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As a British immigrant I can see first-hand the levels of corruption in Britain and Russia

By Michael Oliver-Semenov
11 April 2013

I am able to compare the two, and my conclusion is that there doesn’t seem to be any difference.

I am now an English teacher. It didn’t take long. When I wrote the last blog I was unemployed, after teaching one lesson at a school in the district of Yastynskaya that didn’t invite me back. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

Zdrastootee? Drastootee or drastoytee? That is the question! Every time I meet my mother-in-law at least. 

It’s the polite form of privet (hi) and should always be said when one comes into contact with an older member of the family, someone you have just met, or someone of clear superiority in the pecking order; that’s what I’m told anyway.

Only I don’t know how to say it right. After two years of travelling back and fore, and five Russian visas, I still don’t know if I’m addressing people correctly. 

I have of course asked my wife, but she says I can say it all three ways and more, there simply is no correct way. 

This is often on my mind, especially when I visit my mother-in-law, which I did just a few nights ago after my first day in work (she invited me over to celebrate). I say first day, what I mean is my first day with a company that wants to keep me on full-time.

I am now an English teacher. It didn’t take long. When I wrote the last blog I was unemployed, after teaching one lesson at a school in the district of Yastynskaya that didn’t invite me back. Since then I have not only been given full-time employment, but the school in Yastynskaya has been back in touch (this morning), meaning I will now have to juggle my time between the two schools.

Although I was without a job until this week, it has very much been a working year since January 1stI knew it would be, as I began the year at my wife’s office. She is an IT engineer and occasionally has to work night shifts. In December she drew the short straw and had to work New Year’s Eve. 

As I’m trying my best to be a good husband I decided to spend the night with her at her office, along with one of her colleagues. It was a strange night. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov the welshman of Krasnoyarsk

One of the questions I asked my oldest students was whether they saw Russia as being more corrupt than the rest of the world. This is a pertinent question as Russia is often portrayed in the western media as being the world capital of bent politicians and assassins. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

My wife’s job is to sit in a room full of computers and servers: metal screens and walls with blinky lights. 

Her role mainly involves watching the lights flash. If some of them go red it means the internet is broken. She then has to call someone and talk in internet-speak to make the lights green again. When the clock struck 12 and the year changed, with all those computers, the factories outside billowing smoke into the night, the explosions of fireworks in the distance, and Putin on the telly with the national anthem, it felt as though I was stuck in some kind of time warp where the Soviet Union had never dissolved. 

After that I had to work on my book. I had a March 1st deadline and was 70,000 words short of a finished product. The Soviet New Year experience was so enriching and at the same time frightening, that I gave it its own chapter. 

Now the book is with the publisher being sliced to ribbons by edit-elves and I find I have not one but two teaching jobs. Not a bad year so far. One of the benefits of working in a language school is that I get to talk all day and ask questions. I have made a point of asking political questions and engaging my students in political debate, something I was cautioned not to do openly on the street. 

During the research for my book I read that 1 in 5 people who disappear in Russia are journalists. I can’t verify this but still, I don’t want to be one of them so I normally refrain from engaging people in any serious conversation. However, now I can talk about politics all day inside the safety of a classroom, and the best part is, I get paid for it.

One of the questions I asked my oldest students was whether they saw Russia as being more corrupt than the rest of the world. This is a pertinent question as Russia is often portrayed in the western media as being the world capital of bent politicians and assassins (not at all helped by the recent mysterious death of one Mr Berezovsky). 

The results of my questioning were worse than I could have imagined. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov the welshman of Krasnoyarsk

As a British immigrant I have the benefit if seeing first-hand the levels of corruption in both Britain and Russia, and am able to compare the two. My conclusion is that there doesn’t seem to be any difference. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

Most of my students were able to tell me recent stories of corruption personal to them, and almost all of them felt a sense of political apathy, to a point that, at least half of them are learning English to move away. One is even leaving in 3 weeks. 

However this has to be put into context. 

As a British immigrant I have the benefit if seeing first-hand the levels of corruption in both Britain and Russia, and am able to compare the two. 

My conclusion is that there doesn’t seem to be any difference. 

While I am 3600 miles away from my family in Wales, I have taken to talking to my sisters on Skype. 

In the past week my youngest sister has been given notice from a teaching job that she loves (because the school has to cut back on teachers due to government cuts), my other sister is facing further escalated rent , and as for my oldest sister, nobody knows what she is up to as she’s usually too blue to talk. 

Meanwhile my increasingly disabled mother is being tested by the government who are keen to send her out to work, while they give £100,000 tax cuts to the rich and plan to spend ONE HUNDRED BILLION POUNDS on the latest nuclear warheads. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov the welshman of Krasnoyarsk

As I’m trying my best to be a good husband I decided to spend the night with her at her office, along with one of her colleagues. It was a strange night. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

Last time I visited my mum, back in November, she couldn’t get out of bed to see me, and was bedridden for a whole week; she even had to call an ambulance out twice while I was there, because her chronic back pain was getting the better of her (she has arthritis of the spine which is in part caused by a work related accident 10 years ago when she had TWO jobs (while raising 4 children)). 

By comparison my life is looking rosy and sweet. The snow is melting and the sun has taken to brightening up our days. Pretty soon, the babushka from the 1st floor flat in the building opposite from ours will be out in the street again. 

Every spring she takes a shovel and slowly but surely cultivates a little garden in between the two giant and very ugly grey apartment blocks. 

Her efforts perfectly encapsulate the point I am trying to make. The grass is never greener on the other side, but it will grow in the most unlikely of places if you are determined to see it happen (and you always say zdrastootee to your mother-in-law).

Michael Oliver-Semenov the welshman of Krasnoyarsk


Michael Oliver-Semenov is a professional poet and writer from Wales - the small but stoic country parked next to England.

After serving as the first poet in residence for Blown, the British magazine for cultural intelligence, Michael emigrated to Krasnoyarsk, Siberia to live with his wife and translator Anastasia Semenova.

When he is not growing vegetables at their family dacha in summer, or avoiding the wild Siberian hounds of winter, Michael is a freelance English teacher, editor and contributor to The Siberian Times.

His forthcoming expose on Siberian life ‘Sunbathing in Siberia:'A marriage of east and west in Post-Soviet Russia’ is due for release in spring 2014 and will be available online and in all book stores worth anything.

Comments (4)

another outstanding and interesting read . i am enjoying these blogs and life in Russia is so different to how i would have perceived it.
Amanda Davies, Neath , South WALES
12/04/2013 01:05
12
0
Good question Regina, simple answer: Russian immigration policy is friendlier than UK policy, costs much less, and either my wife had to move, or I did. Somebody had to sacrifice something....... it made more sense for me to move to Russia. Plus: there are no Alenka bars or authentic shashliks in my home country!
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
13/04/2013 00:11
11
0
Hi Michael,



Firstly a great read and informative.



My wife is from the same region, we are thinking of moving over just wondering if you know is there jobs in IT for English speakers in Krasnoyarsk?



Any information would be great.



Kind regards,



James Murray
James MUrray, Ireland
21/07/2015 15:35
0
1
but then if the grass is no greener why to leave Wales Michael and move to Siberia?
Regina, Siberia
12/04/2013 22:56
0
3
1

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