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Our Book was published in July 2021.

Why Don't Russians Smile?: The definitive guide to the differences between Russians and Americans (1st edition)

Travis Lee Bailey, Anna Merkulova, Akhauri Nitish Kumar, Olga Diamant, Irina Manakina, Michael Murrie

Available on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/620392878X

Contents


Looking for more authors for the second edition.

Second edition, 2 sections:

Section 1: Written by myself (Travis Lee Bailey). The majority of my focus, the Yeltsin years and how business works in Russia today.

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Why Don't Russians Smile?
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I have never met anyone who understood Russians. — Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich Romanov (1866–1933).

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Why Don't Russians Smile

Title Page

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Travis Lee Bailey

Anna Merkulova

Akhauri Nitish Kumar

Olga Diamant

Irina Manakina

Mike Murrie

Why Don’t Russians Smile?

The definitive guide to the differences between Russians and Americans


Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

— Winston Churchill, October 1939.

I have never met anyone who understood Russians.

—Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich Romanov (1866–1933)[1]



Introduction - “I have never met anyone who understood Russians.” - Collectivism versus Individualism.

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“Don't bring your own rules into a strange monastery” (В чужой монастырь со своим уставом не ходят)[2]

MANY AMERICANS have returned from a first visit to Russia exclaiming, "I don’t understand why we have had such difficulties with the Russians. They are just like us." Subsequent visits, and a closer look, will reveal that Russians and Americans do indeed have stark differences. This book will seek to explain those differences and to help Americans understand why Russians behave like Russians. In the process, American readers may also learn why they behave like Americans. After all, as one sociologist explained, “To know one country is to know none”.[3]

The Surface similarities between Russians and Americans

The surface similarities between Russians and Americans are readily apparent:

The majority of Russians are white
The most obvious is Russian appearances. Like America, the majority of Russians are white (called Caucasian in America, called Slavs or a Slavic person in Russia). If you took the average white Russian, fattened him or her up by 50 pounds, and then had them shop for grotesque clothes at a local Wal-Mart, they would look like an average American.
Russians feel a common identity with Americans as citizens of multiethnic, continental great powers.
In history, both nations have been expansionist. Americans moved west from the Atlantic coast across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Russians expanded mostly east across the Ural Mountains and the vast stretches of Siberia to the Pacific shores, and beyond to Alaska in 1741.
Both Russians and Americans tamed a wilderness - a frontier spirit with a messianic mission
As Russian and American historians have noted there is a frontier spirit shared by Siberia and the American West. Both Russians and Americans regard themselves as chosen nations with a messianic mission, destined to bring their own versions of enlightenment to a less fortunate people. America and Russia today are also nuclear powers with the capacity to destroy each other and the rest of the world as well.
Americans and Russians also think big. They are energetic and inventive
Russians appreciate the casual, direct, and often blunt American way of speaking, which they liken to their own — without pretense and different from the West European manner, which they find too formal, indirect, and less sincere. Yet Russians, despite their traditional suspicion of foreigners, show heartfelt hospitality to visitors from abroad, a trait they share with Americans.[4]
The deeper differences between Russians and Americans

In Russia there is the desire “to find the balance between the conflicting outlooks of Europe and Asia, between Western claims to personal freedom and Oriental insistence on the integration of the individual into the community.” --Nicolas Zernov (1898-1980), Russian Orthodox theologian.[5]

Americans are rated as the most individualistic country in the world at 91% Whereas Russians are rated as 39%. The Chinese are rated 20%.[6][7][8]


Many Americans ask, what is the difference between Americans and Russians? The fastest answer is “collectivism”. In contrast to Americans, who are rated the most individualistic country in the world (91%), Russia (39%), straddling Europe and Asia, has a unique mindset which is both East and West.

The topic of collectivism will be discussed in a later chapter.

Chapter 1: Russian Coconuts & American Peaches - Why don’t Russians Smile?

Why are Americans like peaches and Russians are like Coconuts?

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Laughing for no reason is a sign of stupidity (Смех без причины - признак дурачины) – Common Russian proverb[9]

Peaches and coconuts with flags.jpg

The best and most memorable way to think of the differences between Russian and America is that America is a “peach” culture and Russia is a “coconut” one. This analogy was created by two culture experts.[10] In peach cultures like the United States or Brazil people tend to be friendly (“soft”) with new acquaintances and strangers. They smile frequently at strangers, move quickly to first-name usage, share information about themselves, and ask personal questions of those they hardly know. Americans tend to be specific and emotional, which translates as enjoying other people, whereas Russians are diffuse and neutral, which translates into respect (esteem) of other people. Culturally speaking, America is like a peach with lots of easily accessible flesh or “public domain” on the outside but a tough, almost impenetrable stone at the core. In contrast, Russians are difficult to penetrate at first but all yours if and when you manage to drill your way through to their core. By the way, a little alcohol helps to lubricate the drill.[11] For a Russian, after a little friendly interaction with a peach, they may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit where the peach protects his real self and the relationship suddenly stops.

In coconut cultures such as Russia and Germany, people are initially more closed off from those they do not have friendships with. They rarely smile at strangers, ask casual acquaintances personal questions, or offer personal information to those they don’t know intimately. But over time, as coconuts get to know you, they become gradually warmer and friendlier. And while relationships are built up slowly, they also tend to last longer.[12]

Coconuts may react to peaches in a couple of ways. Some interpret the friendliness as an offer of friendship and when people don’t follow through on the unintended offer, they conclude that the peaches are disingenuous or hypocritical. Many Russians see the American Smile as disingenuous and fake.

As an American, what should you do if you’re a peach fallen amongst coconuts?
  1. Be authentic; if you try to be someone you are not, it won’t work.
  2. Smile as much as you want and share as much information about your family as you wish.
  3. Just don’t ask personal questions of your counterparts until they bring up the subject themselves.
Advice for Russian coconuts

1. If an American:

a. asks you how you are doing,
b. shows you photos of their family or
c. even invites you over for a barbecue

2. Do not interpret American friendliness as an:

a. overture to develop a deep friendship or a
b. cloak for some hidden agenda,

3. American friendliness is a different cultural norm expression which you need to adjust to.[12]





Cultures such as America, Brazil and Japan[12][13] Cultures such as Russia, Germany, Poland and France[14]

1. They smile frequently at strangers,

2. move quickly to first-name usage,

3. openly share information about themselves,

4. ask personal questions of those they hardly know.

5. After a little friendly interaction with a peach person, you may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit where the peach protects his real self.

1. Are initially more closed off from those they don’t have friendships with.

2. They rarely smile at strangers,

3. rarely ask casual acquaintances personal questions, or

4. do not offer personal information to those they don’t know intimately.

5. Over time, as coconuts get to know you, they become gradually warmer and friendlier.

6. While relationships are built up slowly, they also tend to last longer…[15]

Beyond Fruit - Why don’t Russians smile?

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Guess which astronaut is Russian?

Russians don’t smile much, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like you. In preparation for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Russian workers were taught how to properly smile at the foreign soccer fans who would soon be visiting their country. In 1990, when McDonalds opened its first franchise in Moscow, workers had to be trained to be polite and smile. Russians will be quick to tell you that in Russia, randomly smiling at strangers is often viewed as a sign of mental illness or inferior intellect. To Americans, it might be easy to assume that this says something about Russians — that they are an unfriendly, callous people. But that’s not true at all. Instead, it may be worth looking at why certain expressions, such as smiling, become a key part of social exchanges in some cultures and not others.[16][17][18]

Some authors have quipped that Russia is a "Bitchy Resting Face Nation". Resting bitch face is a facial expression that makes a person unintentionally appear to be angry, annoyed, irritated, or feeling contempt, especially when the individual is relaxed.[19]

So why are Russians like “coconuts” and Americans like “peaches”? Why do Russians often think Americans are either idiots and insincere? Why do Americans feel that Russians are unfriendly and cold? Thankfully there are many social science theories that have explored this topic. These include immigration and collectivism vs. individualism.


Immigration

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Studies have shown that countries such as America with high levels of immigration historically are forced to learn to rely more on nonverbal cues. Thus, you might have to smile more to build trust and cooperation, since you don’t all speak the same language.

First, picture an American cowboy out on the range coming across a lonely Indian. At the beginning of their encounter he may wave and then smile as he cautiously approaches to show that he has no ill intention. Or one can imagine an immigrant with limited English arriving and desperately looking for work. They quickly come to realize the value of smiling to show their alacrity to work and their new patrons smile to show they approve of their services.

In contrast, in historical homogenous Russian villages (mir), Russians knew the same people and lived among the same people for generations. The village was similar to one big family. A Russian did not have to hide their feelings among the large village family members.[20]



America is the most individualistic nation in the world, whereas Russia has no word for privacy

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American culture tends to be more extraverted. Americans are more likely to seek contact with strangers and outsiders as a way of building success. They are more extraverted and adventurous as a nation. Americans, especially in the western states, tend to embrace their connection to their frontier past and idealize the individual exploring their limits and seeking their own fortune. There is a sense that one can rise and fall on their own merits. In a culture that prizes individualism so highly, there are no predetermined social links. In addition 24 percent of Americans move every 5 years, making it one of the most geographically mobile countries.[21] Americans must always be ready to invest in new social ties.

