Politically, Russia is unique. It is a former socialist state, transforming itself into a democratic nation. It is a former command economy, becoming a market economy. What does that translate into for the average American?
Well, the average Russian seems to like Americans. They seem to enjoy the thought of the "American Dream". Really, they don't have too much in common with the average American though.
The average person in Vladimir makes about $180 a month. They may (or may not) have a dishwasher, clothes washer, clothes dryer, blender or car... My host family has non of those.
Equally, the average Russian woman will have between 5-7 abortions in her lifetime. As abortion remains the common means of birth control, 5-7 is considered quite normal. The average Russian family does not have enough children for poluation replacement (i.e. the birth rate is far too low.)
The average Russian doesn't really give a damn about what the US is doing in Iraq. They have too many other problems.
Nobody (legally) owns firearms. The NRA perspective is really something new to them. I think that it sort of frightens them to find out that there are more guns than people in the US.
As you stroll the streets you see a good deal of nationalist as neo-nazi graffiti. 60 years ago the Russians lost nearly 25 million people because of the Nazis. Equally, it is quite clear that Hitler believed the Slavs to be sub-human. So how neo-nazism appeals to people in Russia is a mystery.
Free markets are a popular idea still. Though many have become disenfranchised by the "unsuccess" of the marketization of the Russian economy. I will say that it did not work because of a failure of free market values, but rather because of the extreme corruption in privatizing the major industries.
You can still bribe a cop in Moscow for less than $20. I met two Canadians as I was waiting to enter Lenin's tomb. They had left their passports at their hotel to be registered (as required by Russian law). A cop arbitrarly asked to see their passports, when they couldn't produce them, he accepted a $ 25 "fine". (Note: Real "fines" are paid at the national bank... Not to the cop in cash, without a receipt.)
The communist party still has a good deal of support. In my town there are several statues of Lenin (and a Lenin Stadium, a Lenin Street, etc). I saw a guy who was about 25 today,on the trolley, who was sporting his communist party pins.
Also, the Russian political system is much, much fractionalised than our two party system.
All-and-all, Russia is a rapidly changing place.
One of my favorite books is Genevra Gerhart's A Russian's World. It was published in 2001. It proved to be right-on when I was in the Ukraine. I have found that the sections covering entertainment, the youth, music, the telephone, etc are not up-to-date for Russia. The country has changed too much in 5 years.
Well, that is a brief capsule of life in Russia today.
At the behest of my babushka, I went to the Russian used clothes store today. She seems rather certain that I will die this winter because of the cold. But since I spent $35 and bought a heavy jacket and a sweater, I will apparently now be able to survive the winter!
Tomorrow, the group is taking an excursion to another small city, so it should be fun. Poka!