The Aussie Cold Plunge Makes a Huge Splash!

Selection_150Saturday, 1st of February saw Auski, in association with the Australian Cultural Center in Moscow staging their 4th annual Aussie Cold Plunge for the homeless.

For those of you wondering ‘What on earth is a Cold Plunge?’ allow me to explain.

It’s an event that was started in 2011, where Aussies and Kiwis side by side with expats from around the world, brave the frigid waters to help Moscow’s destitute.

Statistically speaking, it is estimated that an average of 30 homeless people perish monthly during the cold winter months in Moscow. Therefore, it’s a great opportunity for expats to get involved and make a difference in a city that has given them so much.

Selection_152The Cold Plunge is quickly gaining notoriety. In fact, this year Mark Howard, a sports presenter from Australia’s Network 10 traveled all the way from Australia to participate. He was on his way to Sochi, to report on the Olympics, however, when he heard about the opportunity to help out, he decided to contribute.

This year, the Cold Plunge site at Serebryaniy Bor was embellished with Australian flags, red kangaroos and scented with the mouth watering aroma of Australian beef patties and sausages sizzling on BBQ grills. Thanks to Meat & Livestock Australia, Australian Trade House, Australian Beef Eater BBQ grills and Meat & Wine catering, all swimmers and volunteers were provided with free Hotdogs and Hamburgers as well as free hot drinks. As a result, the Cold Plunge raised US$11,000 to make the conditions for the homeless a little better this year.

Selection_151The Australian community is becoming quite active in Moscow; their intention is to give back to a country that they have grown to love. The Aussie Cold Plunge is just one of many Australian events that take place in the city. So if you are an expat living in Russia and would like to get involved in their various events, you can contact Gabriel at the Australian Cultural Center on: [email protected] He will be more than happy to introduce you to all the events that you can participate in throughout the year.

Book Review – ‘Why Russians don’t smile’

Selection_145Luc Jones has been living and working in Russia for over a decade, and has travelled extensively around the country. His hands-on experience comes across on every page of this book. Working hard for Antal since 2002, he has had the opportunity to communicate with a large number of newbies, and it is for these people, and for those who are planning to come here that ‘Why Russians don’t smile’ has been written.

The book categorises foreigners into corporate expats ‘Corp-pats’, Russified expats (Russpats) and Russians who return to Russia. Luc clearly has his sights on the first group. Exposing some of those stereotypes about Russia, stereotypes which don’t ever seem to go away, is perhaps one of Luc’s biggest achievement, however a vast amount of practical information from getting a taxi to approaching top Russian executives is packed into this handy publication.

Selection_144This is not intended to be a book which explains the reasons why Russians are the way they are, or why business etiquette can be bewildering at first. The author commented that a lot more than 160 pages would be needed to do that. Yet Luc does attempt to tackle difficult themes such as the concept of ‘trailing spouses’ and corruption. The lack of in-depth historical context leaves those of us who have been here a while asking for more. Nevertheless, the book achieves its aim, by at least taking note of the major issues, and thus providing the reader with the ability to navigate round problems.

We approve this book, and congratulate the author.

IWC Winter Bazaar Breaks a New Fundraising Record

Selection_155With help from over 60 embassies, the International Women’s Club of Moscow (IWC) organised its 25th annual Winter Bazaar at the Radisson Slavyanskaya Hotel in Moscow on November 30. IWC President, Ms Izabella Zajączkowska, is very proud to announce that 2013 produced a record fund raising effort: “In total a record profit of 7,300,000 roubles was raised, a fantastic contribution for the charity projects supported and monitored by the IWC. This year embassies exceeded all expectations with the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Japan, Denmark, Slovakia and Ireland as the top 10 contributors.”

“Thanks to the generous donations of numerous sponsors, all raffle tickets sold out quickly, contributing an impressive 400,000 roubles to the overall profit, another Winter Bazaar fund raising record. We would also like to express our gratitude to all companies that supported their embassy’s stand, and especially to GlavUpDK for their ongoing valuable partnership.”

“The overall atmosphere of friendship and solidarity also inspired visitors: the winner of a large flat screen TV in the raffle generously donated it to Speransky Children’s Hospital.”

Over the past 25 years, the number of supporters and visitors has grown steadily and this unique concept of “Christmas shopping from around the world” currently attracts around 4,000 people. With distinctive gifts from all continents, a rich cultural program, festive food and authentic culinary delicacies, the IWC creates a wonderful international experience. The variety of people, both expats and locals, adds to the international flavour.