In contrast, Russians have a tendency to function in tight social units. Think of a large family living in close quarters and working together. There is a close association with the welfare of the group and individual well-being. Ethics are largely seen as expressions of loyalty to your family and social network and not to individual ideals (For example, Russians are more likely to cheat or lie for a friend). In close living and cooperation the sense of privacy disappears. In fact, a word for privacy doesn’t even exist in Russian "Untranslatable ideas" section. There is a sense of a shared existence and no need to emphasize a positive attitude or ornament your facial expressions and interactions because much is taken to be understood. There is less of a sense that a smile is needed. However, that does not mean that Russians don’t have a need for individual privacy or protection from unwanted scrutiny. Given that Russians have no expectation of privacy in their homes, apartments, workplace, or in public spaces, their sense of privacy lies closer to their own skin. They feel less obligated to share their personal feelings and may have seemingly impenetrable expressions on their faces.

A century before the virus Covid-19 made the term “social distance” popular, sociologists used the term in a completely different way. Sociologists call a county’s individualist versus collective characteristics as “social distance”.[22][23] Social distance is measured by the expectation of privacy in a country. The lower the social distance, the less privacy in a country. Studies have found that in Russia, social distance is lower relative to the U.S. Russians rely on more mutual understanding and longer shared national history to a much greater extent than Americans. Thus, there’s less pressure to display a positive emotion like smiling to signal friendliness or openness, because it’s generally assumed a fellow Russian is already on the same wavelength.[24][25]

Social Distance
Not to be confused by the Covid-19 term.
United States Us.png Russia Russia.png
High Social Distance <<< >>> Low Social Distance
More privacy <<< >>> Less privacy
Less shared history because a younger country and more immigrants with their own different histories. <<< >>> Longer shared history that creates more mutual understanding between more homogenous (similar) Slavs
Immigrants have different values and views of the world. <<< >>> On the same wavelength with fellow Russians (Slavs)

When there’s greater social distance there is a greater sense that it is up to the individual to seek their own fortune as opposed to the collective group in a nation. There’s more of a live and let live mentality. Americans expect a certain amount of privacy, even in public places; “one needs to mind their own business”. This can also lead to a sense of social anxiety and isolation and strangers can seem more strange or foreign than they are in reality. There may be more wiggle room to get into trouble during a chance new encounter with a stranger. When it does happen, it can be anxiety-inducing. Therefore, the common wisdom when approaching strangers is to smile and express warmth in a way that can help the other person feel at ease.[26]

The American smile is habitual. Americans are commonly required to smile at work. More smiles means more comfortable transactions and happier customers, which translates to more money for the owner.

Nonetheless, when interacting with other cultures, your American smile may be misinterpreted as arrogance. In countries with greater cultural uniformity, people sometimes smile, not to show cooperation, but that they don’t take the other person seriously or that they are superior. If you live in Russia very long you start hearing that American smiles are “fake”. Russians may wonder what is hidden behind a smile. But for the average American, there is nothing behind the American smile. It is a habitual form of communication. However, even in America there are some regional differences in regards to the smile. People from “American heartland” may see a smile differently than a big city urban smile.[27] Americans have a term called "PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE" Пассивно-агрессивное поведение – people from the capital of America – where one of the authors worked for 8 years – are very Пассивно-агрессивное. They will smile as they stab you in the back.

Russians and Americans: A smile on being introduced signals the following:
Americans Us.png Russians Russia.png
1. Pleasure at making a new acquaintance 1. Not serious about the upcoming talk, or
2. Willingness to engage in conversation 2. smiler has a hidden agenda under a superficial and hypocritical smile
3. Have deadpan or frozen expressions on their faces because:
...Use an unsmiling face is a barrier between themselves and the outside world
Russians lack personal space at:
  1. home in their apartments,
  2. on public transportation or
  3. on the job

...this causes them to erect their personal space boundaries.


When Carol, an American, first introduced her Russian husband Pasha to scientists who could be professionally helpful, his face was locked in a scowl. Carol explained to Pasha that his refusal to smile made colleagues think he was being cold and unfriendly.

"Why should I smile at someone I don't know? I'm not a clown. If I'm ready for a serious conversation I have to look serious."[28]



Soviet Propaganda - Americans’ smile hides deceit

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In general, the American smile has a terrible reputation in Russia. This campaign started in the early Soviet era. There were sinister smiles on old agitprop (political communist art and literature propaganda) posters of caricature "U.S. imperialists" wearing trademark cylinder hats, smoking cigars, salivating and smiling as they relished their piles of money and power over the world’s exploited classes.

Later, starting from the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras and continuing until the late 1980s, the Soviet print and television media carried regular reports called “Their Customs,” explaining that Americans, a power-hungry people, smiled to deceive others. Soviets were told that behind the superficial American smile is an “imperialist wolf revealing its ferocious teeth.” The seemingly friendly American smile, Soviets were told, is really a trick used to entice trusting Soviet politicians to let their guard down, allowing Americans to deceive them both in business deals and in foreign policy.

An example that Russian conservatives love to quote is when then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker in February 1990 reportedly used his “charming, cunning Texas smile” to trick then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev into agreeing to a unified Germany as long as the United States pledged verbally that NATO would not extend “an inch further” to the east.

The image of an insincere, insidious American smile was used in Soviet propaganda mainly to depict U.S. politicians, “warmongers” from the military-industrial complex and other “bourgeois capitalists,” but it also applied to normal Americans, who, Soviets were told, use smiles to betray one another in business and personal relations. The message was clear: Feel fortunate you live in the Soviet Union, which has an honest moral code of conduct, where people trust one another and where there is complete harmony at work and among different nationalities.

Unlike the American smile, the Soviet smile was sincere, according to the official propaganda, because Soviets had so much to be happy about — guaranteed jobs and housing, free education, inexpensive sausage, a nuclear war chest to protect the empire, and Yury Gagarin, who beat the Americans to space.

During the perestroika era of the 1980s, the American smile was a common reference point when the topic of rude Soviet service was discussed. In post-Soviet Russia, business motivational speakers often preach the value of implanting U.S. know-how — the “technique of smiling” — among employees in stores, restaurants and other service-oriented companies. In this spirit, McDonald’s restaurants in the 1990s even included a “smile” on its Russian menu together with the price: “free.”[29][30]



Your American smile may be misinterpreted as arrogance

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When interacting with other cultures, your American smile may be misinterpreted as arrogance. In countries with greater cultural uniformity, people sometimes smile, not to show cooperation, but that they don’t take the other person seriously or that they are superior.


Chapter 2: Russians and Americans

Westernizers and Slavophiles

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To Russia, in its hunger for civilization, the West seemed “the land of miracles.…”

—Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, The Spirit of Russia. (1919)

Russia’s love-hate relationship with the United States and the West has given rise to two schools of thought: Westernizers (зáпадничество) and Slavophiles (Славянофильство). Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, both can be regarded as Russian patriots, although they have historically held opposing views on Russia’s position in the world. Both groups, recognizing Russia’s backwardness, sought to borrow from the West in order to modernize.

Historically Russian Westernizers sought to borrow from the West to modernize. They felt Russia would benefit from Western enlightenment, rationalism, rule of law, technology, manufacturing, and the growth of a middle class. Among the Westernizers were political reformers, liberals, and socialists.

Slavophiles also sought to borrow from the West, but they were determined to protect and preserve Russia’s unique cultural values and traditions. A more collective group, they rejected individualism and regarded the Church, rather than the state, as Russia’s leading historical and moral force. Slavophiles were admirers of agricultural life and were critical of urban development and industrialization. Slavophiles sought to preserve the mir (agricultural village communes, see Chapter 3, Collective vs. Individualist) in order to prevent the growth of a Russian working class (proletariat). They opposed socialism as alien to Russia and preferred Russian mysticism to Western rationalism. Among the Slavophiles were philosophical conservatives, nationalists, and the Church.

The controversy between Westernizers and Slavophiles has flared up throughout Russian history. These two schools of thought divided Russian socialism between Marxists and Populists, Russian Marxists between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, and Bolsheviks between opponents and followers of Stalin. The controversy has been between those who believed in Europe and those who believed in Russia.[31][32]

Today the conflict continues between supporters and opponents of reform, modernizers and traditionalists, internationalists and nationalists. Today’s conservative Russians who seek to preserve Russia’s faith and harmony are ideological descendants of the Slavophiles. For them, the moral basis of society takes priority over individual rights and material progress, a view held today by many Russians, noncommunist as well as communist. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918 – 2008) said from his self-imposed seclusion in Vermont, 15 years after his forced exile from the Soviet Union:

There is technical progress [in the West], but this is not the same thing as the progress of humanity...In Western civilization—which used to be called Western-Christian, but now might better be called Western-Pagan—along with the development of intellectual life and science there has been a loss of the serious moral basis of society. During these 300 years of Western civilization, there has been a sweeping away of duties and an expansion of rights … the only thing we have been developing is rights, rights, rights, at the expense of duty.[33]

This school of thought has given Russia a superiority complex toward the West in things ethereal and an inferiority complex in matters material. The West is seen as spiritually impoverished and decadent, and Russia as morally rich and virtuous.

