Russians Are So Different

A Russian-speaking blogger in California has pointed me in the direction of this hilarious textbook about the differences between the Russians and the Americans. Folks, this was so funny that I forgot my midpoint tenure review, set aside my valiant struggle with my Canadian bank, and laughed so hard I almost peed myself.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“If you want to say ‘OK,’ don’t make a circle with your thumb and first finger,” the woman began. ” That means OK here in the United States, but in Russia it’s an obscene gesture.”

Erm. . . No, it isn’t. If anybody wants an obscene Russian gesture, I can show you one. But the OK gesture is not offensive. It is understood by everybody and used by many in Russian-speaking countries.

 “It’s all right to admire something,” the woman continued, ” but don’t be too enthusiastic. Don’t say, ‘I really like your tablecloth. Your Russian friend will offer you the tablecloth and will be offended if you don’t take it. “

The funny thing is that the Russians have the same myth about the people from Transcaucasia. In all probability, Transcaucasians tell this legend of Americans. Thus, the legend comes a full circle.

The Russians knew that Americans were fond of pets, but they were shocked to see pets inside homes. They couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw dogs eating in the kitchen and sleeping on people’s beds.

Huh? And where exactly do Russians keep their pets, I wonder? Pet lovers are the same everywhere, and the Russian ones are no exception.

Remember that, in general, life in Russia is not as comfortable as life in the United States. You might not have hot running water, or you might have to share a bathroom with five or six people.”

Yes, those five or six people are called your family members. When I was growing up, I had to share my bathroom with 3 other people, imagine that. Life was so uncomfortable. Americans, however, all have one bathroom per each family member. Or two bathrooms per one person.

A Russia woman gasped when she saw an American pour rice directly from a box into a pan of boiling water. ” You didn’t wash the rice?” she asked. She explained that at home she had to wash the rice carefully and pick out all the stones.

The idiot who wrote the text doesn’t even realize that, in all probability, the box of rice the Russian woman in question uses has the words “Uncle Ben’s Rice” written on it. A huge percentage of food consumed in Russia is imported from North America.

 In Russia, the evening meal often lasts an hour or two because families sit at the table and talk. When American families eat together – if they eat together – they often eat quickly and don’t take time for long conversations.

This is too ridiculous for comment. Some people eat together, some eat separately. Some talk, some are silent. There is nothing even remotely culture-specific about this.

The textbook reminded me of that time when my colleagues asked me to wear the kind of clothes we wear in my country for a campus event. It took a while to explain that what I wear to work every day is exactly the same as what I would wear to work back in my country.

The Cold War mythology need not be preserved in the world of global communications, people. Nowadays, we don’t have to guess. We can actually know.

11 thoughts on “Russians Are So Different”

  1. In the new Zimbabwe, we used to get this delightful food called samp, which came from North Korea, and was dried, broken white corn teeth.

    The method of cooking was to pour a couple of cups worth into some water, boil it up and then scoop off the dead weevils as they rose to the top of the boiling water.

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  2. I don’t know if it makes you feel better (and since I don’t speak Russian, I can’t really tell what is being said by the linked-to Russian blogger, beyond what a quick online translator tells me) but this text is supposed to help Japanese speakers learn English. One would still hope that the content would be more accurate though… but I guess I hold it less against this company if they just recycled a really old text and didn’t really think about its content. I hope the English-learning Japanese audience as well as modern Americans realize what rubbish it contains (I can only speak as one member of the latter category).

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  3. At first I was going to reassure that it was a recycled text from a 1992 book with the word “Soviet” replaced with “Russian.” (See http://www.scribd.com/doc/37756629/Pre-Intermediate-Even-More-True-Stories-an-Int-Reader and Amazon to match the cover art to the year)

    Then I did a little more searching and discovered that the author was still using this story in her 2007 edition of the book! (See http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0619/2006026284.html and http://catalog.loc.gov/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?v3=1&DB=local&CMD=010a+2006026284&CNT=10+records+per+page)

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  4. ”It’s all right to admire something,” the woman continued, ” but don’t be too enthusiastic. Don’t say, ‘I really like your tablecloth. Your Russian friend will offer you the tablecloth and will be offended if you don’t take it. “

    I heard a woman of the radio, (who I think was from Iran), complaining that her family does this, so maybe they just had the wrong country.

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  5. This text was actually in an ESL textbook I was once supposed to use (in the US). The other texts were equally ridiculous “multi-cultural” ones. I knew little enough about most of the “cultures” but was so skeptical based on the descriptions of American culture they were compared to that I decided I needed another book. I’m glad to find out I was right!

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  6. If each American gets their own bathroom at home, living in the college dorms must be a nightmare. One bathroom for two to eight people in a suite? What about one bathroom for up to fifty people in a corridor-style building? Oh, the horror!

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      1. It makes me wonder if the author of that textbook would point to the fact that I’m a quarter Lithuanian when I say bathrooms in college dorms aren’t a big deal. Never mind that my great-grandparents left in the early 1900’s, and that none of my relatives have been back since, let alone me. Never mind that the Soviet Union didn’t exist when they left. Never mind that Lithuania isn’t Russia. Clearly I must still have been affected.

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