— What made you visit Moscow?
— Love. In 2005, I met my wife-to-be at a holiday resort. I asked her: “Are you having a nice time?” And she replied: “Sorry, but I really don’t speak English”. I was a frequent visitor to Moscow as a tourist. Aeroflot just loved me: I used to fly all over the place. And in 2007, I moved here permanently.
— Before you met your future wife, had you had any contact with Russians?
— Not at all! The only Russian I had heard of was Ivan Drago from the film Rocky. And some of the country’s leaders, like Yeltsin and Brezhnev.
— And how do you feel about Russians now?
— Russians are similar to the Irish. Once you know them a bit better, they show themselves to be amiable and will do anything they can for you. I now have lots of Russian friends, and a Russian family: a mother-in-law and father-in-law. They don’t speak English but I try to speak Russian as much as I can.
— Are you taking Russian lessons?
— No, I learn by practising it. I like the Russian language: it sounds so fluid. At first, Russians seemed to me to be a little on the gloomy side but now I know the Russian proverb: “Laughter for no reason is a sign of foolishness”. When I go back to Ireland, I see a higher level of optimism there than in Russia. But Russians are optimists on the inside. The Irish are more open on first meeting. Getting to know Russians well takes longer. But at the end of the day, we are very similar.
— And how do you find the Moscow weather?
— I’ve got used to the weather here. When I was about to come here, it was October and everyone in Ireland said to me: “You’re going to the coldest country in the world!” When it snows in Ireland, the schools close, and the hospitals. Traffic comes to a standstill. Pipes freeze, there’s water gushing everywhere, and people panic. But the infrastructure in Moscow is so geared towards the cold, that freezing temperatures are no big deal.
— Why did you decide to start your own business in Moscow?
— I had a business in Ireland already. I like my independence; I like to work my own hours. Obviously, there are peaks and troughs in business, there are definite risks but, overall, the game is worth the candle. I didn’t start my business in Moscow straight away. Up until March 2009, I was working with various centres of learning, in various places, on various contracts. It worked out that in the morning I had to be on the north side of Moscow and, at lunchtime, I had to be in the south. Not too convenient. Now I am in charge of my own work schedule.
— And how long is your working day?
— From morning until evening. It can be up to 12 hours.
— How did your wife react when you decided to start your own business?
— She thought I was out of my mind. “You should do something else! You won’t have any kind of stable income!” she said. I reassured her: “I have a lot of experience, don’t worry about it, it will work out fine. And the income will be better”. I had faith in my own abilities. The only problem was the paper trail. But both my wife and my clients help me out, as well as anybody else who understands such things. It’s an open secret that the level of bureaucracy in Russia is very high. In Ireland, I could set a company up in two days flat, online, but in Moscow you have to have a pile of documents. It makes you want to ask the civil servants: “It’s 2013 out there! Have you never heard of the internet?”
— How is the business doing now?
— It's going well. It’s simply amazing. I’m happy with the way it’s all developing. I’m doing less teaching these days and mine is now more of a managerial role. I have eight colleagues, contractors. I also organise trips to Ireland. Russians learning English often say: “Come on, let’s go to London!” or some other place in England. But I would recommend going to Ireland. Every year we get Irish students learning Russian in Dublin coming to us. I help them out with work. Some do teaching, others go into journalism or business.
— Do you have an office? Where do you do your teaching?
— Mine is a virtual school. If an office is needed, I can help arrange one through acquaintances. I meet people in their offices or at their houses. I used to give lessons at my place but I avoid that now: I don’t like to mix the professional with the personal. I sometimes hold lessons in a cafe. It all depends on the client.
— Have you been to any other Russian cities apart from Moscow? Which city is your favourite?
— I’ve been to St. Petersburg, to Samara, to Livny in Oryol Oblast: it’s my wife’s hometown. When my parents came over for my wedding in 2009, we went for a drive from Moscow to Livny. It’s about 460km away. Just imagine: the distance is about the same from the northernmost to the southernmost point of Ireland! And my mum kept asking: “Where is this place? Does it actually exist? Where are we heading?” Of course, if Ireland is my fingernail on this hand then Russia is the whole of the palm. Moscow leaves a huge impression on people but visitors should also see what lies beyond the confines of the capital. When about 15 of us from Ireland arrived in Livny, it was like an alien invasion. People got used to foreigners in Moscow a long time ago. And, it goes without saying, Moscow is my favourite Russian city: I do live here, after all. Although St. Petersburg is very beautiful.
— Are you intending to stay in Moscow permanently?
— I’m often asked that question, both in Moscow and in Ireland. I have temporary leave to remain, which will soon become indefinite. Deep down, I will always be an Irishman, Ireland will always be my native home but I have been in Moscow for seven years now. I don’t know. We’ll have to see. A lot of foreigners come to Moscow for six months or a year, and 15 years later you can still see them here. At the moment, the economic situation in Ireland is not particularly healthy, and I have no desire whatsoever to go back. It’s hard for people there. I wouldn’t be able to earn as much in Ireland as I do in Moscow.
— And how do you find the traffic jams in Moscow? Do you have a car?
— I have a car and it’s, no doubt, the cleanest in Moscow seeing as I hardly ever use it. The metro suits me better. You know, you hear complaints that there are too many people on it, and that kind of thing, but I like the metro all the same because it is faster. And something else I’ve noticed is that a lot of Muscovites think that if you don’t have a car it must mean that you are hard-up. That’s utterly ridiculous.
— And have you come to appreciate the beauty of the Moscow metro?
— In all honesty, I rarely look around me when I’m down there. People who come here as tourists send me their Moscow photos afterwards, and some of them are taken in the metro, and that’s when I notice how beautiful the underground system is here.
— Do you have a favourite place in Moscow?
— My favourite place is at home with my wife. I also like Silver’s Irish pub on Tverskaya. But I don’t get hung up on any place in particular. A couple of bars and restaurants.
— What is your favourite Moscow restaurant?
— I like the Indian restaurant Darbar on top of the Sputnik hotel on Leninsky Avenue. It has a fantastic view of the city! It’s next door to where we live on Michurinsky Avenue, next to the university. When my wife cooks, the food is really good, and when she doesn’t, we go out to a restaurant. I make a good eater but not such a good cook.