Chapter 3: Russians’ Unique Culture and Character (Social Etiquette and Expectations)

The Russian is a delightful person till he tucks in his shirt. As an oriental he is charming. It is only when he insists upon being treated as the most easterly of western peoples instead of the most westerly of easterns that he becomes a racial anomaly and extremely difficult to handle. The host never knows which side of his nature is going to turn up next. — Rudyard Kipling, The Man Who Was. (1900).

The Russian Soul

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The famous “Russian soul” was to no small extent the product of this agonizing uncertainty regarding Russia’s proper geographical, social, and spiritual position in the world, the awareness of a national personality that was split between East and West. —Tibor Szamuely, The Russian Tradition (1974).

Just because Russians “don't smile” does not mean that inwardly they are soulless drones or secretly conniving. Russians smile when they have a genuine reason. Russian smiles are authentic. Furthermore, although they deeply value intellectualism and education (erudition), they are leery of (antithetical towards) being ruled by logic. In fact, Russians value the ability to fully experience and act on their passions and emotions.

The Russkaya dusha (Russian soul) is well known in the arts, where it manifests itself as emotion, sentimentality, exuberance, energy, the theatre and flamboyant skill. But Russian soul is much more than just the arts. It is the very essence of Russian behavior. The Russian soul can turn up suddenly in the most unexpected places—and just as suddenly disappear. Just when foreigners believe that Russians are about to get down to serious business, they can become decidedly emotional and unbusinesslike.

The Russian soul is a romantic ethos which:

1. appeals to feeling rather than fact,
2. sentiment over certainty,
3. suffering instead of satisfaction, and
4. nostalgia for the past as opposed to the reality of the present.

In a broader sense the Russian Soul is how Russians reaffirm to themselves the purity of proud traditional Russian values against the encroachment of Western enlightenment, nationalism, and secularism, especially in cultural things.

Today, the Russian soul is still deeply felt. Old traditional positive virtues still endure:

1. the importance of hospitality,
2. the importance of true friendship,
3. being more emotional and open with ones true friends,
4. helping other people when they need it,
5. taking hardship and suffering with a pinch of salt,
6. respect for parents,
7. deference to elderly, and
8. regard for learning.

A belief in village virtues is also still strong:

1. self-sacrifice,
2. a sense of duty,
3. compassion,
4. importance of family,
5. a love of nature.

These aspects of the Russian soul are again the themes of “village writers,” as they are known, who glorify peasant life and encourage a renaissance of traditional Russian values.

1. Students hang on the words of their professors.
2. Grateful audiences present flowers to musical and theatrical performers.
3. Before vacating a home where they have lived for some time, Russians will sit quietly for a minute or two, reflecting on the events they have experienced there.

The Russian soul is often derided in the West as a fantasy of artists, composers, and writers. If the Russian soul ever really existed, this argument goes, it was the product of a traditional agricultural society that had very little in material goods to offer. In a modern industrial society the Russian soul is quickly forgotten and Russians become as realistic, practical, materialistic, and unromantic as Westerners.[34][35]

As in many aspects of Russia, the truth is more complex and lies somewhere in between. Russians do have a rich spirituality that does indeed contrast with Western rationalism, materialism, and pragmatism. Russians suffer but based on the amount their popular literature discusses suffering, Russians seem to enjoy this suffering. Obsessed with ideas, their conversations are weighty and lengthy. Russians often reject the American’s rational and pragmatic approach. Instead personal relations, feelings, and traditional values determine their course of action. In contrast, Westerners tend to view themselves as pragmatic, relying on the cold facts.[36][37]

That Slavic soul has many aspects that Westerners can respect and admire. As Northwestern University professor Irwin Weil explains:

Russians maintain their integrity in a way that conforms to their inner notion of what a human being should be, in a manner they consider proper, and with an honesty and decency that I have seldom seen anywhere else in the world. Above all, they have an appreciation for tselnost (wholeness, complete commitment) and faith, no matter what that faith may be related to. To be a real human being, one must maintain that full commitment, and respect it in other people as well.[38]


Tatyana Tolstaya, one of Russia’s leading contemporary writers, says:

Russian writers and thinkers have often called the "Russian soul" female, contrasting it to the rational, clear, dry, active, well-defined soul of the Western man….Logic [is] inapplicable to the soul. But Russian sensitivity, permeating the whole culture, doesn’t want to use logic—logic is seen as dry and evil, logic comes from the devil— the most important thing is sensation, smell, emotion, tears, mist, dreams, and enigma. In Russian culture, emotion is assigned an entirely positive value. The more a person expresses his emotions, the better, more sincere, and more ‘open’ he is. The Russian mentality has penetrated to some degree all corners of the country - often not for the best.

Tolstaya continues that the Russian soul is described as:

sensitivity, reverie, imagination, an inclination to tears, compassion, submission mingled with stubbornness, patience that permits survival in what would seem to be unbearable circumstances, poetry, mysticism, fatalism, a penchant for walking the dark, humid back streets of consciousness, introspection, sudden, unmotivated cruelty, mistrust of rational thought, fascination with the word—the list could go on and on—all these qualities that have frequently been attributed to the “Slavic soul.”[39]


Americans are more depressed than Russians, even though Russians are more self-reflective.

Two University of Michigan psychological scientists found that:

1. Russians were much more likely to be self-reflective: they think more about their fundamental nature and essence than Americans. But this Russian character trait was not linked to depression.

2. Less analytical Americans had more symptoms of depression than Russians,

3. Russians are more detached than while recalling a bad experience.

a. Russians thought about the bad event in a healthier way:
i. keeping more psychological distance from the emotional details.
ii. analyzed their feelings, but with detachment, and this detachment buffered Russians from depression.

4. Like Eastern cultures, Russians embrace sadness and pity instead of trying to block it like Americans tend to do.

5. Russians tend to be more communal, more focused on interpersonal harmony

a. This allows them to see their own personal needs in larger context, from an outsider perspective.

6. Americans come from a tradition of rugged individualism, and tend to focus on the personal.

a. With less of a community perspective, they immerse themselves in the emotional details of negative events, and this self focus leads to distress and depression.

The lesson is clear: If you're going to brood, then brood like a Russian. Just remember to go easy on the vodka.[40][41][42]

Even today emotions and personal feelings still matter to Russians. The future of the Russian soul brother Russians. It has survived centuries of church and state domination and 70 years of communism. Will it also survive, they wonder, the transition to the free market and democracy, and the call of Western culture?[43]

The Russian soul is a way to glorifying an aspect of one's culture that is otherwise actually quite negative[44][45]


Obviously there’s nothing magical about the Russian soul. However, all nationalities do have specific characteristics that set them apart from all other nationalities. The term “Russian soul” is just a way of expressing how very different Russians are from other Europeans.

The Russian Soul is a concept similar in function as British 'Stiff Upper Lip' or 'The American Dream' (to a lesser extent).

The stiff upper lift - is a quality of remaining calm and not letting other people see what they are really feeling in a difficult or unpleasant situation

The Russian soul is a way Russians glorify an aspect of their culture that is otherwise actually quite negative.


The British are incredibly reserved, and have difficulty expressing themselves emotionally. They have the emotional range of a shoe. Rather than look at this emotional reservation as bad, they explain that it helped to build a massive Empire.


The 'American Dream' is a wonderful thing. It propagates the idea that you could overcome the massive social inequality, bigotry, racism and failings if you dream and work hard enough. If you don't make it, it's because you didn't work hard enough or dream hard enough, it has nothing to do with the system being massively unequal and favouring only the very few. The American system is like a casino. The house always wins, but it gives the normal person just enough chance to make them think they might succeed.

And then we come to the 'Russian Soul'.


Dostoyevsky explained, "the most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering, ever-present and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything"


And he is right, Russians are addicted to suffering. Why? Russians spend most of their life getting f****d in some way. Rather than see it as a bad thing, they, like the British and Americans, glorify it. This suffering makes them better than anyone else!


As Li Mu explains:

Many, many times, I've heard Russians have 'suffering competitions'. They'll brag about how they've suffered more than anyone else. Have a look for the Monty Python 'Yorkshireman Sketch' to get an idea. I once mentioned a time when I had a bad birthday. My two Russian colleagues just couldn't let it lie. They had to beat me and proceeded to explain the myriad of ways that their birthdays were worse than anything I had ever experienced.


In all cases, the glorification of one's inadequacies and failings is a coping mechanism.


Brits: I don't know how to show my emotions. But it's OK because it's the British Stiff Upper Lip.

Americans: I work my ass off with two jobs and still can't afford rent. But it's OK because if I suffer and work even harder I can live the American Dream.

