Last weekend, I was at an opening of a new Tibetan restaurant by the Red Square with a bunch of American expats. The new Cold War never came up, but that was because nobody wanted to ruin a good party with the obvious fact that life in Russia has been steadily worsening for foreigners for years, and it’s going to get still worse. Sure, expats might prefer to stick their heads in the sand and hope for the best, but with Cold War II practically at our doorstep, it seems like a good time to see how this will affect the Americans living in Russia.
When The eXile was shut down in June, I started thinking long and hard about going back home to California. I even started the laborious marriage process to marry my girlfriend and bring her back we me as my trophy Russian wife. But when I went back to visit my family and started scouting for a new job and a place to land, the horrible truth dawned on me: there’s no way I could go back. Banks aren’t the only places closing up shop, the publishing industry is shrinking even faster than the American Empire. It was no place for a writer to live. Not now—and probably not for a long, long time—not unless I wanted to find myself selling my young supple ass on Hollywood Blvd. to some old fag while pimping my young Russian wife out just to get money for gas.
In many ways, I had no choice but to come back. And that makes me a little scared. First off, it is going to become much harder to stay here. This year, Russia changed its visa laws, making it much more difficult for people to live and work in Russia. As recently as last year, any English teacher on a shoestring budget could get a year-long visa through a travel agency for a few hundred bucks. Now, the same process has become much more expensive and complicated. After you get tested for leprosy, AIDS, tuberculosis and drugs, you have to dish out anywhere from one to two grand to secure a work permit that allows you to stay in Russia continuously for year. If things deteriorate, which they will if John McCain wins the elections (a highly likely possibility in which the U.S. will not only invade Iran, but try to take back South Ossetia and Abkhazia, all the while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan all at the same time), Americans might have to start getting creative if they want to stay here. For American expats, getting married might be the only option. And me, I might as well scratch the idea of getting my girl US citizenship and start hoping she likes me enough to marry me and get me Russian citizenship instead.
But staying here isn’t going to be as fun as it used to be. It’s a pity; during the first Cold War an American had all the advantages. With just a few pairs of jeans, a couple of packs of Marlboros and some white double-ply toilet paper, the biggest loser could be king. Everyone would be his friend and he’d be able to lay the level of babeage he’d only seen in Penthouse spreads. This time around, the Americans aren’t going to fare so well.
When I sold off everything I owned—my car, furniture, TV and bed—and bought one-way plane ticket to Russia three years ago, I was coming back not just to find my roots, but have a great time doing it. As a Russian friend wrote me, “Russian chicks are going to cum just by looking at your blue passport.” After two sexually starved yeas of working in an American office, I couldn’t wait. It turned out she was only partially right. The blue passport seemed to work everywhere but Moscow. I remember the shock I felt when a girl I was trying to pick up in a Moscow club turned on her heel and walked away without saying a word when she learned I wasn’t exactly from here. Back then, the tables had turned already. Expats used to be the big shots. They were the ones with the cash. But now, forget about wowing chicks, most of the expats are having a hard time just paying Moscow’s ridiculous rent prices. For those still getting paid in American dollars, it’s especially difficult and borders on the impossible. Oh, how the blue passport has fallen! And it doesn’t look like it’s coming back up anytime soon.
Maybe the exapts need to find themselves a new Russian city to make their home base, one in which American purchasing power still has ability to impress. The last time I checked, rent prices in Nizhny Tagil were still very much on the expat level and Ladas still dazzled the ladies. And that’s a good thing, because Ladas are about the limit of what we can afford.
Yasha Levine is an American journalist based in Moscow. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in Bolshoi Gorod.
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