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11. My arrival in Russia: immigration, customs and Russian Mafia

Finally, after a few months of planning and preparations, it was the day of my departure. On 24 June at about 13h00 I arrived at the international airport Sheremetevo 2 in Moscow. It was raining. I was surprised to see so many planes of the Russian airlines Aeroflot at the airport. Some of them were totally or half stripped and parked in rows on the field. What struck me about the airport was that it was old with limited space for the enormous queues waiting to go through immigration and customs.

Eventually it was my turn to go through the immigration. My idea of Russian people was that Perestroika had brought changes and those emotionless people that we saw in James Bond movies had disappeared. I handed in my documents to the lady behind the counter. She did not say a word and did not even look at me. No "Hello" or anything else, even in Russian! She silently took my passport and paged through it, looked at my visa, and compared the photo on the visa with the photo in my passport. She looked at the photo on my visa and looked at me to check if I was indeed the same person. She looked me straight in the eyes and as a normal reaction from me I smiled, but no reaction came from her side. Without any emotion or reaction she looked at me and looked at the photos on the visa and passport, opened my passport and stamped it. I could not understand this emotionless reaction of the woman or should I rather call her officer. Elena later told me because of the work that they were doing, she would not smile, and secondly it was not in the Russian tradition for a woman to smile back at strangers.

After the immigration I went to collect my luggage. When I arrived at the conveyer my luggage was already available. At the exit from the international arrivals hall I was met by Dmitriy, the driver of the car for my afternoon transit tour in Moscow. Dmitriy was fluent in English and I was very impressed. I was wondered if I was over concerned about Russian people that could not speak English, but Dmitriy confirmed that I surely would experience problems. Dmitriy told me that he had a full time job but that he transported people on transit tours through Moscow in his free time. Initially I thought that he was the tour guide as well, but he told me that we would meet the guide near the Red square and that she would be my tour guide and he was only a driver. The tour guide's name was also Elena. I thought "What a coincidence" but now I know it is a very popular name in Russia. If you look through Internet dating agencies, you will find hundreds (I am not kidding) women whose name is Elena. Russians don't have such a variety of first names that we do in the West, I don't know why but it seems there are only a few dozens female names. When you look through the Internet websites, you will all the time see women named Elena, Natasha (or Natalia - it is the same name), Olga, Tatiana, Svetlana, Irina, Marina, Ludmila - don't worry, there is nothing wrong with it. I did not know about the names at the time, and I decided the fact that my guide's name was the same as the woman I was going to visit must be a good omen.

Dmitriy and I had a pleasant conversation on the way from the airport. He was very interested in my country and questioned me all the time. There were some road works and the traffic moved terribly slow even though there were three lanes of traffic going into the city and three lanes coming out of the city. In the middle of the road was an additional lane for emergency vehicles. As we were talking I saw some unmarked motorcars, some with blue flashing lights and some without, driving at high speed in the emergency lane. I asked Dmitriy if that was the police? To my surprise he said no, it was the Mafia, police cars were only the ones that were marked. I was stoned. Then he told me about the Russian mafia, and how powerful they were. Before that I was only aware of the Italian mafia.


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Sheremetevo 2, Moscow, Russia
Airport Sheremetevo, terminal 2 (international) Moscow


Sheremetevo 2, Moscow, Russia
Sheremetevo 2 was built in the early 1970's, during the times of the cold war. It is by far too small for today's busy international life. Long queues and lack of waiting rooms don't make a favorable impression.


Moscow, Russia
Moscow is becoming prettier with every day: renovations, reconstructions, upgrading of roads and new buildings are changing its look to the one of a modern European capitals (I hope they will reconsider the upgrading of the international airport soon!)







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