Building a career between Russia and the UK
Ignaty Dyakov, 30
Occupation: Works in consultancy and education
City of Origin: Saint Petersburg
From Saint Petersburg to London: I moved to London on September 15, 2008 to complete a master’s degree at University College London (UCL), and have been here for the past 5 years. I arrived at London Gatwick at 9.15am. It was an impromptu decision: I didn’t know that I would come to live here even half a year before I moved. For the first three days I didn’t see any English person in the streets. You are never taught about how multicultural London is at school. You definitely do not see the Sherlock Holmes-style London. When I landed, one of the first things I saw was Canary Wharf. I found myself wondering: “Am I in the States or in Britain?”
On missing Saint Petersburg: I still miss Saint Petersburg, but I guess it’s a very common feeling for people from that city... There are things which I wouldn’t mind having here from my hometown. People are so laidback and relaxed there. I miss that you can go out on the street and just wander around surrounded by all those masterpieces. You can go to the Hermitage for a quick walk and it’s still a special experience.
Adapting to a British lifestyle: Here they plan everything too much in advance. Once Christmas is over they will immediately start thinking about what to do for the next one.
On doing business in Russia and the UK: In business, a client might approach you half a year before actually placing an order. It’s different from what you would experience in Russia, where you can get things done with a snap of your fingers. However, I am definitely more relaxed when I do business here in London. It’s not that I experienced any particular pressure when I did business in Russia - I strongly disagree with people who say that it’s impossible to do business there. It is possible if you are doing everything according to the law, if you are making sure that you comply with it. But you are still stressed, and you can’t stop thinking of what would happen if something went wrong.
Life in Essex: My wife and I have recently moved to the countryside, in Essex. It is a completely different world. London is very international. In Essex you feel a bit singled out. It would be the same if an Englishman had moved to the Russian countryside. On the other hand, we live on the seashore, near the Thames, and that makes it feel much more similar to Saint Petersburg and the Neva.
On being a Russian in London: I am not sure I ever felt like a true Londoner. I am a Russian in London, I am a Russian citizen and I even use my Russian language skills in my job. As an emigrant, I will never get the same level of understanding of the city that natives have. You can just hope that your children will integrate better.
On being Russian: Despite their Soviet past, despite the collectivism of the 19th century and the peasant communes, Russians are still very individualistic. They prefer doing everything on their own. You can see it now: in politics we don’t have any strong single opposition party. They know that there is something wrong, but they keep on fighting on their own - they never unite.
A childhood memory: I was in primary school immediately after the 1991 August putsch in Russia. In Soviet times you would have chosen to become an Little Octobrist and receive a red star to put on your uniform - it was the first stage to become a Young Pioneer. After the collapse of the Soviet Union Orthodoxy became increasingly popular, so children would be given two choices: being baptised or becoming a Little Octobrist. I remember standing in line and thinking: “Ok, there is this very nice cross that I can wear around my neck or this very nice enamelled perfect red star.” I kept on telling myself: “God, what do I do?” In the end I went for the cross.
Russian pride: Every Russian is proud of his country. I am proud of our culture, our architects, our painters, musicians, composers. On a level of mentality and character, Russians are very patient. Throughout history we have consistently proved to be an enduring lot.
On Russian literature: People abroad don’t know about Pushkin. They know of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but they never think about Pushkin. And he is one of the best. He created the modern Russian language. Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are for thinkers, but Pushkin is great for everyone.
Favourite place in London: Bloomsbury. It’s so relaxed. You go there and you are surrounded by all these academics and intellectuals. My university and the British Museum are located nearby. Small shops, parks, coffee shops - everything is so delightful.
A Russian hangout in London: I love popping into Russkiy Mir on Goodge Street. I know the people who work there and it’s always nice to have a chat with them.