23 April 2014

Reducing Expat Isolation in Russia

                                            Years gone by bring an isolated feeling...

Surprising how getting older increases my sense of isolation... not just from the USA but also how I feel in Russia.  My grandma commented that after she left Scotland some of her relatives and friends there became emotionally distant.  People go on with their lives, now separate from anything about you... others die.

It’s too expensive to buy a home in the USA now.  I’m ready to visit again but I’ve been asked not to fly!   My cardiologist views me as fragile as an uncooked egg!

                                            Our last difficult trip to the USA kept us away for ten years...

Our visit last visit was a mixture of great travel, and bad situations.   While traveling in California I was caught in a legal maneuver in New Jersey.  The judges were switched by the opposing party, and the new one ruled I owed $27,000... done with no accounting, a case of local corruption.  When we arrived at Glacier Park, Montana, I had heart palpitation.  Locals drove us to the American Indian Clinic.  Not being Indian they could  only give me emergency care and send me back to our motel.  An Indian woman drove us to the hospital in Great Falls.  They didn’t keep me overnight because I had no medical insurance.  This was ironic as I made most of my income as a medical insurance salesman before, but New Jersey residency requirements prohibited my having medical insurance on our return visit. 

We decided to press on to a Duke reunion in Durham NC.  As an alumnus, I hoped they would be willing to stabilize me for the return trip to Russia, where I had health coverage as a permanent non-citizen spouse.  To our chagrin, even with Larissa’s yelling and pleading, they were chary about helping me, as, again, I had no health coverage (didn’t matter that I couldn’t).

Back in St Petersburg later when older and eligible for Medicare, I enrolled... but it’s only operative within the USA. Every month Social Security deducts a little over $100 to pay for Part B   I’m at the point where I may cancel Part B, but I hate to take this irrevocable step even though it’s unlikely I’ll ever return.

                                            Russian social culture and language both tough hurdles...

People in my neighborhood don’t wave, call out to people on the street, or make jokes with strangers.  People can be so undemonstrative that for me it’s difficult to spot whether people on buses are related or strangers. After all this time I should have gotten used to this reserve, but it makes me miss the States a lot. 

I’ve only been able to talk with people casually and often when we are in our summer village.  I’ve found a direct relationship between my ability to speak Russian and my social life with the people I see everyday, Russians.  I often go months without speaking English face to face with another native speaker. 

So I am motivated every morning to study my Russian.  Verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, names all change constantly so it seems Russian is a language I will never master.  But I find when I know that my Russian is improving every day, I feel much better about living far from my natural environment!


Comments and Emails. 

Open the Comments section by clicking this post’s title at the top or the word Comment just below.  Or you can click Contact Us in the right margin to send an email.  It’s good to hear from our readers!





  1. I like reading your posts. I will be visiting Russia & St Pete for the first time next week and have a visit to the countryside lined up that seems to be in your general area. Ramlanova village or something like that.

    Russia seems to have quite a few parallels to South Korea where I lived years ago. I am surprised by this. You mentioned in posts workmen dressing nice & feet washing before bed, no shoes in the house along with drinking & smoking. Also social norms are not normally broken there easily. I am curious to see how many things match between the two but am prepared and looking forward to a totally new experience.

  2. It is exciting to anticipate a first trip to Russia! If you would like to talk on the phone or visit us when in St Petersburg, just click Contact Us on the right side of the blog and let me know your email or phone in SPb or wherever, using this method which keeps things private. Regardless, thanks for saying you enjoy the blog, and have a great time in Russia!

  3. I was having a dreadful Sunday morning today, but reading your posts changed it. It seems, finally, someone sees the country around me the same way as I see it.

    Yes, the fact that the people around are so undemonstrative makes you want to hug them and convince them that the world is not so cruel and they should smile.

    Fortunately for me, I am able to speak in English with some of my co workers and students but they always miss the jokes and the sarcasm.

    My Russian seems to bring out the elusive smile in most people (Thank God! They can smile). But I need to devote more time learning the language if I want to make friends here.

    Your post about Kopeks was hilarious, especially when the experience with the conductor on the bus. Maybe, I will try this one day.

    Finally, thank you for your posts. I am looking forward to many more.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Mark! My wife Larissa lived in the US for seven years and loves to kid people like an American. She's an exception to her reserved compatriots who seem to value privacy and subdued behavior much more than joking and laughter. Since the kopeks post people have pretty much stopped carrying and using them. Too bad, one less way I can drive the Russians crazy.


Comments, Questions, Ideas