I think the biggest misconception about Russia and Russians is that the place is depressing and people are all grim, repressed, brainwashed, angry, drunk and so on… When I was studying at Uni guys called me “Crazy Russian”. I didn’t actually think there was anything particularly wrong with it (I recon it is much better being called “Crazy” than stupid or boring but it was always puzzling me, where does the whole “Crazy” thing come from.
Well, after submerging deeper into English culture it seems to me that it comes from nowhere other than James Bond movies. I was really quite impressed that guys my age still had the whole “Russian Vilian” image embedded in their minds so well. The number of stereotypes about Russia and Russians is huge and I feel compelled to tell a few things, both good and bad, that I consider to be true about Russians and Russia.
Russians don’t want to take over the world :).
I mean really, I hope not many people believe this one, but with all the games and other stuff it kinda gets into the minds of many otherwise sensible people. I am not going to get all political and discuss financial military and other struggles that Russia is involved in. Everyone is involved in some struggles or other and methods used by most governments around the world are detestable. But my point is that Russians as a nation never wanted to conquere the world. Russian colonization was a lot softer than say English. And even during the time of USSR majority of the population wanted to liberate the rest of the world. And it was not some excuse for invasion, people really believed it.
What Russians really want is not to be pushed around. And we don’t want our country to fall apart under the external political and military pressure. But this is an item to be discussed on its own.
Russians are not all dark and gloomy.
This stereotype is so strong, that I fell for it myself while living overseas. The images shown by the media of Russia being the dark cold repressive state with depressed people hating their life is so strong that it is almost impossible to resist. I have no doubt that it is a wide spread belief. Well, it is not true. There is always a variation, but in general I would say Russians are no more gloomy than Americans. But we really smile less or rather we smile on different occasions. Most Russians find American way of smiling quite disconcerning. To Russians it looks and feels out of place. It feels fake actually. It took me ages to get used to this “I am just being polite” smile or to the “I am reporting news on TV so I have to smile even if the news are terrible” smile.
If I was to compare, Russians are a lot more like Italian/Latino ( except we don’t “speak with our hands” as much :D) than English. It is strange, but I am getting more and more convinced that this is true. Russians are in general very social, very friendly, often mix business with home, passionate, emotional. Remember a moment in “Edvin Scizorhands” when Edvin is presented with a moral dilema about money found on the street. Well, most Russians would probably make the same choice he did and give them to those they love rather than giving them back to the police.
This has been true for centuries and, I think, it one of the reasons the corruption is such an issue in Russia (and in Italy).
But there is a good side to it too. Russian poetry is beautiful, Russian literature is deep, Russian music is heartbreaking.
This is something I can talk about for ages, so I will just shut up now and leave it for another post.
Russians drink a lot
I think it kind of follows from the item above. I think the main reasons are tradition plus the whole thing with being social and friendly. The habbits are changing though. As far as I know people nowdays go easy on vodka and drink more beer and wine. I just hope this will become less of an issue with time.
However, having said that, I think that drinking habits of Russians are highly exagerated by the western media. Majority of people that I’ve met in Russia don’t drink much more than anyone else in other places.
Russians smoke a lot
This is also true and I blame “perestroyka” for this. Smoking wasn’t a problem in USSR, it came from the West because “they had it and so it was good”. It became one of the symbols of success and independence among that generation and now we are still struggling with the consequences. This year the government has finally raised taxes for cigarettes so I hope it will deter some from starting and will help others to quit.
But just to put it in perspective, according to statistics from World Health Organization, Russian smoking levels are comparable to those of China, Korea and Japan.
Russian roads are bad
:))))))!!! They are bad. In some places they are unbelievably bad http://englishrussia.com/?p=1876, in some others they are ok.
Russia is a depressing place to be
Not! Another one I started to believe while living in Australia. I was really happy to find out that I was rather wrong about it. I can now tell with confidence, that the media coverage is rather shaky on this one.
Russia is very very diverse. Some places are very modern while others feel like they are still part of Soviet times. But it doesn’t mean that the whole thing is depressing. It is actually very exciting. I don’t know if it will make sense to you, but to most Russians USA looks like an extremely boring predictable place. And I am not talking some hardcore communists, or outsiders. I am talking about Software Engineers, Scientists, Businessmen – the “middle class”.
I have heard it so many times already. People go to USA on assignment and get all excited about the new stuff, but 1 month later they all moan and complain about how everything is so standardised and predictable and unexciting. And I have to agree. Unlike many Western countries Russia has “vibrancy” which means you can do stuff outside the square. You can go into the forest without booking the route. You can go fishing without getting a permit. You can talk to the stranger on the train and he will not think that you are trying to offend him.
Of course it doesn’t mean that it is all great. The corruption is true. Bureaucracy is true. Bad roads are really really bad!!! But this is not the point. My point is that it is not all dark and gloomy. The place is not all set up as the western countries which should be expected considering the Soviet times, but it is not inherently bad, it is just not as developed.
One mistake that many people do outside of Russia is to assume that it is in some or many ways similar to China or Middle Eastern countries. The logic goes, it has human right issues, lots of oil, and it doesn’t seem to fit in in the West… Well, this is not true at all. Despite the differences Russian culture is very much in line with the West. Of course it picked a few things from the East being conquered by Tatars and Mongols, having active contacts with Middle East and Caucazus, but it is still as much a European culture as Spain or Serbia or Greece are. So please, believe me, Russia is not a crazy barbaric country even though it has its own quirks and problems.
In the following posts I will try to further explore the place of Russia in the world as well as issues and benefits associated with it.
Stay tuned 🙂