So I was just about to call it quits for the day as far as blogging goes, and then I saw…THIS. Big surprise- it’s from Voice of Russia. It might be hard to understand why something so innocuous drives me up the wall, but let me start with the title, “Things Americans might find odd about the way Russians live.” For quite some time there has been this obsession, driven largely by the Russian media, about how Americans see Russia. A great deal of people seem to have made rather successful careers from “analyzing” the differences, real or imagined, between Russia and America. They may differ on the details, but generally it seems to revolve around Americans not having souls. It’s certainly been a gold mine for this guy. The thing is whenever you see a Russian “differences between Russia and America,” piece, it’s often some kind of passive-aggressive, sour grapes-filled masturbatory fantasy that few Americans are ever going to read.
The reason why all this obsession over America and how Americans see Russians is absolute dumbfuckery is because aside from keeping the population distracted from real issues and basically amounting to a kind of national circle-jerk, this is basically a one-way street. In other words, by and large Americans simply do not give a flying fuck about Russia or how Russians see Americans. It’s not that they don’t like Russians, it’s just that there is no more reason for them to care about Russians than say, Turks, or Romanians. In fact one of the reasons why Americans seem so ignorant about other countries is because they simply do not care and relatively few people have the opportunity to actually find out.
Now the insinuation that Americans don’t really care about Russia may break more than a few hearts among the “patriotic,” “information war” veterans on the Russian side(many of whom aren’t even Russian). How could I be writing this when massively popular video games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III or Battlefield 3 have Russian villains as though we were still living in the days of the Cold War? Well it’s quite simple really- sheer laziness. Hollywood traffics in stereotypes because Hollywood’s business is, and always has been, profit, now more than ever. In any case this is a matter for another article. The main point I’m trying to make here is that when you say something about “things an American might find odd about how Russians live,” you’re basically writing about things most Americans do not give a shit about, and can’t be bothered to give a shit about. In truth there are a lot of things Americans would find bizarre about the way the British live. In short…
So what would you Americans out there find so odd? Let’s have a look. As is usually the case, I’m only going to address those parts which I find noteworthy.
1. Average Russians prefer the prestige and comfort of urban life – suburbs are for dachas. Whereas most Americans live in suburban homes and ‘inner cities’ are scary, neglected wastelands, Russians prefer to live in urban apartments. Areas outside of cities are reserved for dachas, which are usually small wooden summer cottages on dirt roads on 600 m2 of land. Whereas the dachas of the wealthy are often large brick homes in gated communities, even these are rarely permanent places of residence.
First off, what “average Russians” prefer is really irrelevant to where they live. Ask most “average Russians” where they prefer to live these days and it’s often in another country, preferably one with better weather. Prestige has nothing to do with it. Necessity is everything. That goes for “comfort” as well. Few things are less comfortable than having to take a half-hour metro ride crammed in a car like sardines. These are all the effects of economic conditions and historical events which were never in the hands of “average Russians,” therefore it is insulting to act like it was their choice. Inner city living is quite common throughout Europe and many other countries, and the difference between this and the suburban American lifestyle is also rooted in historical and economic conditions. Also the author clearly isn’t familiar with the phenomena of hipsters or gentrification, obviously.
Anyway, one thing I find hilarious is the photo he chose.
This is obviously a modern Russian apartment block and I can say this would be a desirable place to live, if you ignore issues like its actual location(in the city or Moscow region), parking, proximity to public transport and schools, etc. But all that shit you see below is something you can’t easily escape without tons of money. I’m not saying aesthetics are everything, but if you’re going to make an argument about “prestige…”
3. Russians seldom have large families. Due to the small size of apartments, Russians aren’t quick to have many children. Although most women would ideally have two children, many have just one. Russians have no word for “cousin” and call their cousins “second-brother” or “second sister”. The average Russian woman has 1.3 children, a similar rate to that of Germany and Italy.
I don’t know why he bothered to point this out, because Americans also aren’t having large families. In fact I think it’s safe to say that American birth rates for millenials will probably be pretty low. What I do find odd about this is that the kinds of people you might find writing for Voice of Russia are those who would deny Russia has a serious demographic crisis.
4. Apartments are usually passed from grandparents to grandchildren. Whereas Americans believe “your home is your biggest investment”, Russians attach a value to their homes that goes beyond dollars and sense. You will almost never see a Russian sell his apartment to buy stocks, bonds, or some other investment vehicle. Families keep apartments and pass them on to their grandchildren when they die.
Here we get that passive aggressive, sour grapes swipe. Those souless Americans see their home as an investment, but Russians see it as something much more! No. What the author is ignoring is that the reason grandparents have those apartments is because the Soviet government gave them to citizens. If it weren’t for this millions of people wouldn’t be able to afford the rent or interest to live in Moscow.