Russians: My life is a tragic mess and I've somehow found myself living in Norlisk (an industrial city located above the Arctic Circle). But it's OK. I have a Russian soul and I eat suffering for breakfast.

There is definitely a set of characteristics, often referred to as “the Russian soul”, that make Russians unique. Expats who say there isn’t, as well as Russians who say foreigners will never be able to understand it (умом Россию не понять), are both wrong.[46]

The mind cannot understand Russia

(умом Россию не понять)

The Great russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev (Фёдор Иванович Тютчев) wrote a beautiful poem, which is very popular in Russia:

You will not grasp her with your mind

Or cover with a common label,

For Russia is one of a kind -

Believe in her, if you are able...

Fyodor Tyutchev.jpg

Collective vs. Individualist

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[For Russians] the striving for [group] activity has always prevailed over individualism.

— Russian President Vladimir Putin, First Person (2000).

[Russia has always valued the] communal way of life over the merely individual. Community was seen so near to the ideal of brotherly love, which forms the essence of Christianity and thus represents the higher mission of the people. In this “higher mission” a commune—a triumph of human spirit—was understood as opposing law, formal organizations, and personal interests.

— Nina Khrushcheva, a great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev.[47]

Sobornost (communal spirit, togetherness) distinguishes Russians from Westerners in which individualism and competitiveness are more common characteristics.

American’s frontier spirit vs Russia’s agricultural commune

The contrast between Russian communalism and American individualism can best be seen in the historical differences between Russian peasants (serfs) and American farmers.

America’s settlers were independent farmers and ranchers who owned their own land and lived on it, self-sufficient and distant from their neighbors. In contrast to the Russian peasants of the mir (a medieval agricultural village commune), American farmers lived behind fences that marked the limits of their property. The Americans were entrepreneurs in the sense that they managed their property individually, taking economic risks and self-regulating their own lives, independent of the state and without being dependent on the community. Although the United States also has had its own communes, these communes have existed on the fringes of society rather than at its center. In the United States, the commune is considered alien (except for Native Americans, who also lived a communal lifestyle).

To Russians, the commune is a deep part of their psyche. Individualism is esteemed in the West, but in Russian the word has a negative (pejorative) meaning. Steeped in the heritage of the communal village, Russians think of themselves as members of a community rather than as individuals. Individualism is equated with selfishness or lack of regard for the community.

Russians’ behavior in crowds

Communal culture helps explain many of Russian’s characteristics, for example their behavior in crowds. Physical contact with complete strangers—repellent to Americans and West Europeans— does not bother Russians. When getting onto the subway complete strangers may touch, push, shove, and jostle about like siblings competing for the last morsel of chicken. They may elbow you without serious reflection or fear of resentment.

A crowd of passengers attempting to board a ship in Odessa in the early 1960s caught the attention of South African author Laurens van der Post. The crowd pushed and jostled in a way that would appear uncivil to the traveler, but the ship’s officer collecting tickets seemed completely unbothered by it. Even when passengers shouted at the officer and elbowed him out of the way, he did not appear irritated, nor did yell for them to calm down. A group of French tourists became annoyed by the crowd’s persistent jostling and, taking personal offense, lashed out angrily at everyone within their vicinity. “The Russians were horrified at such lack of traveling manners presumably because it was personal retaliation and not the collective, impersonal pressure they were all applying to get through a bottleneck.”[48]

Foreign visitors who are averse to close contact should avoid the Moscow Metro (subway) especially during rush hours, when trains run every 90 seconds but the metro is generally still crowded the rest of the day.

Americans have a distinct line between work and personal relationships. In contrast, after working together all day, Russian factory and office employees will spend evenings in group excursions to theaters and other cultural events organized by their supervisors or groups, such as in the artel (workers’ cooperatives).

Russians seem compelled to intrude into the private affairs of others. Older Russians admonish young men and women—complete strangers—for perceived wrongdoings, using the term of address molodoy chelovek (young man) or dyevushka (girl). On the streets, older women volunteer advice to young mothers on the care of their children. In a collective society, everybody’s business is also everyone else’s.


Russian History: The Great Russian Plain

Russian communalism was not an invention of communists, although its traditions were utilized under the Soviets. The fondness (affinity) for the group has deep roots in Russian culture, and its origins can be traced to the vastness of the great Russian plain.

In prehistoric times Russians banded together to fell the forest, till the soil, harvest the crops, and protect themselves from invaders and marauders. Tools and weapons were primitive and life was harsh, but those handicaps could be overcome and survival ensured—although just barely—by the collective effort of living and working together.

The zadruga, a clan or greater family commune, served as the nucleus of a tribal society. In time, it evolved into the larger mir, an agricultural village commune (also known as obshchina) based on territory and mutual interests. Member families lived in small hamlets, in huts side by side. The surrounding land was held in common by this commune and was unfenced. Each family, however, had its own hut, maintained a small plot of land for a family garden, and ate their meals at home.

Land cultivation was the mir’s primary purpose and the basis for its survival. The mir determined how much of the common land each family would work, depending on its size and needs. It decided which crops would be grown and when they would be planted and harvested. It collected taxes and settled local disputes. The mir’s authority extended beyond land matters: It also disciplined members, intervened in family disputes, settled issues that affected the community as a whole, and otherwise regulated the affairs of its self-contained and isolated agricultural world.

The word mir, in fact, has three meanings in Russian—village commune, world, and peace—and for its members it symbolized all three. That little world of the Russian peasant—the bulk of the populace—was a world apart from, and at least a century behind, the lifestyles of landowners and city dwellers.

Decisions of the mir were made in a village assembly of heads of households. All members could speak and discussions were lively, but no vote was taken. The objective was to determine the collective will, and after an issue had been thoroughly discussed and opposition to it had ceased, a consensus evolved that became binding on all households. Richard Stites describes the mir meetings as marked by "seemingly immense disorder and chaos, interruptions, and shouting; in fact it achieved business-like results."[49]

When peasants moved to cities as workers and craftsmen, they brought with them their communal way of life and formed workers' cooperatives called artels. Modeled on the mir, artel members hired themselves out for jobs as a group and shared the payments for their work. Some artels rented communal apartments where they would share the rent, buy the food, dine together, and even attend leisure events as a group. Hundreds of thousands of workers lived in this way in the generation or so before the Bolshevik Revolution. In the city, as in the village, security and survival were ensured by a collective effort.[50]

That communal way of life persisted well into the twentieth century, lasting longer in Russia than elsewhere in Europe. Tsarist Russia encouraged the mir because it served as a form of state control over the peasants and facilitated tax collection and military conscription. Because the mir affected so many people, and for such a long time, it played a major role in forming the Russian character. In the late 1950s, for example, when Soviet students began to come to the United States and were assigned in groups to American universities, they would often pool their stipends, live off a small part of their pooled funds, and save as much as they could for later purchases.[51]

As Lev Tikhomirov wrote in 1888, "The Great Russian cannot imagine a life outside his society, outside the mir....The Great Russian says: 'The mir is a fine fellow, I will not desert the mir. Even death is beautiful in common.'"[52]

Serfdom (personal bondage) was imposed on most Russian peasants in the late sixteenth century and lasted for three hundred years before being abolished in 1861 (the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the United States in 1863). The emancipation of serfs was accompanied by a land redistribution that enabled serfs, in principle, to purchase land outside the commune. However, land distributed under the reform was actually given to the mir, which held it in common until its members could make redemption payments.

That freed the serfs but preserved the mir, and peasants once more found themselves bound to the land they worked, since most of them were financially unable to leave the commune. The reform thus continued the mir's power over peasants and their submission to a higher authority that regulated the social order.


The mir endured in various forms until the early 1930s, when it was replaced by the Soviet collective farm. A modern-day effort by the state to tie peasants to the land, the brutally enforced collectivization was strongly opposed by the peasants, especially in Ukraine. The objective was to ensure an adequate supply of food for the cities, which were to grow under the industrialization of the Five-Year Plans. The immediate result, however, was famine and the death of millions in the countryside.[53]

Russian pessimism - A pessimist is an informed optimist

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We did the best we could, but it turned out as usual. (Хотели как лучше, а получилось как всегда.)

— Viktor Chernomyrdin, former Russian prime minister (1992–1998)

Russian pessimism is the source of many Russian jokes (anekdoti). According to one, pessimists say, “Things can’t be worse than they are now.” Optimists say, “Yes they can.” Another antidote describes a pessimist as an informed optimist.

