January 24, 2015
Moscow is vast. The city is very big, the urban landscape is varied and to get from a spiral ice cream like cathedral to a Stalinist tower to a soviet block of flats, you need a good public transport network. There are buses and taxis, but the traffic is very bad and so most people use the underground transport system – the metro. Metro in Russia is spelt метро. Like any major city, the metro system is very complex and sprawls from one corner of the city to another. The Moscow метро is the world’s busiest by daily ridership. To get anywhere takes a very long time, and often involves entering the centre only to change lines and head back out. So a lot of people spend a lot of time on the метро. The commuting experience on the метро offers an impressive sight. It is beautiful and grand, with huge corridors, chandeliers and painted ceilings. Park Pobedy station is 243 feet or 74 metres underground, one of the world’s deepest public transport spots.
The метро was designed, under Stalin’s instruction, to embody a “radiant future”, hence the tall marble walls, bright chandeliers and overall shininess. This underground palatial structure was supposed to show what a wonderful life the Party was giving its people and also what proletariat labour was capable of building. The метро commuter is reminded, by announcements frequently blared out from a loudspeaker, to be considerate and selfless when travelling. Instructions to give up your seat for those who need it more than you are printed on the windows in case you did not hear. Failing this, an old Russian woman scowling at you is sure to make you jump off your seat.
[note: the Russian word for a disabled person is “invalid”, which is impossible to get used to no matter how many times the loudspeaker says it] Despite the institutionalised selflessness, random acts of kindness are regarded with suspicion. The woman who scowled at you for not giving up your seat, will also scowl at you if you offer to help carry a heavy bag up the stairs.
In some instances, non-consideration of others seems to be factored into the design. The doors in and out are built in a way that makes it more cumbersome for everyone involved if you try and hold the door open for the person behind you. Best to just let it swing, everyone has learnt how best to react to a heavy door swinging towards them. Through observation I have picked up some handy tips from other commuters. Some people keep their eyes shut, possibly taking a nap or imagining that they are somewhere else. Others use ear plugs – the метро is very loud which can be tiring. Listening to music or anything is difficult, unless you own very powerful headphones. The last one is maybe a result of the second, and is not exclusive to the Moscow метро – it also doesn’t necessarily constitute a tip, but it is a reality: commuters don’t chat. At the end of the day, after having sat on the метро for hours, having given up your seat, having swung a door in someones face, having struggled to listen to your favourite podcast, having attempted to take a nap and having arrived safely to your destination, you can be grateful that you are not employed by the метро to perform some seemingly needless task. Drawn above is a personal favourite: an automatic photo booth attendant.