“Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” said Winston Churchill more than half a century ago. Churchill’s views are as accurate now as they were then. Russia is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic countries in the world. Spanning 11 time zones and two continents, she covers about one-sixth of the Earth’s surface. But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Russia is its people. What are the people of the former Soviet Union like? Specifically, how do the Russians treat the “outsiders” in their midst?
The Russians have a reputation of being fatalistic and callous drunkards. It is true that Russians are much more fatalistic than Americans. And yes, they do like to drink. But neither one of those facts is correctly understood by most “Westerners.”
Russians just express themselves differently than Americans. Whereas Americans greet even complete strangers with a large toothy smile, Russians reserve their warmth for when they are sincerely happy to see people. Russians view Americans as being disingenuous and they see no need for it. Russians know who their friends are.
The way Russians view society tends to rapidly break-down into two categories: People are “friends” or “strangers”. A friend is the most valuable asset to a Russian. Routinely you will hear that, “100 friends are better than 100 Rubles”.
Being friends with a Russian is a great experience. On multiple occasions, I have been bought drinks or toasted by Russians because I was a foreigner who was striving to better understand their language and culture. Russians express an honest desire to better understand the West. They are truly curious as to what life is like beyond the borders of the former USSR.
If a Russian sees that his friend is in trouble, he does not think twice to extend a helping hand. When among friends, schedules do not matter as much to Russians as to Americans.
Perhaps another noticeable quality is that Russians can be much more direct than Americans. When they do not care for someone or something, they will probably say so. If you have erred, they will let you know. This extends to day–to-day life. If you are walking around the street without a jacket during the winter, old ladies will chastise your lack of judgment on such a cold day and tell you that you are going to get sick.
Russians take great pride in their country. They delight in telling foreigners of the accomplishments of their people. Though, there is a hint of jealousy when they speak about the West.
As a cautionary, I must say that most Russians are not exactly thrilled by racial, ethnic or other minorities in their country. A white American is interesting, whereas a Chechen Muslim may be despised.
Russians are not like Americans or Europeans, but they are some of the most incredible people in the world. As for me, I will spend the rest of my days studying the Russians and their ways, and there is nothing that I would rather be doing.
I have been back in the States for three months - and I still get emails from readers - which I still greatly appreciate!
I am not currently working in the Russian studies field (I am working on a local political race), I believe that the GMU Russian Department prepared me very well for a career in the Russian's world. I would highly recommend GMU's program to students interested in getting a BA in Russian Studies (http://russianstudies.gmu.edu/).
If you have any questions about GMU's Russian Studies, of course, I would be happy to answer them. I would also contact Dr James Levine, Chair of the Russian Studies Department ( firstname.lastname@example.org). (Yes, he is the same Dr James Levine that wrote Schaum's Outline to Russian Grammar that I strongly recommended in my earlier posts).
GMU's Government and International Politics program is also worth noting .
Currently I am intending on applying to get my MA in International Relations at St Petersburg State University. Right now I am investigating the various fellowship opportunities, etc.
Earlier today I finished writing an article about Russians for a forthcoming book, by Carmelita McMillin about immigrant life, called Laugh Your Way to America, Or Cry, and Make It. (The article is above).
Other than that, my life here in the US is pretty quiet. I still hang-out with lots of Russian speaking people. I need to keep practicing Russian! I really cannot wait to get back to the former Soviet Union, and I am thinking about spending my New Year's/Christmas break in the Ukraine (again). Hopefully, I will be enrolled in my MA program at SPSU a year from now. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments!
Thank you for taking the time to share my Life in Russia with me!