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The Semi-Regular Newsletter


Russia, December 8, 1997

My New Expat Job

When ya get lucky, hold onto that brass ring with both hands

The mighty S&P crew
Yeah, we're happy to work
the evolution of the S&P crew
The Summer crew
Now that I am working in a western company as an expatriate (or expat), I have a unique view on the Russian working experience. As an expat, I am treated quite different from the Russian staff, sometimes like a king, sometimes like a leper.

I am given certain graces and accommodations because the many expats before me have shaped an opinion in the Russian mind that we are here as saviors, and if we all go home the country would grind to a halt. This misconception also plays to my disadvantage. There is a bit of resentment towards the expats because we sometimes act like prima donnas and pitch a fit if we do not get what we want in a western style. I think there are quite a few expats who try to live like Americans/Europeans in Russia, which is impossible.

Overall, there are great similarities between the Russian staff and your average American staff. We all have our good days and our bad days, our workers and our slackers, but here the family plays an even more important role than in America. If there is a family need a worker will leave the job instantly, and no Russian will even question the need, while it is only the theory, not the practice, in the States.

There is a huge difference between Russian and American compensation. An average Russian outside Moscow makes about $200-500 a month in a good job, about double that in Moscow. Anything above $1500-2000 is a high level manager or businessman. While I was waiting for the Peace Corps gig to work out, I was approached by several Russians about working for them. One job, a dream job as an Assistant Director of a non-profit, sounded perfect until the salary was mentioned. Although I would be paid as much as the Director, $1500 a month just did not cover my needs.

Now I am talking about official, or at least formal, compensation. Everyone here has a side job, or jobs, and no one is ever short of cash. As it was explained to me, you are paid twice, once by the company and once by 'the envelope.' There is a lot of press about the Russian Mafia, but the title is really a misnomer. The Mafioso here are mainly all the unofficial businesses, ranging form kiosks to taxis, that are the real economy. Like the army of kids mowing lawns on any given weekend in American suburbia, they do not pay taxes (almost no one does), and they are not regulated.

Here at Price Waterhouse, I work with both expat and Russian staff. My bosses are expats and my 'teammates' are Russian. I usually talk with the Russians in a mix of Russian and American (as opposed to English, which my bosses speak), reserving the American for detailed instructions. All non-expat conversations are in Russian, with the expats conversing mainly in English, with a bit of American, German, and Spanish thrown in. This is really a multinational corporation!

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