It is no secret, of course, that Americans love happy endings -- to the point of childishness, many Russians say. Russian pessimism contrasts with American innocence, naivety, and optimism. Americans expect things to go well, and they become annoyed when they do not. Russians expect things to go poorly and are prepared for disappointments. This can be seen in Russian horoscopes which unlike their American counterparts seem full of gloom and doom. To American astrologers, a dangerous alignment of the planets offers an obstacle to overcome - another opportunity for personal growth. Contrast this with a typical horoscope in the 1994 Kommersant newspaper:

"Today is a largely dangerous day. You may end up broke....This day is entirely unsuitable for undertakings of any sort....The risk of accidents is high....You should not expect anything good from your family life today...It is better not to gamble. On a day like this, whole fortunes are lost."[54]

Similarly, like the ancient Greeks Russian's literature is full of tragedy. Russian history shows that life has indeed been difficult for Russians. Weather, wars, violence, cataclysmic changes, and oppressive rule over centuries have made pessimists out of Russians. Richard Lourie explains that:

"[Russians have a] gloom-and-doom mentality. Both at the kitchen table and in print, they indulge in apocalyptic prophecies.”[55]

Fear is a major element of the Russian psyche, and will be encountered in many places in Russia, especially at the highest levels of government, where there is often fear of an outside enemy determined to destroy Russia. Americans should not be put off by this gloom and doom, nor should they attempt to make optimists of Russians. The best response is to express understanding and sympathy.

Less in control of their lives than other Europeans and Americans, Russians feel caught up in the big sweeps of history where the individual is insignificant and does not count. Translators Richard Lourie and Aleksei Mikhalev explain:

"The difference between Russia and America is simple and dramatic. For [Russians], history is a subject, a black-and-white newsreel; for them it is a tank on their street, a search of their apartment by strangers with power. In the Soviet Union nearly every life has been touched directly, branded, by the great historical spasms of revolution, war and terror. For a Russian, repression always comes from the outside world."[56]

Glasnost and perestroika were exciting for foreigners to observe from a distance, but to Russians they were yet another historical spasm with uncertainties about the future in which outsiders, this time America, betrayed many promises.

The best and brightest Russians have traditionally been banished. In old Russia independent thinkers were exiled to Siberia. Hollywood was created by Jews escaping Russia. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the cream of Russia’s elite was liquidated. Stalin’s purges of the 1930s further decimated the intelligentsia, and today many of Russia’s best and brightest have been lost through brain drain emigration.

One of those who emigrated was Vladimir Voinovich, a human rights advocate who was forced to leave for the West in 1975 after the KGB threatened that his future in the Soviet Union would be “unbearable.” Voinovich wrote:

“Russians and American read my books in very different ways. Americans usually say they are funny. Russians say....they are very gloomy, dark.”[57]

This gloomy and dark side of the Russian character explains the bittersweet humor that is native to Russia and the “good news, bad news” jokes. Russian pessimism can also be infectious, and Americans who have worked with them for many years are vulnerable to the virus. Llewellyn Thompson, twice American ambassador to Moscow, was asked on his retirement in 1968 to name his greatest accomplishment, “That I didn’t make things any worse.” [58]

Despite their pessimism and complaining, there is an admirable durability about Russians, a hardy people who have more than proven their ability to endure severe deprivation and suffer lengthy hardships. Tibor Szamuely wrote of “the astonishing durability of certain key social and political institutions, traditions, habits, and attitudes, their staying power, their essential stability amidst the turbulent currents of violent change, chaotic upheaval, and sudden innovation.”[59]

Russians Lie

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Yes, the Russian is incapable of telling downright lies; but seems equally incapable of telling the truth. The intermediate phenomenon for which he feels the utmost love and tenderness resembles neither truth nor lozh [lie]. It is vranyo. Like our native aspen, it pops up uninvited everywhere, choking other varieties; like the aspen it is no use for firewood or carpentry; and, again like the aspen, it is sometimes beautiful.

— Leonid Andreyev.[60]

[Russians] lie out of necessity. We lie when it’s convenient. And we lie just to keep in shape.

- Vadim Medish.[61]

Russians lie, a national characteristic called "vranyo". Dictionaries translate vranyo as “lies, fibs, nonsense, idle talk,” but like many Russian terms, it is really untranslatable. Americans might call it “tall talk” or “white lies,” but “fib” perhaps comes closest because vranyo. To these words may be added the Irish "blarney", which comes nearer than any of the others, but still falls pretty wide of the mark. As Russian writer Leonid Andreyev noted, is somewhere between the truth and a lie. Vranyo is indeed an art form, beautiful perhaps to Russians but annoying to Westerners and others who value the unvarnished truth.[62]

In its most common form today, vranyo is an inability to face the facts, particularly when the facts do not reflect favorably on Russia. Tourist guides are masters of vranyo, as are Russians who represent their country abroad. When ideology or politics dictate a particular position, they are likely to evade, twist, or misstate facts in order to put the best possible spin on a potentially embarrassing situation. As Boris Fedorov, the 1998 deputy prime minister of Russia explained, "There are several layers of truth in Russia. Nothing is black or white, fortunately or unfortunately."[63]

Russians, however, do not consider vranyo to be dishonest, nor should foreign visitors. As the famous Fyodor Dostoyevsky explained:

"Not long ago I was suddenly struck by the thought that among our Russian intellectual classes the existence of, the reason being that in Russia even honest men can lie...I am convinced that in other nations, for the great majority, it is only scoundrels who lie; they lie for practical advantage, that is, with directly criminal aims."[64]

When using vranyo, Russians know that they are fibbing and expect that their listeners will also know. But it is considered bad manners to directly challenge the fibber. As one Russian specialist suggest advises, the victim of vranyo should "convey subtly, almost telepathically, that he is aware of what is going on, that he appreciates the performance and does not despise his...host simply because the conditions of the latter’s office obliged him to put it on."[65][66]

Verification - Trust but Verify

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Trust, but verify. (Доверяй, но проверяй).

—US President Ronald Reagan (after an old Russian proverb)

Can Russians be trusted to honor commitments? The prudent response to this question is “Yes, but. …”

According to Zbigniew Brzezinski, US Former National Security Advisor, Anglo-Saxons and Russians have different concepts of trust:

"The Anglo-Saxons approach...issues like negotiated, legal agreements. It might be called a litigational approach. To the Russians, a commitment is binding as long as it is historically valid, so to speak. And its historical validity depends on the degree to which that commitment is either self-enforcing or still mutually advantageous. If it ceases to be self-enforcing or mutually advantageous, it obviously has lapsed."[67]

Related to verification are accountability and reporting, particularly where the expenditure of funds is involved. Russians can be notoriously lax about accounting for expended funds and using them effectively, a problem recognized by Mikhail Gorbachev.

A problem is accountability of funds. American donors to Russian philanthropic institutions have reported difficulties in obtaining prompt and detailed reporting on how their funds are being expended. Some new Russian foundations have scoffed at the standard regulatory and accounting procedures required by American donors. As one Russian foundation official put it, "We are all fine Christian men, and our [Russian] donors don’t question what we do with their money."[68]

Such a response should not be seen as an intent to deceive but rather as an intercultural difference. Americans understand the need for accountability, annual financial reports, and audits by certified public accountants. But requesting such procedures from Russians may be seen as questioning their good faith and honesty. When encountering indignation over reporting requirements, Americans may wish to emulate Ronald Reagan by responding, “Trust, but verify.”


Cheating in Universities

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“First whip to the informer” (Доносчику первый кнут.)

- Russian Proverb (In Russian)

Any teacher who has taught in Moscow knows that if the teacher is giving an exam the teacher cannot walk out of the room for even one minute because all of the kids will cheat; whether they're elementary school students or university students.

Tolerance of dishonesty is high in the University system. With few exceptions, Russian universities do not address the issues of academic cheating (plagiarism, falsification of term papers or even various forms of gratification in return for the good grade) at institutional level. As a result, cheating is blossoming both among students and faculty and reinforcing corruption practices outside academia.


1 in 7 Russian students readily admits to cheating in university exams.

1 in 25 students admits to having paid for someone else to write at least one mid-term or final-year paper.

50% of students in economics and management, state that cheaters should receive no more than a warning if caught.

Possible explanations of cheating:

  • Cheating has become a response to boring and meaninglessly redundant education: “students cheat when they feel cheated”.
  • The vast Russian students hate informers. There is a common Russian saying: “First whip to the informer” appears to prevail.
  • Collective and individualistic values differ between countries. In the United States and Russia, two cultural differences appear to relate directly to cheating.

In the United States, in contrast to Russia, competition among students is seen as an important intrinsic value of the educational system, a value that affects interaction between students. Thus, cheating is condemned because it is considered an unfair instrument of competition.

In Contrast in Russia, the attitude to the law and to officials differ between the two countries. In the former USSR, the judicial system served as an instrument of the party, and a common view was that officials are enemies. This attitude existed toward policemen, civil servants, train conductors, and also toward teachers, and may explain the strong negative attitude toward informers among Russian students.

The larger the number of students in a collective that is cheating and tolerant toward cheating, the more often the students will cheat, the more tolerant they are, and the less costly it is for every student to cheat and to be tolerant toward cheating. This is the coordination effect: the more consistently a behavioral norm is observed by members of society, the greater the costs to an individual who don’t follow this behavior.

Since cheating is widespread and group loyalty a deeply held value, informants and those seeking reform can be seen in a negative light. As an old Russian proverb goes, “First whip to the informer.” In addition, there remains a lot of social pressure to be a team player, even in a corrupt environment.


