St. Petersburg

Expat Experience

26 Sep 2018
Interview with Chris Gilbert, a London-born expat who moved from Moscow to St Petersburg in 2012, and is now settled here with his young family. Chris helps run the independent business association Network North-West, as well as advising companies on doing business in Russia.

- Tell us something about yourself, your family and your career. How long have you been living in Russia?
- I am married with a young son – who already has more passports than I do. As for how long I've been here, that's a tricky one - my Russia-time has come in fits and starts. At the last count, about 12 years – but spread across four different decades! My latest «stint» is by far the longest – I've been here permanently since 2009, first in Moscow and now St. Petersburg. Over that time I've worked at a handful of companies in sales and management roles – everything from business associations to car leasing. It pays to be flexible here…

- Why Russia? Why St. Petersburg? Can you name us three things about living here you enjoy the most?
- Russia because I studied the language at school – my first visit to this city was in 1987 when it was still called Leningrad. I was here for three chilly days in late March and I loved it – it certainly left a better impression than late-'80s Moscow, although that was where study and then work ultimately took me. But in Russia they have a saying – you go to Moscow for work and St Petersburg for love, and that's what happened to me after I met my wife-to-be here. Only three things?! If we're just talking about St. Petersburg, then it's the stunning variety of aspect within the city, the annual miracle of the White Nights, and the inescapable feeling you have that you're living through history.

- What can you say about Russians in general?
- My dad put his finger on it when my parents came to see me when I was studying in Moscow in the early 90s – «Chris! They're just like US!». Of course there are differences in culture, history and general outlook, but I maintain that the Russian «character», if one can even make such a generalisation, is not too different from the British one – we certainly share that element of being outwardly reserved but rebellious within, and there is a lot of overlap in our grim, sometimes dark but always honest sense of humour. As a polite Englishman I also occasionally envy the directness of Russians – at least you know where you stand, good or bad.

- Can you name us your three favorite places in the city? 
- Ekateringovsky Park, because it's near where I live and almost devoid of tourists (no offence!), Millionnaya Ulitsa at any time of year, and the historic ice-breaker Krassin – all well worth a visit, and the Krassin was built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne – a few thousand tonnes of British steel floating on the Neva.

- Please give some advice to people who visit the city for the first time. Where should they start? What can't they miss?
- There really is something for everyone here – let's face it, there's even a beach, albeit a fairly small and chilly one – so my main advice is to follow your nose, whether you want to lose yourself in an art gallery or go night-clubbing. But also leave any preconceptions you may have about Russia or the Russians at your point of departure, and certainly ignore the ill-informed coverage from those areas of the media which continue to confuse a country with its government – it's a lesson I learned 30-odd years ago, and it's still true today.
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