May 1, 2007｜Russia
Associate Professor, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University
In early April, I visited Moscow on business. It had been nine months since I had last been in Russia, and the city was as bustling as ever. I have to state the downside that the congestion on the roads was unspeakable. Also the steep rise in hotel rates now has to be called abnormal. In August of last year I stayed at a hotel on the outskirts of Moscow where a one-night stay cost me US$130. I was forced to stay there again due to no vacancies elsewhere, and this time one night cost US$230—I felt even more “ripped off”. Also the hotel, where the room was a “better” one by Russian standards (that said, it would be the equivalent of a 10,000-yen room at the most in Japan), was in an extremely inconvenient location, with a bus ride of around thirty minutes to the nearest Metro station of Petrovsko-Razumovskaya (which was itself also quite far from the city center). And as if that weren’t bad enough, if you were to take a taxi you wouldn’t be able to avoid the city’s traffic jams, and a journey to the city center could take close to two hours. Given that, during my stay my use of the bus and Metro increased, and this time something greatly surprised me. On the city’s Metro and buses job advertisements can be seen, often with the phrase “… Wanted”. Among them there was “Train-Driver Wanted”, but what grabbed my eye were the job conditions. “Salary from 35,500 rubles” had now become the case.
As of the end of February 2007, the average wage for Russia as a whole is just below 12,000 rubles (56,000 yen), and for Moscow the same figure is just below 19,700 rubles (90,000 yen). Taking into consideration things other than wages (pensions, capital gains, etc.) then the average per capita monetary income becomes just less than 11,000 rubles for the whole country, whereas for Moscow just less than 26,000 rubles (120,000 yen). If you consider only average per capita income, there would be nothing strange if the wages for heads of household were just under 40,000 rubles. Even so, 35,500 rubles is approximately 170,000 yen. Looking at the average-wage statistics for Moscow, you would never have been able to guess that a Metro-train driver would get such a wage. Official statistics are limited to what can be grasped thoroughly and it can be said that it’s common knowledge that actual incomes aren’t confined to such figures. Yet somehow the incomes of Muscovites were higher than I had imagined.
During this stay in Moscow, I went, accompanied by another person, to an Italian restaurant, which I am sure to go to when I visit Moscow and which is located opposite the Central Telegraph Building. It is a place I have been every year without fail since my first visit in 2002. With both good service and food, the first time I ate there it was inspirational. If you consider the Russian income level at that time, however, the prices were not cheap, and of the customers in 2002, the striking thing was that they were foreigners and “New Russians” only. It is a place where from that time on the price of a meal, excluding alcoholic drinks, has been around 4,000 yen.
This time, however, I felt the “quality” of service was clearly not the same as before (although I had actually felt this a little last year also). To put it bluntly, it was close to the service that can be seen at “Yolki-Palki”, which could rightly be called a Russian-version family restaurant. For the food as well, although it hadn’t changed in its fundamentals, I was highly conscious of a certain something lacking in the “finishing touches”. Running my gaze over the people around me, I didn’t notice anyone who appeared foreign except for ourselves. Nor for that matter any “new” Russians. The restaurants were packed with only Russians who would have looked more at home in the area of Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, one street back from the main thoroughfare of Tverskaya Street. I couldn’t help but give a wry smile, thinking that due to the rise in the income level of Russian people, this Italian restaurant also, for better or for worse, had undergone “Russification”.
NB: The salary figures quoted are per month.