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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Expats Swap Tips, Tales and Trash




Want to sell a second-hand Pierre Cardin suit? In dire need of advice on a hotel room in Nizhnytaigar? Looking for a shop that sells foreign foods like Marmite spread?


The Expat List has the answers. Set up just under a year ago by Nicholas Pilugin, president of Wordsmiths Communications, the free e-mail exchange distributes messages from English speakers in Moscow who want a way to exchange information and discuss issues of living in Moscow and Russia.


It has grown from its initial 200 subscribers to more than 1,000, and Pilugin now offers three different lists, including one for French speakers. As expatriates tend to do, the expat listers have formed their own little online subculture - a blend of whining, information requests, want ads, heated opinion and gossip.


"I've found an apartment, helped a destitute friend, and bought good, cheap wine thanks to the Expat List," wrote one lister in an e-mail interview.


But along with the usefulness of the list comes sharing your cyberspace with people you wouldn't normally share your last cookie with.


"Many of the people who regularly contribute to the list - who comprise only a tiny fraction of the total audience - are a total pain," wrote the same lister, who perhaps not surprisingly didn't want her name associated with the list. "If it weren't occasionally useful, I'd unsubscribe in a second and be done with the angst, anger and idiocy."


Pilugin thinks it's a mistake to see the overheated or eccentric posts as a view into the expat psyche. "There is a great silent majority," he said. "There are people who just want to lurk. ... You can't look at a list and see it as a representational sample of the expat community."


And a good thing, too, for the Expat List is not a peaceful place. Flames, or abusive e-mails, fly back and forth with regularity.


You never know what the response will be. One eager subscriber recently sent a message looking for a friend named Beverly he thought might be in Moscow. Soon a reply popped up in his mailbox from the friend - who's now a Bertram.


"Yes, I'm 'Beverly,'" Bertram wrote, "although as my name suggests much has changed since we last met. ... I've finally found the courage to embrace a side of me that had been locked away for far too long."


Other replies can be far harsher or mocking, though Pilugin hovers behind the scenes trying to keep order. Certain rules apply: No commercial messages (though want ads from individuals are fine) and no obscenity. Offenders can be banned by Pilugin.


"I'm not trying to be a policeman. In every society, whether it's virtual or real, there's got to be rules," Pilugin said. "If I just took an attitude of everything goes, it would be chaos."


Doug Steele, owner of the late Hungry Duck bar, was banned after a series of messages on bagels split the list audience between those who thought them hilarious and those who found them annoying. Having served his time in the penalty box, however, Steele has returned. Listers saw his side of the story about the Hungry Duck's closure and related political pressure before the tale was reported in newspapers.


Those disinclined to have a steady stream of chatter invading their mailbox can sign up for the digest, which goes out a few times a day. The raw list can be a bit overwhelming, with up to 200 messages a day.


"Probably one out of three are completely legitimate requests or answers for the intended audience," wrote lister John Dabba. "Thirty-three per cent is a pretty good result for a free service. ... And if I don't like what I read, I can delete it. Free speech at its best!"


To subscribe to the Expat List, send an e-mail to listserve@irex.ru with "subscribe expat" as the message. To receive the digest only, send "subscribe expat-digest" as the message.