2013 Musings from Togliatti, Russia: Cost of Living, Money and Finances

People have said for a long time that to replicate a western lifestyle in Russia costs more than at home. And it does.

When you subtract the stuff that is laughably cheap, what remains is way overpriced. But its true that if you just go about your day, have lunch somewhere, take a few taxis, have dinner somewhere, buy a few provisions from a grocery store, maybe take a boat trip or do something each day, you will be surprised how the money just drains from your wallet.

Those prices quoted above by mhr7 for Ukraine are how it used to be in Estonia. Then they joined the EU and everything shot up almost overnight.

In Russia, if you look at locals, many of them are tooling around in BMW, Audi and other imported cars. Those cars cost almost twice in Russia than they do at home. And we know few will be on finance. That means the bloke in the BMW jeep likely coughed up close to £50k for that car. Well, he isn’t on £200 a month is he? Local oligarch perhaps? Five years ago you saw the odd one and you may think so. Now go to a decent restaurant or the yacht club and these cars are lined up outside.

We took a boat trip for a couple of hours down the Volga. Tickets were maybe £5 each. The guy ahead of us brought three pals, a big pizza and crate of beer so he and his buddies could chill out. So tickets £20, pizza and beer maybe another £15. So this average bloke spent £35 for a two hour chill with his pals. So he isn’t on £200 a month either.

I would recommend any visitor budgets for £100 a day, excluding accommodation. And have a back up card in case he runs out.

Anyone who can live in Russia on £200 a month rides the bus, shops in the cheap market and eats only home cooked cabbage and potatoes. Whilst many do live like that, what I guess we can call the middle class is growing quickly and noticeably. People are buying the new houses as they are built, people are buying new cars, both local ones and imported ones. People are dining out more. People are remonting their dachas. People are holidaying abroad. People are spending money, so that money is coming from somewhere.

The only explanation is that the economy is starting to work as it should. Government is spending money on improving infrastructure. That money eventually filters down the food chain to the baker, the butcher and the candlestick maker.

The Russian “Mail Order Bride” Industry in 2011/12

The so-called “mail order bride” industry, which primarily is focused on Ukraine, and secondly Russia, has been changing in recent years. The days of American guys rolling up in any Russian or Ukrainian city, flashing a US passport and being swamped in model-quality girls are long gone. This is 2011, not 1991. Women are not desperate to leave any more.

Men seeking a Russian or Ukrainian wife need to understand the dynamics of the society they delve into. Men fixated on the idea of importing a model-quality wife, twenty-five years younger than themselves are likely heading for disappointment. It has passed into internet folklore the “fact” that any obese, older guy can snag himself a super sexy Eastern European wife with little more to offer than his country of residency and his wallet. He can still do that as long as he accepts that the marriage will likely not last longer than the time it takes her to get a green card or permanent residency in his country.

The sensible guys nowadays need to accept their limitations. This does not mean that a guy cannot delve into Eastern Europe, if he knows what he is doing, and end up with a well-intentioned and beautiful wife. He can. But occasionally, reality checks are in order.

I was recently communicating with a British man who had made over thirty trips to Ukraine in search of a wife. After several years, and all these trips to Ukraine, he is still wifeless. No good prospects on the cards either. In these circumstances, we must examine not only him, but what he is looking for, and ascertain if it is realistic.

The gentleman in question is in his fifties, and has one or more ex-wives in the UK. He has a number of children; some of whom are either resident with, or spend significant time with him. One of these children has some type of special needs requirement. He is a nice guy; intelligent, witty and personable from what I can make out. He is affluent enough to afford the whole foreign wife endeavour (which many men are not).

What is he seeking? A large breasted, yet extremely slim and very beautiful woman in her twenties; that is twenty to thirty years his junior. Is that realistic? No. Here was my advice to him:

Your situation isn’t what local women seek to embrace; they already eschewed it. Why would a two decade younger, beautiful one, with a large chest from a poor country embrace it? Times are a changing. Desperation is fading. Your lack of success is testament to that. A reality check is needed. Late 30’s and early 40’s is the group you should be looking in. Perhaps with a kid or two.

My advice was not well received.

What many men in a similar position fail to realise is that desperation in these countries is fading. Finances are improving and women are less likely to choose self-export via marriage as a life choice as that happens. This is underlined by the fact that the “mail order bride” industry pretty much doesn’t exist any more in the affluent corners of the former Soviet Union (FSU) and proliferates in the more impecunious corners. Scamming also proliferates in the impecunious corners as desperation breeds corruption and dishonesty.