The Winter Bazaar is a major contributor to the IWC’s fund raising efforts. This year, for its 35th anniversary, the IWC is planning many more events to support those in need. 

MPC Charity Ball

Selection_164When I hear the words ‘charity ball’, I can’t help but think of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara from ‘Gone with the wind’, waltzing in her black dress with Rhett Battler at the dance held to support the Confederate States at the beginning of the American Civil War. Good causes change and vary, and charity balls remain a favourite fund raiser tradition around the world. You, dear reader, might easily be one of those who attended the 6th annual Harvest Ball at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Tverskaya held by MPC Social services November 2013 (or one of those that took place in the previous years). If that’s the case – thank you. You’ve helped a good cause.

The Ball

The first charity ball was held by MPC Social Services in the fall of 2008 at Lotte Hotel, starting a tradition which has continued for six years, having become a favourite with the community and every time yielding a considerable ‘harvest’ which helps pay so many costs of MPC Social Services programs.

The Good Cause

The Rev Matthew Laferty from the state of Ohio was appointed Chaplain of Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy and Director of MPC Social Services almost three years ago, thus taking over a church that has existed since 1962 and a charity organization started by the congregation of that church in 1991.

He seems quite pleased with the results of the charity work that has been done, as he sums up and looks forward to the new projects within the framework of MPC Social Services’ activity.

“Back in 1962, Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy was started to meet the spiritual needs of the employees of the American Embassy. An important part of the Christian faith traditions represented in MPC is to help those less fortunate than ourselves through social service. During the times of the Soviet Union, due to restrictions on the church’s activity, it was not possible to engage in that. The doors opened only in 1991. The congregation noticed that Moscow pensioners had very little savings, and sometimes they didn’t receive pensions for several months. The church decided to help them by opening up soup kitchens. By the mid-nineties there were soup kitchens in different parts of the city, serving up to 2500 meals every day”, he told me.

As a Russian citizen who was growing up in the 1990s, I can testify: those were indeed very hard times. But today, they are history. Do programs like soup kitchens make any sense today?

“We believe they do. Most of the pensioners live by themselves. For them, it’s also about community and friendship.”

This is very true. The people who come for their lunches to one of the MGU canteens, where MPC social services rent the kitchen and the dining hall, have formed a circle of friends, where everybody looks out for each other.

However, there’s also a material point to continuing the soup kitchens – both for those helping and for those being helped.

“Many pensioners with serious health issues are using a large part of their pension to pay for medication and medical services. It squeezes out a lot of their income”, – the Rev Laferty says as he goes on with his story. Of course, today the number of meals is smaller – only about 150 a day. “The soup kitchen is an expensive program to run – we have to rent space and hire cooks. We also have a food bank program and the Children’s Hunger Assistance program to help Russian families, political refugees, and the biracial families living in poverty.”

MPC Social Services have also become an answer to many needs of immigrants, students and refugees from Africa and Asia.

As they make this brave move of coming to a country so unlike their own, the most crucial things are staying healthy, being safe and warm, and making friends.

“We have a medical advice program for the immigrants providing free access to Russian doctors. There’s also a place for them to come during the day, with tea, internet and language instruction available. There’s also ‘Racial Task Force,’ started in 2001, against racially motivated violence and harassment. Every six months we provide a report of all the cases we come across. Every summer, we do a party for refugee children with arts and crafts, games, and clowns.”

None of the good work would be possible if not for the input of the employees and volunteers. Who are they? They are, as a famous Michael Jackson song goes, ‘The World’ – Russian, American, African, European. “They are highly educated, motivated people, willing to take risks,” – the Rev Laferty sums up as he gives an overall characteristic of the people giving their time and energy to activities that make a difference in the worlds of the elderly, the children and the foreigners who come to seek shelter, encouragement and support to MPC Social Services in their times of need and hardship.

British Business Club Final 2013 Event

The British Business Club in Russia held the grand finale event of 2013 to round off a busy year with the Christmas drinks party at the Marriott Aurora Hotel in central Moscow. A crowd of over 200 members and guests turned out to enjoy the culinary extravaganza laid on by General Manager, Bert Fol, and his team.

The highlight of the evening was the auction of the Olympic torch generously donated by Svetlana Guzeeva who had carried the Olympic flame on a run in the Tyumen region on the previous day. The proceeds from the auction, won by Richard Magda, Vice President of Sales at Work Service / Prologics Group, were donated to the Taganka Children’s Fund.

News of upcoming club events and activities as well as photo galleries can be found at

British Business Club Event

The BBC January event was held together with the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce at Papa’s Bar & Grill

A good time was had by one and all.

