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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Benefits of a Little Hardship

It is too darn hot. That is what Russian diplomats say about the United States, earning their employees an extra 12 days of vacation a year.


"It's like Africa hot," said one Russian government official who lived in the U.S. for six years. Actually, it is not quite as hot as Africa. Russian diplomats there get an extra 24 days off.


But for Russia's diplomatic corps, the hardship ends with Washington's notoriously hot, sticky summers. There are no shopping sprees, no fat allowances -- just a few additional days for the people of the north to escape the heat.


As for their American counterparts at the embassy in Moscow, complaining about Russia's harsh climate is just the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous reasons why serving in Russia is considered by the State Department a hardship, earning embassy staff a 20% bonus as well as other perks to make their life here more comfortable.


It is not just the endless winters. A recent report compiled by the U.S. Embassy cites everything from Siberian crows attacking children's pets to three-foot piles of pukh, stinky toilets to the unsanitary practice of blowing snot on the street as evidence of the poor standard of living that embassy families endure during their tour of duty in Russia.


While an embassy statement issued to The Moscow Times on Tuesday confirmed an overall improvement in living conditions for foreigners in recent years -- resulting in a 5 percent reduction of the hardship allowance -- it nonetheless cited crime, health issues, and language barriers as a continuing thorn in the diplomats' side.


Hardship allowances are not unique to the American diplomatic corps. The British, Canadian and Australian foreign services also rate Moscow among the more difficult overseas assignments, granting employees stationed here additional monetary incentives.


"There are basically three elements to our allowance system," said Chris Alexander, a political officer at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. "A foreign service premium, a cost of living index, and a hardship rating."


The hardship rating takes into consideration a number of factors, including climate, linguistic barriers, the quality of the environment and recreational facilities, as well as crime levels.


Indeed, rising crime alone caused the Australian Embassy to increase its hardship rating two years ago to "level one" -- the most difficult posting -- earning employees, among other things, an additional two weeks of vacation per year. According to one Australian embassy official, several embassy personnel have been mugged, and one foreign service officer was severely beaten.


"While shopping facilities may be more available, personal safety has become more of a problem," the diplomat said. "Moscow is certainly changing, but it will be some time before it reaches Paris."


The foreign diplomatic community may have more than monetary incentive to hold onto their hardship status, but Russian foreign service officials find their complaints about everything from dirty streets to crowded metros amusing, if not somewhat offensive.


"It seems to me foreigners here have no basis to complain," said Alexander Gorbeyev, a foreign service officer at the U.S. Department of the Foreign Ministry. "I've been on the New York subway at rush hour and there were plenty of people."


"If they think it's dangerous to come here, that's their affair, although we don't feel that way," said Boris Kustovsky, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. "They have the right to express their own opinion."