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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Good Life Amid Russia's Deprivations

I have some friends who moved back to the West recently and, though some here might find it hard to believe, they are downright miserable.


Sure, they are in the land of take-out Thai food and the corner coffee shop, but life is also much more complicated where they are now. Complain all you want about life in Moscow, they now say nostalgically, but in many ways it is easier.


It is true that you lose years off your life living in Moscow, as you face down the GAI or spend free moments pondering Russia's troubled future. Just trying to get a phone number can take you all day, and dialing it takes another. In the West -- or have you forgotten? -- phone numbers are found in phone books, and the future is only relatively troubled.


But here, my friends recall, they were cushioned at the same time that they faced all these hardships. They dealt every day with a big ugly unfriendly city, but they got lots of help.


These friends, like many, had nannies for their children, a cleaning woman and a driver to help them get around. They had a dacha, also, a mere half hour's drive from their city apartment. They even had a guy whose sole job it was to find them whatever they needed: A new lock for the door? A curtain rod? He'd have it that afternoon.


All of this was affordable, although these people are far from rich.


Back in the West, the only people who enjoy this kind of life are millionaires. No middle-class person has a driver. Cleaning women cost a lot more. Working couples scramble to find decent nannies, and then essentially devote one of their two salaries just to pay for childcare and are not entirely satisfied with the care they are getting in return. Many elect the "nannygate" option -- paying under the table -- at the same time mentally crossing off any plans to become president of the United States.


These friends now drive their own car and run their own errands. They don't have a "dacha" and if they did (say, a time-share in the Hamptons), it would take hours to get there. They clean their own house. When they need a curtain rod or a door lock, they go buy it themselves.


Should they feel guilty about the life they led here? No, they provided needed employment and they were good, considerate employers. Did they lose their self-reliance? Wasn't it absurd to have such an easy way of life in a place of such hardship?


Yes and no. Back in the West, you do not need special employees to find things for you because you can find them yourself. A curtain rod is a pretty simple thing to track down. Western society, after all, prides itself on self-sufficiency, and to this end, we make it possible to do things for ourselves.


Sure life here is hard. We all have the bags under our eyes to prove it. Going home means having hot water whenever you want it and paying your phone bill by mail. But here you are living on the edge.


It all reminds me of my first trip to the former Soviet Union, when my friends and I thought we were starving to death because the only sustenance we could find with any regularity was caviar and champagne. Our heads filled only with thoughts of pizza and hamburgers, we did not realize just how good we had it.