IWC Professional Women’s Evening


The first IWC Professional Women’s Evening took place on the 20th of November at the Chelsea Gastro Pub, and was packed out. Ms Pieternel Boogard, Managing Director at ING welcomed guests.

Interview with Pavel Chinsky


What is the CCIFR?

The French-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is aimed at developing economic cooperation between Russia and France. On one hand, we help and support the French business community in Moscow and all of Russia, and on the other we promote France as the right place for Russian investments, especially for Russian companies willing to expand in Europe or acquire new technologies and competencies.

We organise a large variety of different events for our members to meet each other, such as sector committees, business presentations, B2B meetings, cultural events. This enables small businesses to meet big companies, for consulting firms to meet those who need their services, and so on. For example, Leroy Merlin can meet and negotiate with potential suppliers during the sessions of our Retail Committee… We wish to make it possible for Auchan to meet with a farmer from Krasnodar who grows really fantastic apples, and of course, I as a common Auchan customer want to be able to find the best products there. We organise several networking events such as dinners for the General Directors of our members’ companies, conferences and seminars on themes which can help our members to ‘feel the new trends and foresee future ones’. One important part of our work is devoted to organising meetings with Russian officials as well as delegations to the regions, where our members present their projects to governors and regional ministers. We regularly publish success stories about these delegations to show how effective they are.

We also welcome French officials to Russia and organise meetings with our members, in order for the French community in Russia to express its views and wishes. This is very important for us. For example, we received President François Hollande in February 2013 and our Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault just a couple of months ago.

The President of the Chamber and I participate in different business events and forums in Russia, where we present our ideas on how local authorities should improve their business environment in order to convince French investors to choose their territories.

Another purpose of our association is to provide our members with specific, say ‘technical’ services, such as Russian and French business language lessons or delivery of work permits for foreign employees as fast as possible. I can say from my experience that in several cases, the rapidity of such services was crucial to fulfil serious business tasks.

And also, a great part of our work is aimed at lobbying the interests of our members amongst Russian and French authorities. This concerns not only business matters, but also visas, an issue which is quite important for our Russian friends.

We are 100% private and work on the basis of the annual fees paid by our members.

How was the association formed?

There are over 100 French Chambers of Commerce and Industry throughout the world. The first one was created in Uruguay at the end of the 19th century. They do not receive any public subsidies and are not under any kind of government supervision. We help each other, and I often meet with my colleagues from London, Berlin, Madrid, which enables us to exchange ideas and information with each other.

The CCIFR was created as a private initiative by a dozen French companies in 1997, just a century after the one in Uruguay (smiling) and one year before the crisis in Russia. At the time, it was called the Club France. When I started working for it in 2007, my goal was to transform it into a business association and to work more intensively with Russian associations and companies as well as with the French authorities.

You said that it is privately financed, how does that work?

We present a ‘menu’ of services for companies to choose from, and they select which membership category fits them the best. Obviously, a small company and a huge international group such as Total need different services. But at the same time a medium-sized Russian consulting company – for example Skif Consulting – can choose to be a ‘Member of Honour’ just like the Rosbank/Société Générale Group. We have 8 different categories with different fees, and I hope they can satisfy everybody’s needs. Of course, I am open to any new ideas, demands and wishes. 

Are you able to do everything that you want to do, or do you suffer from a lack of financial support?

It is a national character: French people always complain! (laughing) We develop facilities and programmes with the budget that we have. Nowadays, our budget allows us to organise many delegations to the Russian provinces as well as Russian delegations to France. The Chamber has 30 full-time employees. Nowadays, our association counts more than 400 member companies, mainly French, but 30% of them are Russian and we also have several German and American companies.

How do you help French companies to enter the Russian market?

We consider ourselves to be a door to Russia. When a company is interested in the Russian market, the easiest thing to do is to Google ‘Russia’ and find the contacts of Russian companies. There certainly is plenty of information on the Internet, but it is we and not the Internet that can tell you what is possible and what is not, which Russian regions to choose, if you can find a niche in this market and where to start.

Newcomers usually find us through different ways, for example through the regional chambers of commerce in France. Many companies come across our name in newspapers and some through other unidentified sources.

And starting from February 2014, our think-tank, the Observatoire franco-russe, will start a programme which – I am sure – will expand the number of newcomers: a series of conferences in the French regions on the economic situation and the business environment in Russia. Local companies will be able to ask all the questions they want on ‘scary Russia’. Because it really is the lack of knowledge on Russia that is the main obstacle for the development of a wider cooperation.