Friends - the key to getting anything done in Russia

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Better to have one hundred friends than one hundred rubles (Не имей сто рублей, а имей сто друзей).

— русская поговорка

The value of the Russian ruble may increase or decrease but not the value of Russian friends. Friends and familiar faces are the key to getting things done in Russia, and foreigners who cultivate close relationships will have a big advantage in doing business there.

Sol Hurok, the legendary American impresario who pioneered North American tours by Soviet dance and music groups, would visit the Soviet Union periodically to audition performing artists and to select those he would sign for performances abroad. Traveling alone, Hurok would negotiate and sign contracts for extensive U.S. coast-to-coast tours by such large ensembles as the Bolshoi Ballet and the Moscow Philharmonic.

In Moscow in 1969 author Yale Richmond asked Hurok how he could sign contracts for such large and costly undertakings without lawyers and others to advise him. “I have been coming here for many years and doing business with the Russians. I simply write out a contract by hand on a piece of paper, and we both sign it. They know and trust me.”[69]

William McCulloch is an American whose business activities in Russia include housing construction and telecommunications. The key to doing business in Russia, says McCulloch, is finding the right partner—one with whom a basis of trust is established over time. “You cannot bring in an army of New York lawyers and have an ironclad deal. You have to have a clear understanding with the right partner about what you are doing.” Such an understanding, he adds, makes it possible to negotiate one’s way through the Russian political, economic, and banking systems.[70]

Russians rely on a close network of family, friends, and coworkers as protection against the risks and unpredictability of daily life. In the village commune, Russians felt safe and secure in the company of family and neighbors. Today, in the city, they continue to value familiar faces and mistrust those they do not know.

Visitors who know a Russian from a previous encounter will have a big advantage. First-time travelers to Russia are advised to ask friends who already know the people they will be meeting to put in a good word for them in advance of their visits. And ideally the same traveler should return for subsequent visits and not be replaced by someone else from the firm or organization whose turn has come for a trip to Russia.

Despite its vast size, or perhaps because of it, Russia is run on the basis of personal connections. In both the workplace and in private life, Russians depend on those they know—friends who owe them favors, former classmates, fellow military veterans, and others whom they trust. The bureaucracy is not expected to respond equitably to a citizen’s request. Instead, Russians will call friends and ask for their help.

The friendship network also extends to the business world. Business managers, short of essential parts or materials, will use their personal contacts to obtain the necessary items. Provide a spare part or commodity for someone, and receive something in return. Without such contacts, production would grind to a halt.

Westerners who want something from their government will approach the responsible official, state their case, and assume that law and logic will prevail. Russians in the same situation, mistrustful of the state and its laws, will approach friends and acquaintances and ask them to put in a good word with the official who will decide. The process is reciprocal: those who do favors for Russians can expect favors in return.

The word Friend

The word friend, however, must be used carefully in Russia. An American can become acquainted with a complete stranger and in the next breath will describe that person as a friend. American friendships, however, are compartmentalized, often centering around colleagues in an office, neighbors in a residential community, or participants in recreational activities. This reflects the American reluctance to get too deeply involved with the personal problems of others. An American is more likely to refer a needy friend to a professional for help rather than become involved in the friend’s personal troubles.

Not so with Russians, for whom friendship is all encompassing and connotes a special relationship. Dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, when asked about the difference between Russian and American friendships, replied:

"In Russia, because the society has been so closed, you’re sharing your inside with your friends. Your views on society. Political points of view. It’s a small circle of people whom you trust. And you get so attached. Talking with friends becomes your second nature. A need. Like at 4 o’clock in the morning, without a phone call, your friend can come to your house, and you’re up and putting the teapot on. That kind of friendship."[71]

The Russian language has different words for friend (drug, pronounced “droog”) and acquaintance (znakomy), and these words should not be misused. A drug is more like a “bosom buddy,” someone to trust, confide in, and treat like a member of the family. Such friendships are not made easily or quickly. They take time to develop, but when they are made and nurtured, a Russian friendship will embrace the entire person. Russians will ask friends for time and favors that most Americans would regard as impositions.

Friendship with a Russian is not to be treated lightly. One American describes it as smothering, and some will find that it is more than they can handle. As one Russian explained, “Between Russian friends, what’s theirs is yours and what’s yours is theirs, especially if it’s in the refrigerator.”

Americans tend to be informal in their speech—candid, direct, and without the rituals, polite forms, and indirect language common to many other cultures. Russians welcome and appreciate such informal talk, but usually only after a certain stage in the relationship has been reached.

The preferred form of address among Russians and the one most likely to be used in the initial stage of a relationship, is the first name and patronymic (father’s name plus an affix).

For example:

a man named Boris, whose father was Nikolai, is addressed as: Boris Nikolayevich (Boris, son of Nicholas).
a woman named Mariya whose father was Fyodor (Theodore), would be Mariya Fyodorovna (with the feminine ending -a).

With the friendship stage comes the use of the first name by itself, or a nickname. But first-name usage with a foreigner does not necessarily indicate that the friendship stage has been reached, as it would with another Russian. It does signify, however, the next stage in a developing relationship.

Like most European languages, Russian has two forms of you. The more formal vi is used between strangers, acquaintances, and in addressing people of higher position. The informal ti, akin to the old English thou and the French tu or German du, is reserved for friends, family members, and children; it is also used in talking down to someone and addressing animals. Readers will surely appreciate the need for care in using the familiar form.[72]


The Importance of Equality

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The interests of distribution and egalitarianism always predominated over those of production and creativity in the minds and emotions of the Russian intelligentsia.

— Nikolai Berdiaev. 1909. Vekhi

Americans are raised on the success ethic: work hard, get ahead, be successful in whatever you do. The success ethic, however, is alien to many Russians, who believe that it may be morally wrong to get ahead, particularly at the expense of others. Russians will not mind if their American acquaintances are successful, but they are likely to resent fellow Russians who “succeed.” Belief in communism has eroded, but the egalitarian ethic still survives.

Nina Khrushcheva wrote: "In Russia equality of outcomes,” a belief that material conditions in society should not vary too greatly among individual and classes, wins out over Western "equality of opportunities," which tends to tolerate and even encourage the open flourishing of class distinctions. Therefore, working for money, for example, a virtue so respected in the West, was not a “good way” in Russia. Russians can be great workers, as long as labor is done not for profit but for some spiritual or personal reason or is done as a heroic deed, performing wonders, knowing no limits.[73]

Equality is a social philosophy that advocates the removal of inequities among persons and a more equal distribution of benefits. In its Russian form egalitarianism is not an invention of communists but has its roots in the culture of the mir which, as we have seen, represented village democracy, Russian-style.

The mir’s governing body was an assembly composed of heads of households, including widowed women, and presided over by a starosta (elder). Before the introduction of currency, mir members were economically equal, and equality for members was considered more important than personal freedom. Those agricultural communes, with their egalitarian lifestyle and distribution of material benefits, were seen by Russian intellectuals as necessary to protect the peasants from the harsh competition of Western individualism. Individual rights, it was feared, would enable the strong to prosper but cause the weak to suffer. Others saw the mir as a form of agrarian socialism, the answer to Russia’s striving for egalitarianism.

For much of Russian history, peasants numbered close to 90 percent of the population. By 1990, however, due to industrialization, the figure had dropped to about 30 percent. But while the other 70 percent of the population live in urban areas, most of today’s city dwellers are only one, two, or three generations removed from their ancestral villages. Despite their urbanization and education, the peasant past is still very much with them, and many of them still think in the egalitarian terms of the mir.

The Soviet Union also thought in egalitarian terms. Communism aimed to make a complete break with the past and create a new society, but its leaders could not escape the heritage of the past, and their leveling of society revived the communal ethic of the mir on a national scale. As British scholar Geoffrey Hosking observed:

In some ways....the Soviet state has perpetuated the attitudes of the pre-1930 Russian village community. The expectation is still prevalent that the community will guarantee essentials in a context of comradely indigence just above the poverty line.[74]

Many aspects of Russian communism may indeed be traced to the mir. The meetings of the village assembly were lively, but decisions were usually unanimous and binding on all members. This provided a precedent for the communism’s “democratic centralism,” under which issues were debated, decisions were made that all Party members were obliged to support, and opposition was prohibited.

Peasants could not leave the mir without an internal passport issued only with permission of their household head. This requirement was a precursor not only of Soviet (and tsarist) regulations denying citizens freedom of movement and resettlement within the country, but also of the practice of denying emigration to those who did not have parental permission. Under communism, the tapping of telephones and the perusal of private mail by the KGB must have seemed natural to leaders whose ancestors lived in a mir where the community was privy to the personal affairs of its members. And in a society where the bulk of the population was tied to the land and restricted in movement, defections by Soviet citizens abroad were seen as treasonous.

