How common is Russian as a spoken, street, popular language vs. Moldovan - that I understand is like Romanian? I need to send someone I don't know, from Chisinau, some informational material. I am better off going with English or Russian??
Note: I have not been to Moldova (or Romania, for that matter), but since I study languages, let me say that Moldovan IS Romanian in all but name. Even Moldovans admit that the two languages are the same, but prefer to say "Moldovan" as a matter of nationalist pride.
Moldovan/Romanian is about 75% equivalent to Italian, that is about 75% of the language shares roots with Italian through their common ancestor, Latin. Thus, after living in Rome, even I can read some Romanian, when it is describing a familiar subject like travel.
Moldovan/Romanian have a number of Slavic loan words, as you can imagine - the word for "yes" is "da" like in Russian, not "si" or "oui" like in Romance languages.
The Wikipedia article suggests that some 70% of the residents of Chisinau call themselves Moldovan/Romanian with only 14% calling themselves "Russian", so I am guessing that while Russian is spoken there, it is not nearly as widespread as the national (Moldovan/Romanian) language.
When you say that you don't know the person, this means that you also don't know which language they prefer? In that case, I would go with English (if you think they understand it). Because of the breakaway territory of Transnistria, there are possible political implications to using Russian (Russia is virtually the only country to recognize the independent status of Transnistria, while the rest of the world considers it still part of Moldova). English has the advantage of being more politically neutral in this case...
Anyway, this would be my guess from the outside...I am interested to see what others closer to th source might say...
I would say that "Most" Moldavians speak Russian. However, as the previous post says if you are writing to a business or somebody official they may be insulted by your assumption that they would like you to communicate in Russian. Russian is commonly accepted on the street, Moldavians understand or speak Russian, however, those of Russian "roots" in some cases refuse to speak or learn the Moldavian language. Yes I have been there, 16 times, and I have only learnt a little Russian but I don't have a problem communicating. The Government are pushing for Moldavian to be used more widely, specifically in the case of applications for citizenship.
Hope this adds to the info above in helping you to decide.
certainly send it in russian!!
chances are near 100% they'll at least understand it.