What about helping Russian companies who want to export to France?

It’s not so much about exporting: unfortunately, oil and gas doesn’t go through us (laughing)! Over the past decade, Russians have been investing in real estate in France, on the Riviera and in Paris for example, and only recently they started to invest in French companies. Russian companies do not export so many goods these days, but they create joint ventures with French companies who have technology to share or to sell, with the aim of setting up production facilities in France or to import technology and organize production in Russia. We know quite a lot of such successful cases.

In December, the CCIFR held its Ceremony of Awards: the Russian company Progresstech received an award for their investment in France, as they opened an office in Toulouse and will work on aviation and engineering consulting.

Over the last 5 years have you noticed relations between Russian authorities and French businesses are getting better or worse?

Once again, the French people would say it’s complicated, the expenses are growing, bureaucracy is still strong… This complaining is typical of our national character, but it doesn’t reflect the reality. In fact, relations are cyclical. There are periods of very-very close dialogue, such as the France-Russia Year in 2010, during which more than 400 cultural events were organised. We realised then that cultural events can be quite interesting for business also. The new French government which was elected two years ago did not know Russia as well as the previous one, but experience showed that there is a number of pragmatic people working for the current government. The visit of French President François Hollande in February 2013 resulted in the signature of contracts. Then Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault came and again, several agreements were signed. So it is like a new cycle… France is actually the third largest direct investor in Russia after Germany and Sweden, of course if we leave aside countries such as Cyprus. But we seek to do even better.

A lot of business associations have difficulty in distinguishing between business and culture when compiling agendas for their events. How do you handle this issue?

We always try to do cultural events as well as business events. It’s quite interesting to note that it is our Russian partners who insist the most on the cultural aspect. There are many cultural programmes that we have been involved in, for example we helped to sign the agreement to create the first permanent Russian exhibition at the Louvre. All cultural programs help to modify people’s perceptions of Russia, because we all know what is associated with the word Russia when you pronounce it in Paris or in London. And Russian businessmen see that through culture they can not only make the image of Russia more positive but also develop business more effectively.

Actually, when I am asked about the main problems that we face working here in Russia, I see that the problem of perception is even worse than the problem of bureaucracy. EY did a very interesting study, asking companies from all over the world: what is your attitude to business in Russia, will you carry on? 85% of foreigners working in Russia said ‘yes’, we are investing and will carry on investing. But the same proportion of companies when asked about Russia in their home countries, said that they would never invest in Russia because of the usual stereotype issues. It is still not easy for business people to get visas to see for themselves what Russia is like, so the concepts live on. We hear from French CEOs here that it is sometimes quite difficult for them to shake their management in Paris to get the green light for a particular project. This is one of the reasons why we created the Economic Council of French and Russian companies in 2009. On the one hand, to work on a local level, and on the other to have direct access to the headquarters of these companies and give them our point of view on the situation here.

Certain perceptions about doing business in France also exist, and they prevent some Russians from doing business in France. People do not like to be told that they are wrong, even if the reality is contrary and Paris wins the first place among all European capitals as ‘the most attractive city to invest…’ So the perception is the most important and influencing thing. 

What is your gut feeling about how things are going to go in Russia over the next year or two?

Well, right now, we are all waiting for the benefits of the Olympic Games. We are waiting to see which lessons the Russian authorities will retain, and how it will change or not change its policies. I think that this is a very significant event for Russia. If we talk globally, the Russian economy is in better health than European economies. We have grown accustomed to 7% growth over the past decade, then it came down to 4% and now it is 1.5%, but that is not so bad in comparison to Western Europe.

In the short term, the issues are about developing infrastructures, emphasis on Siberia and Far East, about social issues, but let’s wait until after the Olympics.

Do you personally like living here?

I was born here, but I was raised in France, now I have returned to my roots. During the Soviet Union, when people left they left forever. Now leaving is not called emigration, it’s just migration. So maybe I will go back to France in 5, 10 or 20 years; it’s not so complicated. I have a lot of friends, relatives and family members both here and there. I can choose where to live and work in that place where I can be most effective. I must say that Russia is an amazing place, and it is the only place in the world where French and other foreign business communities work together in relative harmony. You have to come to Russia to see that.

Interview with Caroline Galliaerde, General Director, Russia/CIS, Brainpower


What is the main difference between French and Russian Business Cultures?

I would say that the main difference is in the system of management. Russian business culture corresponds to Russian culture, that is, the way of management is much more vertical, based on the directives of one person who is the leader. French and western business culture in general is more based on sharing opinions, and the responsibilities of the leader are a bit more distributed than in Russia.