Despite its egalitarian ethic, old Russia also had an entrepreneurial tradition based in a small merchant class called kupyechestvo. Russian merchants established medieval trading centers, such as the city-state of Novgorod, which were independent and self-governing until absorbed by Muscovy in the late fifteenth century. Merchants explored and developed Siberia and played a key role in Russia’s industrialization of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Merchants were also Westernizers in the years between the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, endorsing social and legal reform, the rule of law, civil liberties, and broader educational opportunities. However, they rejected economic liberalism, with its emphasis on free trade in international exchange and free competition in the domestic economy, and advocated instead state planning. And as an additional link in the chain of continuity between the old and new Russia, as Ruth Roosa has pointed out, merchants in the years prior to 1917 called for state plans of 5, 10, and even 15 years’ duration that would embrace all aspects of economic life.[75]

Agriculture in old Russia also had its entrepreneurs. Most of the land was held in large estates by the crown, aristocracy, and landed gentry, but after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, a small class of independent farmers emerged. By 1917, on the eve of the Revolution, some 10 percent of the peasants were independent farmers. The more enterprising and prosperous among them were called kulaks (fists) by their less successful and envious brethren who had remained in the mir. But the kulaks were ruthlessly exterminated and their land forcibly collectivized by the communists in the early 1930s. Millions of peasants left the land they had farmed, production was disrupted, and more than five million died in the resulting famine. The forced collectivization contributed to the eventual failure of Soviet agriculture.

Private farming returned to Russia in the late 1980s and grew steadily over the following years, encouraged by Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, legislation passed by the Russian parliament, and decrees issued by Boris Yeltsin. The legal underpinning for agricultural reform was provided by Article 36 of the new Russian constitution, approved by the electorate in December 1993, which affirmed that “Citizens and their associations shall be entitled to have land in private ownership.” Parliament, however, reflecting historic attitudes on communal ownership of land, balked at passing legislation that would have put that article into effect. The opposition in parliament was led by the Communist and Agrarian Parties, and most land remained government property, as it was during Soviet times when Communist ideology required that the state own the means of production.[76]

That changed on October 26, 2001, when Vladimir Putin, drawing to close a decade of efforts by Russia’s leadership to ease Soviet-era land sale restrictions, put his pen to legislation giving Russians the right to purchase land. However, the new land code affected only some 2 percent of Russian land, and it covered purchases only for industrial, urban housing, and recreational purposes, but not for farmland. Another law, passed in 2003, finally granted rights to private ownership of land and the possibility for sale and purchase of agricultural land.

However, opposition to private land ownership is still strong. Opponents of farmland sales, in addition to their ideological misgivings, believe that such sales will open the way for wealthy Russians and foreign investors to buy up large tracts of land. Foreigners have the right to buy commercial and residential land but not farmland, although long-term leases by foreigners are permitted. Supporters of farmland sales believe this will further Russia’s transition to a market economy, encourage foreign investment, improve agricultural productivity, promote growth of a property-owning class, provide revenue by taxing privately owned land, and curb the corruption that has facilitated illegal land transactions.

Despite all the supportive legislation and decrees, private agriculture is still not widely accepted by Russian peasants, most of whom oppose reform and are reluctant to leave the security of the former collective and state farms for the risks of the free market. Impediments to private farming include difficulties in acquiring enough land and equipment to start a farm, a general lack of credit, the reluctance of peasants to give up the broad range of social services provided by the collective and state farms, and a fear that if land reform is reversed they will once more be branded as kulaks and will lose their land.[77]

Despite its large size, Russia has relatively little area suited for agriculture because of its arid climate and inconsistent rainfall. Northern areas concentrate mainly on livestock, and southern parts and western Siberia produce grain. Restructuring of former state farms has been a slow process. Nevertheless, private farms and individual garden plots account for over one-half of all agricultural production.[78]

Economic reforms have also been slow to gain support among the general public, particularly with the older generation. While there is a streak of individualism in many Russians, the entrepreneurial spirit of the businessperson and independent farmer runs counter to Russian egalitarianism. For many Russians, selling goods for profit is regarded as dishonest and is called spekulatsiya (speculation).

Russians, it has been said, would rather bring other people down to their level than try to rise higher, a mentality known as uravnilovka (leveling). As Vladimir Shlapentokh, a professor at Michigan State University, points out:

...the traditional political culture and Orthodox religion were always hostile toward rich people. Ever since the time of Alexander Radishchev, one would be hard pressed to find a single Russian writer who imparted sentiments with even an inkling of admiration for wealth and the privileged lifestyle. It suffices to mention the giants of the Russian literary tradition, such as Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and, of course, Maxim Gorky.[79][80]


Russia’s “American Dream”

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Russia has a less known "American dream" themselves, referred to as the "Russian idea". Russian government officials have made repeated appeals for a renewal of moral values and the search for a new “Russian idea” to embody them. President Vladimir Putin repeatedly stated that Russia’s renewal depends not only on economic success or correct state policies but on a revival of moral values and national spirit, and he has called for a new "Russian idea" that emphasizes patriotism, social protections, a strong state, and great-power status. As Georgy Poltavchenko, governor of Saint Petersburg from 2011-2018 explained:

The country must have a Russian ideology! Since the Lord ordained our special path, we must also have our own ideology. The most important thing is to primarily instill patriotism and love for the motherland. Then it is the business and right of each person to have their own political views, but you must be a patriot of your own state.[81]

That idea presumes a unique Russian way, with values superior to those of the materialist, individualistic, and decadent West, an idea that has also been embraced by various nationalist and communist political parties.

Among those taking up the "Russian idea" are the neo-Eurasianists (неоевразийство), who trace their roots to a movement that originated among Russian exiles in Western Europe in the early 1920s. Economic geographer Pyotr Savitsky, wrote in 1925:

The idea of a Europe that combines Western and Eastern Europe is absurd. [Eurasia] is a world apart, distinct from the countries situated on the West and on those situated on the South and the South-East. Russia occupies the greatest part of the Eurasian landmass; it is not divided between two continents but forms a third, independent geographic entity.[82]

Today’s Eurasianists also reject the West and see Russia’s future in the East. They advocate a union of the three Slavic peoples—Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians—and a federation of the Slavic peoples with their Turkic neighbors to the south and east in a political union that looks strikingly similar to the former Soviet Union—and with the Russians in charge. Among the more prominent Eurasianists are Gennadi Zyuganov, leader of the Russian Communist Party, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party.

The main components of the Russian idea are:

1. Unity and liberty through love for others. ("sobornost")
2. The best features of the Russian national character, which is the essence of the Russian nation ("narodnost")

The “American Dream” roots are:

  • In its democratic constitution

The “Russian idea” roots are:

  • Monarchy history and socialist ideals.

Russians are cautious and deeply conservative

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The slower you go, the further you’ll get.

— Russian proverb


During the socialist Soviet Union, Russians were assumed by the West to be radicals and to challenge the established order. In reality, Russians are more likely to be cautious and conservative defenders of the status quo — and for good reason. Their cruel climate, harsh history, and skeptical outlook on life have caused Russians to value stability, security, social order, and predictability and to avoid risk. Big changes are feared, and the tried and tested is preferred over the new and unknown.

Caution and conservatism are also legacies of the peasant past. Barely eking out a living in small isolated villages, peasants had to contend not only with the vagaries of nature but also with the strictures of communal life, authoritarian fathers, all-powerful officials, and reproachful religious leaders. In a traditional agricultural society, stability was valued and change came slowly. As Marshall Shulman of Columbia University once put it, "Russians feel obliged to defend their traditional values against the onslaught of the modern world."[83]

The experience of the twentieth century has given Russians no cause to discard their caution:

The entire Soviet historical experience with its particular combination of majestic achievements and mountainous misfortunes. Man-made catastrophes have repeatedly victimized millions of ordinary citizens and officials alike—the first European war, revolution, civil war, two great famines, forcible collectivization, Stalin's terror, World War II, [Gorbachev failed market reforms and Yeltsin’s chaos in the 1990s]. Out of that experience, which for many people is still...deeply felt, have come the joint pillars of today's Soviet conservatism: a towering pride in the nation's modernizing, war-time, and great-power achievements, together with an abiding anxiety that another disaster forever looms and that any significant change is therefore "some sinister Beethoven knock of fate at the door."' Such a conservatism is at once prideful and fearful and thus doubly powerful. It influences most segments of the Soviet populace, even many dissidents. It is a real bond between state and society—and thus the main obstacle to change.

Caution and conservatism can also be seen at the highest levels of government, where most of the leadership has been of peasant origin. Reflecting their peasant past, Russia’s leaders will take advantage of every opportunity to advance their cause but will be careful to avoid undue risk.