As proof of this, if we look at some FSU countries, we will see that the “mail order bride” industry has vanished altogether. In relatively affluent Estonia, Latvia and the Czech Republic, women are not seeking self-export via marriage as a life choice. There is not a single foreign-facing marriage/dating agency in Estonia any more. There hasn’t been for a decade or more.

Compare that to Ukraine. Ukraine is still bristling with foreign-facing dating and marriage agencies; new ones are opening every day (the honesty of many of these is open to question but that is not the subject here). Russia still has many agencies based there, but fewer in the more affluent corners like Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In Russia, the agencies reside in places that fewer foreigners venture to. Places like Rostov, Samara, Togliatti (Tolyatti), Vladivostok and Barnaul.

The link between women’s desire to export themselves and average income is an undeniable fact.

On the other side of the coin, I was recently communicating with an American man who also complained about his lack of success in the Eastern European dating arena. He told me:

I am good looking, healthy and relatively young. I have a good job and make good money. I know how to treat women very well. I am enjoyable to be with. I am interested in starting a family and having children.

Most women on learning this will think, “What’s wrong with him then?” and will muse on why he can’t find a woman at home. They simply will not believe the accounts given by Americans of the bad dating environment in the US; the “entitlement” attitude they encounter, and the subsequent lack of availability of appropriate and slim women.

His “benefits” of being young, in good shape and of a normal state of mind may actually work against him in some circumstances. I would be inclined to explain to the women I wrote, in a very careful manner, why I was seeking a woman from abroad if in his shoes (without disrespecting my local women). Its like sales training for those that ever had it; overcome the customer’s objections before they are even raised. Marketing oneself long-distance to women is a skill that takes honing and development.

The introduction letter is a vital tool; a first impression that cannot be left to chance. One must hire a competent Russian interpreter and translator to help craft and hone your introduction letter. Preferably a female one, as women understand the target market: Women.

Understanding the society you are delving in is also essential. You cannot rely on the twaddle written on dating sites. Russian dating sites are geared up toward telling you what you want to hear. They will wax lyrical about how these ladies “love to make cosy home” and “love to cook tasty meals” – which may be true sometimes. But not all the time. You will find the same guff written on the profile of many “professional daters” (scammers to you), often from Odessa or Kiev, who entertain a different foreign guy each weekend, and have a Prada and D&G fetish. Preferably at your expense.

To get to the real facts about a Russian or Ukrainian wife, and how, in 2011/12, you can find one, you need to educate yourself. This means learning from those who have spent much time in the former Soviet Union; and who are in a cross cultural marriage already.

The road to a beautiful Russian or Ukrainian wife is still possible to travel; but you must enter the arena educated and with a good idea in advance of what is possible and what is not.

The “mail order bride” industry is changing. Marriage agencies are not the future. As Russian and Ukrainian women embrace the internet at home, social networks are the way forward. Sites like Planet Love Match have recognised this already and are responding to the changing environment. Mix the dating site together with a social networking site, in both languages – brilliant but simple.

Foreign dating is changing. Get ahead of the curve by educating yourself.

Stuart J. Smith is the co-author of the Russian Bride Guide: How to meet, court and marry a woman from the former Soviet Union. He has guested on many radio shows on the “mail order bride” subject. He runs the busiest Russian women information discussion forum on the internet today.

How to choose a Russian interpreter or translator

A translator/interpreter should be a really good psychologist, should be able to predict or detect any Red Flags, should be able to encourage or comfort, to clarify any cultural or meaning misunderstandings, should not be afraid to do it not once if need arises till 2 parties understand each other to the end.

An inexperienced translator sometimes chooses incorrect expressions that can change the meaning of your words completely, or make your letters sound stilted and clumsy; the last thing you want when you are building up a delicate relationship with a lady. In situations like this, it is as important HOW you say something as WHAT you say.

Relevant experience is essential. It is very good if a person actually lives in the USA, UK or Canada, to really understand all the cultural realities men live in; be able to explain the differences between the two countries.

If a translator came through the fiancée visa process herself and knows all the details, how to avoid some difficulties, save time and how and where to get necessary documents, then she can share all this information with the lady when the time comes, and give advice on that, based on personal experience.


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