As reported in The Moscow Times, a recent study ranked Moscow 4th and St. Petersburg 15th as the world’s most expensive cities for expats. According to the study, a cup of coffee in Moscow will cost you more than five bucks, and a CD more than $23.

Hello? What? Where are these people shopping? Granted, Moscow is more cosmopolitan and pricey than St. Petersburg, but here I can’t find a CD that costs more than $10. Well, I suppose I COULD, but it would take finding a record shop that actually sells licenced CDs.

Let me make it clear that I believe in intellectual property rights. I have lots of friends who are musicians and I believe that artists deserve to make money from their work. Nonetheless, I don’t feel all that guilty when I buy a CD or DVD for three dollars here. It’s not as though I would have bought the licenced ones if they were available. My CD collection grew pretty stale over the last few years when I was living in Washington because I just couldn’t justify dropping $15-$20 on a piece of plastic on which I was likely only to like two or three songs. When I did buy a CD, it was usually at a concert, where I at least felt like my money was going straight to the artist instead of the bloodsuckers in between.

As for films, I think I don’t even need all of my fingers to count the number of videos and DVDs I purchased in my entire life in the US. It’s the rare movie I really want to see more than once or twice, and for $20 you can go see it twice in the theater, or once with popcorn and soda, in either case more fun than watching it at home. But here in Russia I buy several DVDs a month. It’s actually cheaper than going to the movies, and besides, most of the movies in the cinema are American ones dubbed into Russian. I’m all for seeing a Russian movie in Russian even if I miss lots of dialogue, but I’m not going to watch a crappy Hollywood flick made worse by a cheesy Russian voice-over. But DVDs, even pirated ones, often have the option of watching in the original language.

And so, I’ve really been catching up on my movie-watching. Last night I watched “Donnie Darko”. I was surprised to find it in an ordinary store, since it wasn’t a big blockbuster or anything, but then you can often find even very obscure and artsy foreign films in the most pedestrian of places here. So, if you’ve seen “Donnie Darko”, can you tell me, please, what all the fuss was about? Why was this an instant cult classic? It was a fine little movie and the acting and character development were great — except for Drew Barrymore, who despite being terribly adorable, can’t act her way out of a paper bag (god I love that phrase) — but why was it the Midnight Movie at Visions (a now-defunct art-house cinema in Washington) for like, a year? Huh?

Um, so where did this post start? Oh yes, cost of living in Russia. How do real Russian people live on an typical salary of 5000 rubles a month (about $200) in two of the most expensive cities in the world? Not that it’s easy, but things aren’t nearly so expensive if you’re not in the foreigner bubble. As quoted at the end of the Moscow Times article:

Scott Antel, a partner at Ernst & Young and a Moscow resident since 1993, said that the study’s findings might be true for those “living in a cocoon environment” but are less so for foreigners who “go native,” taking public transportation and shopping at markets.

Word. Go native. I’ll admit to being half in the cocoon, but still I can’t believe that any foreigner could complain about Russia being expensive.

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