I would not feed my family this type of food very often, I can understand why many Americans do so. Things are not quite the same in Russia though. Though Bob Dylan poetically stated, “the times they are a changing.”

Normally when I travel abroad, the local cuisine is one of the pleasures I cannot wait to indulge in. On a recent trip to Moscow, I saw so many fast food franchises that I could have mistakingly thought I was in America. Though I do not know if this is happening yet, I could foresee the vast array of fast-food franchises growing in number to the point that they force many privately-owned restaurants out of business – in a similar manner to how Walmart has done its part in helping close small businesses in American communities. It would be a sad day when you have to search far and wide to find local Russian cuisine in Moscow. It makes me wonder what will happen in Russia as the population, which already ranks fourth in obesity in the world, grows more and more unhealthy. Would the government make the Russian people pay for their own healthcare? Russians may be willing to pay the price to eat the food but do they count the cost?



Visitors’ Impressions of Russia

Posted on 28. Aug, 2014 by in Culture

Image by Stanley Wood on

Image by Stanley Wood on

If you have visited Russia, you have probably been asked by your Russian friends or by your family back home how you liked Russia. Some of the questions might have been

Как тебе/вам Россия?

Тебе нравится в России?

Тебе понравилось в России?

I’ve come across interviews with expats living in Moscow, published by the Moscow supplement to Afisha magazine (Афиша Город).  It is quite insightful and amusing to read their opinions — what’s more, you can borrow some of the expressions they used the next time you are asked this dreaded question.

Сесилия Парк – Сеул, Республика Корея:

Помню, как на первой деловой встрече меня удивило, что вокруг никто не улыбается.[I remember being surprised at my first business meeting that no one was smiling.]

Кроме того, русским мужчинам просто нравится проявлять заботу о женщинах. [Besides, Russian men just like taking care of women.]

Мико Арутюнян – Афины, Греция:

В Россию просто всё приходит года на три позже. [literally, "It's just that everything /fads, etc./ comes to Russia about three years later /than in the West/"; meaning Russia is behind the West in what's cool.]

Тут нет уважения и к пешеходам. [There is no respect for pedestrians here, either.]

Глен Баллис:

Холодно, дорого, далеко от всех городов в Европе и мире, никто не говорит по-английски. [It's cold, expensive, far from all European and world cities, and no one speaks English.]

Теперь город полон молодых активных людей. [Now the city is full of young, active people.]

Данило Ланге – Констанц, Германия:

Россия же всё время меняется, и это во многом то, что делает жизнь здесь такой привлекательной. [At the same time, Russia's always changing, and that's largely what makes living here so appealing.]

Конечно, какие-то процессы идут здесь с трудом — здесь людям, к примеру, всё ещё очень важно иметь собственный автомобиль. [Naturally, some processes are slow to catch on here -- for example, people put priority on having their own car.]

Отчасти тем, что вы очень рано вступаете во взрослую жизнь если в Европе заканчивают университет в 25–26, то здесь как раз в те самые 21–22. Женитесь и рожаете детей вы тоже рано. [/It can be partly explained/ by the fact that you enter adulthood very early -- Europeans don't graduate college until rhey are 25 or 26, and here people do graduate at 21 or 22. You get married and have children at a young age, as well.]

Image by greg.road.trip on

Image by greg.road.trip on

 Дерк и Том Сауэры:

Люди стали лучше жить, но они стали более циничными, сосредоточились на деньгах и перестали обращать внимание на перемены в обществе. [People's lives have improved, but they have become more cynical and obsessed with money, and stopped caring about changes in society.]

В Москве можно очень многого добиться в 25–26, а в той же Англии на это потребуется на 15 лет больше. [In Moscow, you can achieve a lot by the time you are 25 or 25, while in England it would take 15 years longer.]

Я вегетарианец, а тут вегетарианцам нелегко. [I'm a vegetarian, and vegetarians have a hard time here.]

Жан-Мишель Коснюо – Париж:

В Москве же, мне кажется, люди идут в клубы веселиться, а не найти себе пару. [It seems to me that in Moscow people go to nightclubs to have fun and not to find a partner.]

А русские женщины требовательны к мужчинам. [And Russian women are demanding of men.]

Здесь же люди гордятся родиной. [Here /as compared to France/ people are pround of their country.]

Луиз Диксон – Миннеаполис, США

Получается, что тут дёшево только пить, курить и ездить на общественном транспорте. [So, it's only cheap to drink, smoke, and ride public transit here.]

Здесь же к домашним тусовкам относятся серьёзнее — это приключение на всю ночь. [People take home gettogethers much more seriously -- it's an all-night adventure.]

Does any of this sound like your own impression of Russia? What would you add?

Comma Abuse in Russian

Posted on 25. Aug, 2014 by in Russian for beginners

Image by Véronique Debord-Lazaro on

Commas raise many questions
Image by Véronique Debord-Lazaro on

We are often so concentrated on the various skills involved in the mastery of a language that punctuation tends to fall by the wayside. In the absence of any other guidance, we rely on our own language in our writing, but that may sometimes prove wrong. I would like to point out several aspects of Russian punctuation concerning commas that are different from English and, possibly, other languages. Relying on their own language, people tend to get “comma-happy” and use commas more often than needed.

It’s worth saying that Russian punctuation can get very complex with layers of rules and exceptions. Most likely. you won’t run into the harder cases right away. However, if you read Russian well, I would highly recommend the website. They have detailed guidelines for Russian punctuation, and if that does not resolve your doubts, you can search their Q & A (справка) or even submit your own question!

1. Lists

English is a language that allows for a comma before the “and” preceding the last thing in a list of 3 or more — if it clarifies the sentence. An example would be “I bought bread, butter, and cheese.” It is sometimes known as the Oxford Comma. Not so in Russian! If there is an и before the last item in a series, no comma (запятая) is needed. So, our sentence would read “Я купил(а) хлеб, масло и сыр” (or хлеба, масла и сыра if you want to emphasize the “part” aspect of it).

Note that coordinate clauses joined by и are still separated by a comma.

Дверь открылась, и в комнату вошла женщина. (The door opened, and a woman came into the room.)

2. Dependent clauses

A dependent clause (придаточное предложение) is a part of the sentence that add information to be main clause (главное предложение). In Russian, each clause normally has a subject and a predicate (“verb”), although some clauses only have one of these two elements. With few exceptions, dependent clauses are separated from the main clause by commas. Compare:

I don’t know if I can come. – Я не знаю, смогу ли прийти.

The woman that lives next door is a scientist. – Женщина, которая живёт в соседней квартире, — учёный.

We’ll go hiking when it stops raining. – Мы пойдём в поход, когда перестанет идти дождь.

Image by Walt Stoneburner on

Image by Walt Stoneburner on

3. Adverbials

Adverbials (обстоятельства) are the words that explain when, where, why, or how something happened. In English, they may be set off by a comma if they come at the beginning of the sentence — like the first two words of this sentence. Russian does not require that. I will often see stray commas in translations from English into Russian, even done by native speakers.

После работы я зашла к подруге. (After work, I stopped by my friend’s place.)

В результате эксперимента были получены ценные данные. (Valuable data was obtained in /literally, “as a result of”/ the experiment; read more about the word order of this sentence here.)

For what it’s worth, “в результате” should not ever be separated by a comma.

Note that present participles referring to the same subject should normally be set off.

Улыбаясь, актёр поднялся на сцену. (Smiling, the actor came on stage.)

Are you aware of any other case of “comma abuse” in Russian? Are there any punctuation rules you would like to see explained?