5. Whereas Russian roads are notoriously bad, the railways put Amtrak to shame.
Yeah Russia’s trains look great when you compare them to the worst railway service in the industrialized world. Frankly speaking, Russia’s train service is in fact very good, but since visiting China I have to say Russia’s railway system takes second place. I’m not trying to run down the Russian railways at all; it is indeed a great system. It’s just that there is dishonesty in this argument which cannot be ignored. For example, one should not compare Amtrak’s service to Russia’s fastest train, the Sapsan. This train is a big deal in Russia, but it’s nothing to Japan or China. Moreover, one reason why railways are so popular is due to the poor airport infrastructure which makes internal air travel both inconvenient and dangerous. This might seem like ball-breaking but it’s just in response to a dishonest argument. It’s kind of like the way I like firearms ownership in the US but I loathe being associated with “pro-gun” types simply because their arguments are embarrassingly ridiculous.
6. Russians make up for the drabness of Soviet housing with sumptuous interiors.
This is very true, whether you’re talking about flats or houses. It’s not true of every flat, of course, but the bottom line is that you shouldn’t judge dwellings by their exteriors in Russia.
7. Russians travel abroad far more than Americans; Turkey and Egypt are very popular holiday destinations and wealthier people visit Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic and other European countries.
Also true, but once again he doesn’t take into account the economic factors, much less simple geography. Probably the main factor here is the law on paid vacation in Russia, a holdover from the Soviet Union. When people can realistically take long vacations, a travel industry arises to meet that demand. Obviously paid vacation laws exist in many other European and non-European countries, but who can say how long these laws will survive in an era of austerity?
8. Russian parties are different from American ones. Whereas an American office party will usually feature soda and a pizza, it’s not uncommon for Russians to drink wine, vodka and whiskey at a company party. It’s also common for people to get extremely plastered and bear their emotions to the entire world at house parties.
Wait. Is that supposed to be a good thing?
9. Owning a foreign-brand car is seen as a sign that you’ve ‘made it’ in Russia. Most of the older generation in Russia grew up without personal automobiles. That’s why foreign-made, Russian-produced cars such as the Ford Focus and Renault Duster are so popular, despite ever-increasing traffic jams. Some drivers prefer the comfort of their cars to public transportation even when it costs them extra time to forgo quicker forms of transportation such as the Metro.
I found this item funny because I, perhaps unfairly, associate Voice of Russia with the “patriots” who insist Russia is this rising power in the world. One funny thing about these “patriots” is that they love everything foreign, from their vacations to their phones. They send their children to study abroad in the US while making public condemnations of the same country. This is no secret in Russia either. Unless there is a really good reason to drive, smart Russians stick with the metro.
Anyway, that’s about all I found worthy of comment. I should point out that the signature has links to help the reader learn more about the “mysterious Russian soul.” I will save you some time and solve the mystery for you.
There is no such thing as “the Russian soul,” or any national “soul” for that matter. As a friend of mine pointed out, raise a million Russians from infancy to adulthood in the United States and they will grow up Americans, not Russians. Same goes for any other country you choose. You’re not going to see some teenagers complaining about having strange feelings of affinity for birch trees or sour cream. I personally hate this Russian soul mythology because I know that Russians are very concerned about how they are stereotyped, and this Russian soul myth is a major source of stereotypes about Russians. It’s basically a form of Orientalism which sees Russians collectively rather than as individuals. Unfortunately while many Russians hate the side-effects of this mythology, there is still a strong urge to hold onto it.
In case I haven’t made it clear why articles like this sometimes piss me off, first of all I cannot confirm if the writer is even Russian. I would not put it past some American or British Team Russia hack to write an article like this. I think this gives Russophiles in the West an inaccurate picture of life in Russia, one which feeds into their romantic notions about the country and people. They get the idea that moving to Russia might be a great idea. When it doesn’t work out for them, massive buttrage, or worse, ensues.
The truth is that life in Russia does have some advantages but this can be conveyed in a manner that isn’t a passive-aggressive swipe at a national “rival” whose people largely don’t give a flying fuck. Moreover, many times those advantages are only for certain people. Life in Russia as an emigre isn’t for everybody, and authors need to convey this in order to be honest. Rant over.
BONUS SECTION: After posting this I decided that I should give at least one Russia vs. America difference where Russia comes out totally on top, hands down. That is the subject of weddings. Weddings in America are absolute insanity, from public proposals that make everyone feel awkward, to engagement rings, one-time wedding dresses, and ceremonies for which families actually go into debt in order to pay for everything. As far as I know American and Russian divorce rates are similar but at least in Russia you lose such astronomical sums of money on that bet, and it would not surprise me to find out that the tension and financial issues surrounding many marriages can be linked to a number of divorces. Last time I checked the average wedding cost in the US was somewhere around $27,000. If I tally up every possible expense associated with my wedding, it barely cracks $1000, and my wife can still use her wedding dress. Full point to Russia for this one.