First of all, yes, I know the World Cup wrapped up earlier this month, and France benefited from some dodgy reffing to win. That’s not the point though. After all the pageantry and the hubbub, things have started to calm down. In a way, it’s a bit weird, because these last two months have been nothing but “World Cup! More foreigners! Even worse crowds in public places! Fancy decorations!” so one kind of forgets what it was like before.
The biggest thing I noticed was the fact that there was an all-encompassing spirit of camaraderie and togetherness. Both locals, expats, and tourists alike bonded over the World Cup, and this is probably the closest we’ll get to world peace. Nikolskaya Street, conveniently located right around the corner from Red Square, was the hub of the fans. I only ventured there once towards the end of the tournament, but man was it rocking. People were banging drums, singing their national and club songs, taking pictures with other fans, and generally enjoying the type of national goodwill reserved for certain holidays. I’m reliably told via the power of social media that the street was rocking during the duration of the WC, which I simultaneously regret/am happy that I missed. Even foreign media took a bigger interest in the cultural and historical aspects of the country! In particular, the excellent Calvert Journal traveled around and shed more light into the lesser-loved host cities (generally Rostov-on-Don, Samara, and Volgograd), but the BBC created some nifty videos to complement interest. Russia is a wonderfully big country with many neat, fascinating, and sometimes bizarre things to see, so I’m happy to be able to read more (and hope to see with my very own eyes) about these cafes, museums, towns, etc. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like this, and I hope that more people do get to see what else the country has to offer other than the current and former capitals; lord only knows how much I want to travel around, money and time permitting. And that reminds me-I hope interacting with foreigners has made Russians more open to exploring. For example, the knee jerk reaction for hearing “Colombia” has, in my experience, been one of two things: “it’s dangerous” or “it’s poor”. Now that they’ve seen the people from there I hope they will slowly yet surely be convinced to see that the world isn’t as bad as our preconceptions may make us believe.
Even the decor seemed like a welcome contrast from the usual. Banners and billboards greeting teams and their respective fans were everywhere, which provided a certain sense of color and cheerfulness. More importantly, this helped bring out the infamously slow-to-materialize Russian smile, which is an accomplishment in its own right. Seriously, the fact that people at least were trying to open up to foreigners on that scale made me pinch myself in disbelief. I witnessed a lot of locals trying to help the fans, which made me feel a lot more pride in my adopted city; when push comes to shove, Russians can offer overwhelming amounts of generosity and warmth. No matter their level of English, people tried to at least point tourists in the right direction. This was a huge thing, because in my nearly four full years here, it seems to be a stigma that you can speak English, much less in public. As an ESL teacher, I’m taking the not quite altruistic route in hoping this leads to more opportunities. But I digress.
Now though? Things have quieted down a ton. Given how much coverage these revelers got, it, at least to me, feels like there’s a hangover of sorts. Like, having the status quo of “relative quiet” return seems a bit off. And yes, it’s partly because of the noticeable absence of the incredibly lively fans. In a way, however, I feel that the overall spirit has some remnants hanging around, because it feels like people are still nicer. That, and on the purple line of the metro you can still hear the pre-recorded announcements for how to get to Spartak Stadium. Heck, I’ve even seen some people still rocking their volunteer apparel whilst in the metro. I guess my point is that looking back at things, it feels surreal to think that we all are living in the capital of the country that hosted the 2018 World Cup. (The almost overnight removal of all the banners here probably has contributed to that feeling.) Prior to the festivities TV screens were installed in quite a few of the metro wagons, so it was absolutely normal to see passengers glued to the screen. Now? Some of the TVs remain, but the only thing being broadcast is the Moscow news, which doesn’t quite hold as many peoples’ attention. At least the new improvements are sticking around for the time being, which is more than I honestly had expected.
At any rate, it was pretty awesome to partake in the World Cup festivities, not too mention the fact that I went to a match! It remains to be seen whether any of this built-up goodwill will last in Russia, but for now, I’m going to savor the time. Finally, I’ll miss the color that visiting fans brought, because it was swell seeing how gosh darn excited they were. Plus, the Argentinian, Peruvian, Brazilian, and Colombian guys were extremely colorful-they were the entertainment within the entertainment that we didn’t know we needed. All in all June and July served to remind everybody that Russia isn’t as dour as the stereotype goes, and we’re all for the better.