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.

Are Euro-teens Better Than American Teens?

As a European, I totally love it when certain self-hating Americans otherize Europe to present it as some beautiful Mecca where the sugar is sweeter, teenagers are all uniformly polite, and everybody looks like a supermodel. Here is a prime example of such a completely hilarious portrayal of the polite, intelligent and self-sufficient “Euroteens”:

I first noticed it at the boarding gate area at JFK airport in New York, waiting for the flight to Berlin. For some reason there were a lot of teenagers on the flight. They were Euro teenagers. They were distinct from American teens. The Euro-teens acted like civilized people with what can only be called a sense of decorum. They were not costumed like clowns, criminals, sports stars, or zombies. Every day is not Halloween for them. Being a person seemed enough for them, as though the human condition were an honorable state-of-being. There were no obese Euro-teens. They were not stuffing their faces with pizza, French fries, and cinnabons. They were not obsessed with texting or other cell phone demonstrations of their social status. They waited patiently through the boarding delay and appeared to enjoy each other’s company without impulsive demonstrations, tantrums, tears, fights, or fits.

I’m guessing that the author of this passage wanted to say something nice (albeit completely invented) about “Euro-teens.” To me, however, they sounded like obedient, patient little zombies who are completely devoid of any personality. Honestly, I’d take a normal, happy, pizza-chewing, glued-to-the-phone teenager over this sad parody of a Stepford teen any time of the day.

The good news, though, is that this description of European teenagers has nothing whatsoever to do with reality. Every European teenager I have met as an educator, traveler and a European was just as much into pizza, texting, tantrums, social status and dressing outrageously as any regular American teenager. We all have heard of how these supposedly polite, non-impulsive and extremely mature young Brits raze the Spanish resorts to the ground whenever they descend on the coasts of Spain. We also have all heard about the ways in which German youths celebrate their country’s football wins. And many of us have observed the embarrassing tantrums the Spanish young people throw in hotels whenever they can’t get exactly what their fancy has suggested to them two seconds ago. I will also never forget a group of Dutch teenagers with whom I was unfortunate enough to share a hotel once.

The author of the post I linked to shares with the readers the following experience:

When I got to Europe seven hours later I found myself in a world of purposeful adults who take care of themselves and the place they live in.

I love Europe passionately but I keep finding myself living in a “world of purposeful adults who take care of themselves and the place they live in” right here in North America all the time. I wonder what the author of this weird piece is doing with his life to be constantly surrounded by mothers who call their small children “a motherfucker.”

The problem with generalizations is that they are offensive irrespective of whether you generalize negatively or positively. Europeans are not all supermodel-looking, invariably polite, smiling and responsible creatures. And it’s annoying to see one’s place of origin used by a disaffected American to project his unhealthy fantasies of what Europeans should be like. Europeans are human beings who have no interest in fulfilling self-hating dreams of every American tourist.