12 June 2010

Self-employed Russians Nearly Invisible!

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 Typical drill rig for water source installatio...

How an American gets  information to drill a well.

1.  Checks code requirements.

2.  Looks at the Yellow Pages, ads, checks Google Local, looks at  site signs, makes phone calls.

3.  Talks with drilling companies.  Visits past  worksites and asks the customers how things went.  Chats with real estate people, home inspectors, friends.


A vast difference between the American and Russian small business practices… especially outside the cities…

My ways of gathering information in America don’t work well in Russia.   Most trades people are found only by word of mouth.  Expats are surprised that few people are in the phone book.

There are no records available about who has found water and where.  Drilling regulations may not be accessible.

Russian public records is an oxymoron.  We are friendly with an   administrator in our Tverskaya district.  She believes part of her job is to protect the privacy of surveys, tax records, property transfers.  The publics’ right to know is a foreign concept.


Self-employed businesses in Russia are in terrible shape. 

Many one to three person companies are ignorant of good business practices.  Off the books and without records, they can not borrow to get equipment.  Referrals to customers are hard to get when there is no record of accomplishment.


The problems start with secretiveness…

Russians are a most secretive people.  Information often has to be gained by repeated questions.  But the more you ask, the more you can annoy people and engender suspicion.

It’s important to not make someone feel threatened.  The reaction can be out of proportion to the perceived threat.

Even in St Petersburg some stores appear closed when they are open and busy, with venetian blinds drawn, a shut black metal door , and no OPEN sign. 


Nothing is on paper…

The self-employed are often part of a grey economy.  Note 1 Nothing is written… not estimates, income and expenses, wages.    Business cards are rare.

Note 1.  Russia has a large grey economy.  It comprises people working off the books, under the table, unofficially… who don't pay taxes, and also do not have any government worker protection. 

Why no advertising?   An established business is a target for protection threats, and for officials looking to enforce regulations or collect bribes.  

A few years ago a carpenter from Ostashkov said that he saw a  drilling truck in his town.  He kept an eye out but didn’t see it again. It’s easy to drop out of sight in the provinces…just change your cell phone number.  Most trades people have no business identification on car or truck.


I hate doing business this way!

As customer, I keep records, but we have had a few angry disputes, once when a Tajik  insisted on a final amount for his crew with no substantiation.  Without papers you have no assurance of the materials quality, target date of completion, or common agreement.

There is no other game in town.  If you need your roof fixed, barn repaired, or well dug, you either go without or have to trade with unofficial enterprises.  Losha, Losha, and Cola swept a lot of money from us, and then replaced their solution with a lot of aggravation. Note 2

Note 2A WaterPacckaz…  Our story that introduces this post about the low standards and expectations in much of Russia.


“No, you can’t do that”… more likely than… “Yes, we can!”

Russian taciturnity, the Grey Economy, and little pro-active promotion makes it hard to find  the trades you need.   There may be a defensive reasons they don’t want your business. The profit motive is secondary to keeping what they’ve got.  


How to cope with Information Famine…

So, understand that it’s more trouble gathering information here than in the West, and accept it.   Whenever you can get a phone number, add it to a notebook.  The more ways to contact someone, the larger chance for communication success. 

Enjoy the lack of crass commercialism, and be patient and  fatalistic about what can be accomplished.  Russia, good and bad, is different from America.  Enjoy the contrast!


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Posted by loquacious at 5.6.10


  1. Why put up with such incompetence and suspicious behavior of everyone around you? I don't understand.Come back home to the good ole' USA. No wonder the pundits say that Russia is 50 years behind the West in almost everything. Sheesh!

  2. American Russia ObservationsThursday, August 26, 2010

    Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for commenting. This post about self-employed Russians doesn't balance the problems here with all of the good or better in Russian living.

    Russian's take more time to enjoy life, have a great culture, don't cave under problems, have food... not manufactured product,and beautiful women.

    I saw incompetence and suspicious behavior back in Jersey, so what I described certainly isn't unique to here. Hop a plain and see for yourself. Whatever your outlook, I hope you comment again.

    All good wishes,



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