Life of a Frenchman in Saint Petersburg
Let’s talk about Russia today. What does a foreigner imagine when thinking of Russia? People that don’t smile, temperatures below zero, infinite vodka… Tourists are often reluctant to go there for a trip, all the more to move there! But the reality is very different. We intend to dissolve the stereotypes with the help of Viktor, a Frenchman who has moved to Saint Petersburg.
How did you end up in Russia?
I relocated in 2011. At that time, I was living in the USA, working with my uncle. And I got this opportunity to get a job in Saint Petersburg, in an architectural field. I didn’t know Russian, just some of the history of the country. And I had never been here. But I thought, ok, let’s try. And I tried. I came here.
So the first time you came, you took the job right away? Insane!
I know, right? However, between 2011 and 2014-2015 I was also working in Nice a lot. But since September 2015 I am in Saint Petersburg full-time. I am not sure if I am going to stay here forever, but I really like the city.
Were you at least a little bit worried about moving here?
No, not much. But I didn’t expect that I would like the city so much! When I first came, I realized that I’m meant to be here. So I didn’t have any particular worries. Of course, when you talk to people who have never been to Russia about Russia, they say that it’s not their dream destination. They think it is too cold, scary and alien. But if you just come here you will most probably have a nice experience. Besides, the language is not a big deal. In Saint Petersburg, a lot of young people speak English. In other cities, however, it can be a bit more difficult. For example, I went to Novorossiysk and discovered that not everyone is fluent in English. It was not easy to get around.
Now, when I speak Russian a bit, I can communicate without any problems. And even before, I learned a couple of Russian words and was trying to put them into my speech. People saw me trying and appreciated it.
Do you know any other Frenchmen living here? Is there an expat community in Saint Petersburg?
I don’t know a lot of foreigners here. All my friends are Russians. I know one French guy living here, but it’s not like here there is a community of foreigners. I was trying to get in contact with french people living here, but they are all over 50 years old, you know, high-class managers, not young people. Nothing like an Erasmus group of anything.
Speaking about people – a lot of tourists coming to Russia say that locals look quite grim. Do you agree?
Not at all! I don’t think that people here look angry all the time. But of course, the manners are different from the french ones, for example. And the mentality is different too. I’d say that Russian people are very direct. Unlike the french, they get straight to the point.
And how about food? I mean, fancy French food… How does it compare with the local food, with a lot of meat, oil, and potatoes?
Oh, I am cooking French meals here! I buy some typical products from France here, when I want to cook French. It’s not so easy, but it’s doable. Funnily enough, there are a lot of good products from Italy, but not so many from France! So when I go to France, I bring back a lot of food!
Some of my friends were teaching me to cook Russian food, and I loved it. I am from the north of France, and as you know, a lot of foods there are similar to what they eat in Russia. So there was no big change for me. But you know, I miss the bread! And cheese.
Unfortunately, there are no authentic French restaurants in the city. There are a lot of good Italian places, but French – no. The same goes for authentic Russian food – I prefer to eat it at my friends’ places.
What is your favorite Russian food?
I love cutlets! And also all the Russian pies, with meat, for example. And cabbage dishes.
And how about the nightlife? Anything?
In winter I don’t go out too often, but in summer it’s bustling! White nights are cool! There are a lot of great bars in the city, so one can really enjoy the nightlife.
Nightlife comes with alcohol, so now it’s time for the favorite stereotype of all times. Do you see Russians as heavy drinkers?
Absolutely not! I mean, of course, one drinks every now and then, as everywhere. And I have seen funny things happening when people are drunk – like one of my neighbors who sings opera when he drinks. But nothing excessive.
What about the prices in Saint Petersburg? Visitors complain that life here is quite costly.
Yes, it’s expensive. It’s like Paris here, when it comes to prices. The rent is quite high. For example, one of my friends was paying two thousand euros per month for a big apartment in the historical center. Here in the city there are a lot of historical areas, and there you pay loads of money for an apartment.
And have you been to Moscow?
Yes. It’s huge! Way too big! When I came to the center, and I saw the Red Square, it was just… wow. It’s cool to visit it as a tourist, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I prefer Saint Petersburg. I would also recommend seeing Saint Petersburg over Moscow, it is an amazing city. It’s quite young and it’s built from nowhere! Besides, it’s full of literature references.
Which parts of Russia you have seen already?
Not too many. Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Novorossiysk. But I would love to see other places! Lake Baikal, Murmansk, Vladivostok, Kamchatka. All on my bucket list! But traveling in Russia is so expensive. If you want to fly to Kamchatka, you have to pay a crazy price. But for now I am exploring around Saint Petersburg, the city has amazing suburbs! My favorite place is Tsarskoe Selo, it has a beautiful park. And the beaches of the Golf of Finland.
Do you go there by public transport? What do you think about it? Ever had any problems?
No, totally no. I never had any problems with public transportation. Besides, metro here is much better than in Paris. I don’t drive here, but the traffic is awful! But it’s a big city, so what can you expect? And Moscow is much worse anyways!
All photos courtesy of Viktor