What are the main differences that you have noticed in terms of living here?

I could write a book about this, but in a nutshell I would say that for French, what we eat and drink plays a more important role. But I have to say that the gap has started to decrease, with the opening of better restaurants here. Our country is comparatively small; in three or four hours you can get to the sea, or to the Alps to a skiing hut. Living in Moscow is actually not that bad, especially in the winter, when you can go skating and skate boarding which is great for the children.

Is it important for a French business person to live in Russia in order to understand the way of doing things here?

I think it is important that he or she has at least lived in Russia. It is important to understand Russian culture and the way of doing things here. If he or she knows how to deal with Russians, that’s OK, even if you are not living here all the time. I know some people who are living in Paris and working here as well. Then it is a matter of personal timetables, because there is a three-hour time difference, and the flight is about four hours. You can do it, but how long can you keep that up for? Now, with the Internet it is not necessary to be here all the time if you have a good team here, it is more about personal preferences. But I am not sure about commuting as a viable option if you have never lived here at all, because somehow you need to feel the country.

What do you love and hate about Russia?

I hate the traffic, though I have the feeling that it is improving. One of the worst things used to be going to be the airport by car, but now we have the airport express trains, everything has changed. I try and arrange my client meetings in the mornings, when the traffic is lighter.

This is the first year when I have felt just how short the days are here in winter. I think that Russians are becoming much more friendly. I love the snow in winter here, it makes me feel that I’m in the mountains; it’s a very refreshing feeling. It makes Moscow feel like it’s a small village, and gives it a fairy-tale atmosphere.

Where do you go in Moscow when you want to be reminded of France?

One of the French restaurants, such as the café Jean-Jacques, which prepares good French food, and there is another great restaurant called café Michelle, close to Metro Barrikadnaya. The chef there has really tried to master French cooking and the prices are reasonable. The owner spends a lot of time in France, and his daughter is French. I like the large parks in Moscow, we don’t have such large parks with snow and skating rinks in Paris.


Interview with Arnaud Benoit, Director, AOS Studley Inov’office


What is the main difference between French and Russian Business Cultures?

Very often, French people think that they understand business in Russia like they understand business in France. But in Russia, business is a new thing. French business culture is very specific but it is made up of many archaic and traditional aspects and also sometimes modern practices. In Russia, there are just two ways; the Soviet system where you have a chief who doesn’t work and the rest of the staff who do the job, and secondly, the young business people who work hard, in the mornings, right through to night, during the weekends. This is the main difference. The legislation which we have in France can be taken as a good thing or a bad thing, but the freedom that the young business person has here is incredible. We can see here people under 30 who have amassed fortunes, and it is through their hard work not because they have been given it.

What are the main differences that you have noticed in terms of living here?

My feeling about living here can be summed up in a few words: Everything can change tomorrow. Because of the weather, because of the politics, because of whatever. You have to be ready to change your mind at a moment’s notice. In France and Europe you can prepare for the next week or the next ten years, but here there is a continual evolution of anything and everything. This is not same thing as living in a cosy Parisian suburb and taking an administrative job.

Is it important for a French business person to live in Russia in order to understand the way of doing things here?

Yes it is. The new Russia has only existed for 23 years and is not really mature, and if you want to make business here, first, it is crucial to live here and secondly, it is very important in Russia to work within the law. It is complicated, but once you step outside of it, you lose the ability to fight if a problem should come up. You have to live here, work with Russians to fully understand this.

What do you love and hate about Russia?

I love, in the capacity of my real estate job to be able to evaluate buildings; to have the chance to enter into Pasternak’s house in Peredelkino, and other historical buildings in Moscow. At the same time I see the most incredibly horrible buildings. I invite you to have a look at the old blue mansion at the corner of Abrikosovsky pereulok and Pagodinskaya street (close to Novodivitchy). Incredible!

Always in Russia you have the best and the worst. The very rich and the very poor.

Where do you go in Moscow when you want to be reminded of France?

I go to 5 different shops to feed my family on Saturday. For meat I go to Globus Gourmet; for fish (or oysters for my wife) to ‘La Maree’ on Volgograsky; for bread ‘Volkonsky’ on Moraseika and for all other French specific food items, to ‘Cash & Carry’ on Krasnaya Presnya. As far as restaurants go, I liked Carre Blanc, before it shut down but the one that hasn’t changed for the past 18 years, and has consistently good food and service is Scandinavia on Pushkinskaya.