David Burghardt, Oregon, US
T: David, which year was it when you first came to Russia?
D: The first time I came to Moscow was in 1994. I came here to do a 6 month internship to get my license for teaching English as a foreign language at the Moscow State Pedagogical University, Social Sciences department. Then I returned back to the United States and I got a call from another university. The first 6 months I hated Russia. I didn't know the language when I first came, not a word. Back then I lived in a dormitory at University. The conditions I lived in were awful. There were other foreigners living in the dormitory and we hung out together, but I wouldn't call them friends really. So, when I got the second call I laid my own standards, I said I wanted my own appartment, medical expenses, salary. The second time I came here I decided to stay for 6 months to see if I liked it here. I did that and I did enjoy it, and I stayed and never went back. I've been back to Oregon once in the last 14 years. I started teaching English as a foreign language at the US when I already got my license and I thought I picked the wrong job. Teaching English as a second language to group where you have a few Chinese, Mexicans, Laotians you can't communicate with them in anyway because they don't know English and you don't know all the 15 languages and you don't know how to explain. Here students around me were grateful to have an American teaching them English.
T: When did you start your job at the news agency?
D: That was in 2003. The new editor-in-chief invited me. I wasn't looking for a new job but I went there. I am now the advisor to the deputy editor-in-chief and head of the department for North and South America.
T: Which cities in Russia have you been to?
T: I've been to almost all of Russia. I just haven't been to Sakhalin Island and Kalinigrad. I just came back actually from South Ossetia. I've been to Chechnya several times.
T: Is the situation there improving?
D: Improving, it's done. When you go there and see it, there's brand new hotels there, fully equipped. There is no night life in Chechnya because of the religion. I've met Ramzan three times. One of his duties is to get rid of the rebels. And he's done that. There's very few left in the mountain areas. There's shootout but there is shootout in London also. That happens in Moscow, that happens in Chicago. And I consider Moscow much more dangerous city than Grozny.
T: Do you prefer Moscow to other cities you've been to?
D: I call Moscow a home.
T: What do you actually like about Moscow?
D: I was born in a very small village of 239 people. I grew up and I didn't want to be farmer, I was going to get education. My brother still does hard labour, he's in Oregon. But I got out. I lived in other large cities also, LA and Dallas. At that time Moscow felt exciting. When I came back in the beginning of 1995 I watched things changed, to the worse. There was the default in 1998 but I lived through all that.
T: How do you think has Moscow changed since then?
D: It changed a lot. They went overboard with casinos for example.
T: How about people?
D: I think the people, probably in the last five years, became much happier. They do smile at you. I think they are getting out to see the world, and there are more people coming here. They are more open now because before they were really shed inside. I think it has become cleaner.
T: What was your impression of Russians when you first came here?
D: That is hard to say because I wasn't able to communicate on the level that would need to get the impression. The ones I could communicate with were students or colleagues. And, again, Moscow is not Russia. It's a big busy city. There is hustle and bustle all the time. People go to work and then go home, and they close the door behind them. Here you might not know your neighbour. I didn't know who my neighbours were for four years. I don't know who's above me and who's below me unless something happens. If I go to another city, especially now that I know the language, people open up their homes, they don't want you to stay in a hotel, they want you to stay with them. They lay out incredible tables. You're a foreign guest so they want to know about your experience, as you want to know about them. So that's when you find out how the people actually live. There are bigger cities like Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, and that's the places where you can find out how the people actually live. Their daily lifestyle is different from that in Moscow.
T: When you traveled to these cities how did people react to you as an American?
D: You always had a crowd around you. And not just kids, there were adults around as well. Usually when a foreigner goes into those regions they wouldn't speak the language. If you know the language they also understand who you are. Wherever I went it was always an adventure. I've got friends now all over Russia. The people in the rural areas are not more open but more curious. Whereas Muscovites are used to foreigners.
T: What was the most difficult thing to get used to?
D: One thing was buying food in stores. At that time you had to find what you wanted to buy in the store, find how much it was, write down the price, go to the cashier, tell her what you wanted. Then she gave you a receipt, and then you had to go back again and ask them to give you all the things you bought. The service in stores was completely bad.
The dirt and the noise probably. No public toilets anywhere. That's when McDonald's comes in handy enough.
I got used to rudeness. That's also a part of growing up in Moscow. I've become very demanding.
T: Do you ever travel by car?
D: Not in Moscow. I do travel to places like airport by car, but don't have a car. It takes me 35 minutes to get to work by metro, why would I need a car? Besides you get all these problems with the militia, insurance.
T: Do you ever get problems with the police? Have you often been stopped by the police?
D: Not any more. When I do, I inform them about their rights. Once they stopped me late at night and told me to pay a fine. And I said it was too late and the banks didn't work anyway. They said I could pay right there. And I said I had another idea. I took out my journalist ID and they let me go.
T: David, thank you very much for your time and for the answers.
Interview by Tanya Leeh
July 25, 2006 17:46