- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

I’m originally from Houston, but I just spent four months in Moscow. You can imagine the degree of culture shock I’m dealing with. But Metro seems to bring that out the most. It frustrates me to no end.

I find myself standing at the Foggy Bottom Metro station every morning thinking, “Why isn’t a train here yet? In the Moscow Metro, I never had to wait 30 seconds for a train. And here I have to wait four whole minutes? Talk about the advances of capitalism.”

It also bothers me that the doors take so long to open once the train reaches the platform. In Moscow, they had this down to a science. The doors were flinging open before the train even stopped moving, and the daily fight to get on or off in the rush-hour madness began.

And the signs inside Metro stations could not be more confusing. Everything in Moscow’s subway was so clearly marked and displayed, there was never a question as to where I needed to go.

Also, Washington’s Metro is so plain. In the Moscow Metro, the stations were decked with chandeliers, statues, stained glass, large red mosaics of happy Communist workers and interlocking sickles and hammers, and of course, at Belorusskaya station, near where I lived, a big bust of Lenin that greeted me every day on my way home from work.

Yet, every day on Metro here, amid this mental litany of complaints, I’ll inevitably bump into someone and they’ll smile and say, “Oh, sorry, you OK there?” And then I remember that it’s OK to smile back.

It’s not culturally acceptable to smile or talk audibly on the Moscow Metro. I was told it’s one of the remaining vestiges of Soviet-era paranoia. Many times I’d walk with a Russian friend on the way out to a bar or a park, and we’d talk the whole way. Until we entered the Metro. Then the friend would pull out a book and tell me that we shouldn’t talk, even in Russian, because we were in public, and the public couldn’t be trusted.

The babushkii (old Russian ladies, many looking like NFL linebackers in their heavy coats) with their enormous bags were the scariest. If you didn’t get out of their way fast, you were in trouble. Each end of the “perekhods,” or long underground tunnels you walk through to change lines, was lined with Kalashnikov-toting militiamen with fur hats and drug dogs.

It was a nice transit system, the pride of the Soviet Union, but it wasn’t a very friendly place. That’s the biggest difference for me, and even though delays in Washington’s Metro have made me miss the newspaper’s shuttle more than once, it makes me glad I’m home.

Katie Stuhldreher is double-majoring in political science and Russian language as a rising senior at the University of Notre Dame.

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