The cautious approach was recommended by Mikhail Gorbachev in a talk in Washington during his June 1990 summit meeting with President George H.W. Bush. Noting that he preferred not to act precipitously in resolving international differences, Gorbachev advocated an approach that "is more humane. That is, to be very cautious, to consider a matter seven times, or even 100 times before one makes a decision."[84]

Boris Yeltsin was also overly cautious when it was in his interest and Russia’s to be bold and daring. In June 1991, when he enjoyed high prestige and popularity after his election as president, and in August of that year after he foiled an attempted coup, Yeltsin’s caution prevented him from instituting the broad reforms that Russia required. As for Putin, if there is one word to describe him it is cautious. Andrew Jack, former Moscow bureau chief of London’s Financial Times, describes Putin as a cautious president who is very hard to categorize:

A Teflon personality designed to draw out his interlocutors without revealing much about himself, saying what they wanted to hear and promising what they sought, while not necessarily believing or planning to implement it.[85]

Some speak of a hereditary Russian inertia. As an old Russian proverb puts it, “The Russian won’t budge until the roasted rooster pecks him in the rear.”

Americans will have their patience tested by Russian caution. A nation of risk takers, most Americans are descendants of immigrants who dared to leave the known of the Old World for the unknown of the New. In the United States, risk takers have had the opportunity to succeed or to fail in the attempt. Indeed, risk is the quintessence of a market economy. The opportunities of the New World, with its social mobility and stability, have helped Americans to accentuate the positive. For Russians, geography and history have caused them to anticipate the negative.[86]

Russians Extremes and Contradictions

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The American mind will not apprehend Russia until it is prepared philosophically to accept the validity of contradiction. Soberly viewed, there is little possibility that enough Americans will ever accomplish...philosophical evolutions to permit...any general understanding of Russia on the part of our Government or our people. It would imply a measure of intellectual humility and a readiness to reserve judgment about ourselves and our institutions, of which few of us would be capable. For the foreseeable future the American, individually and collectively, will continue to wander about in the maze of contradiction and the confusion which is Russia, with feelings not dissimilar to those of Alice in Wonderland, and with scarcely greater effectiveness. He will be alternately repelled or attracted by one astonishing phenomenon after another, until he finally succumbs to one or the other of the forces involved or until, dimly apprehending the depth of his confusion, he flees the field in horror. Distance, necessity, self-interest, and common-sense may enable us, thank God, to continue that precarious and troubled but peaceful co-existence which we have managed to lead with the Russians up to this time. But if so, it will not be due to any understanding on our part.

— George F. Kennan, Memoirs 1925-1950.

President Harry Truman once quipped that he was looking for a one-armed economist because all his economic advisers concluded their advice by saying, “But, on the other hand...” Americans, with their proclivity for rational consistency seek clear and precise responses, but they usually end up by falling back to a middle position that avoids contradictions and extremes.

Russians, by contrast, have a well-deserved reputation for extremes. When emotions are displayed, they are spontaneous and strong. Russian hospitality can be overwhelming, friendship all encompassing, compassion deep, loyalty long lasting, drinking heavy, celebrations boisterous, obsession with security paranoid, and violence vicious. With Russians, it is often all or nothing. Halfway measures simply do not suffice.

George F. Kennan, the U.S. diplomat and the "Father of Russian Containment" wrote:

"We are incapable...of understanding the role of contradiction in Russian life. The Anglo-Saxon instinct is to attempt to smooth away contradictions, to reconcile opposing elements, to achieve something in the nature of an acceptable middle-ground as a basis for life. The Russian tends to deal only in extremes, and he is not particularly concerned to reconcile them. To [Russians], contradiction is a familiar thing. It is the essence of Russia:

1. west and east,

2. Pacific and Atlantic,

3. arctic and tropics,

4. extreme cold and extreme heat,

5. pro-longed sloth and sudden feats of energy,

6. exaggerated cruelty and exaggerated kindness,

7. ostentatious wealth and dismal squalor,

8. violent xenophobia and uncontrollable yearning for contact with the foreign world,

9. vast power and the most abject slavery,

10: simultaneous love and hate for the same objects: ...these are only some of the contradictions which dominate the life of the Russian people. The Russian does not reject these contradictions. He has learned to live with them, and in them. To him, they are the spice of life. He likes to dangle them before him, to play with them philosophically...for the moment, he is content to move in them with that same sense of adventure and experience which supports a young person in the first contradictions of love. The American mind will not apprehend Russia until it is prepared philosophically to accept the validity of contradiction. It must accept the possibility that just because a proposition is true, the opposite of that proposition is not false....It must learn to understand that Russian life at any given moment is not the common expression of harmonious, integrated elements, but a, precarious and ever shifting equilibrium between numbers of conflicting forces.

Russian extremes and contradictions have also been described by poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko:

I am thus and not thus, I am industrious and lazy, determined and shiftless. I am … shy and impudent, wicked and good; in me is a mixture of everything from the west to the east, from enthusiasm to envy...[87]

Human feelings count for much in Russia, and those who do not share the depth of those feelings will be considered cold and distant. When Russians open their souls to someone, it is a sign of acceptance and sharing. Westerners will have to learn to drop their stiff upper lips and also open their souls.[88]

11 Time Zones - The largest country on Earth

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In its grandiose schemes, which were always on a worldwide scale, communism makes use of the Russian disposition for making plans and castle-building, which had hitherto no scope for practical application.

— Nikolai Berdiaev, The Origin of Russian Communism

"Sire, everything is done on a large scale in this country — everything is colossal."[89] Said the Marquis de Custine, addressing Tsar Nicholas in St. Petersburg in 1839 at the start of his travels through Russia. The French aristocrat was moved by the grand scale of “this colossal empire,” as he described it in his four-volume Russia in 1839.

Modern-day travelers to Russia will also encounter colossal sights. In Moscow’s Kremlin, tour guides point with pride to the Tsar Cannon—cast in 1586, with a bore of 36 inches and weight of 44 tons. Nearby is the Tsar Bell—20 feet high and, at 200 tons, the heaviest bell in the world.

Soviet leaders continued that “colossalism.” When they industrialized, centralizing production to achieve economies of scale, they built gigantic industrial complexes employing up to 100,000 workers. Gigantomania is the term used by Western economists to describe that phenomenon. The Palace of Soviets, a Stalin project of the 1930s, was to have been the tallest building in the world, dwarfing the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower, and be topped by a 230-foot statue of Lenin. The Kremlin’s Palace of Congresses, the huge hall known to Western TV viewers as the site of mass meetings, seats 6,000 and is one of the world’s largest conference halls. Its snack bar can feed 3,000 people in 10 minutes.

In Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), the site of a decisive battle with Germany in World War II, a victorious Mother Russia, the largest full-figure statue in the world, towers 282 feet over the battlefield. And Russia’s victory monument to World War II, completed in 1995, is 465 feet high and topped by a 27-ton Nike, the goddess of victory.

Aeroflot was by far the world’s largest airlines, flying abroad as well as to the far corners of the Soviet Union. Its supersonic transport (SST), the world’s first, was considerably larger than the Anglo-French Concorde.

Russians are impressed with size and numbers, and much that they do is on a grandiose scale. That is not unusual for a vast country. Russians think and act big, and they do not do things in a half-hearted way. Nor are these traits uniquely Russian. Americans, accustomed to wide open spaces and with an expansive outlook on life, also are known to think big.

Big also describes the Russian military. Even after large reductions, the Russian military in 2008 had more than one million personnel under arms. It also had the biggest missiles, submarines, and aircraft.

Russia’s grandiose plans have at times been realized but at other times not. The Tsar Bell was too heavy and was neither hung nor rung. The Tsar Cannon was too big to fire. The Palace of Soviets was abandoned after the foundation proved incapable of supporting the huge structure, and the site was used for an outdoor swimming pool—one of the largest in Europe, of course. The Soviet SST had major design problems and was shelved after several crashes, including one at the prestigious Paris Air Show. Aeroflot’s extensive domestic network was broken up into nearly 400 separate companies, with a drastic decline in safety standards. Russia’s huge industrial plants have proven to be highly inefficient and noncompetitive, and the large state subsidies they require to avoid bankruptcy are an obstacle to their privatization. The Russian army’s combat capabilities, as confirmed in the Chechnya war, have dramatically declined. And the Kursk, pride of the Russian navy and one of the largest submarines ever built, suffered an unexplained explosion in August 2000, and sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea with the loss of its entire crew of 118.

Russians still have grand designs. In April 2007, Russia announced the revival of an old plan from its tsarist years to build a tunnel under the Bering Sea that would link Siberia with Alaska. And what should be said of Moscow’s current politics, the most recent of many attempts to reform Russia? The objective this time is to modernize Russia, to make it more competitive with the West, and to regain its superpower status.

Will the sweeping reforms succeed or are they merely the latest example of Russians thinking too big? History tells us to believe the latter. As Anton Chekhov put it over 100 years ago, “A Russian is particularly given to exalted ideas, but why is it he always falls so short in life? Why?”[90]

Russians superiority complex (Messianism)

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All Russians have a superiority complex, that we're still equal to the United States.

- Elena Petrova. How To Find And Marry A Girl Like Me.[91]

The [Westerners] disappear, everything collapses….the papacy of Rome and all the kingdoms of the West, Catholicism and Protestantism, faith long lost and reason reduced to absurdity. Order becomes henceforth impossible, freedom becomes henceforth impossible, and [Westernern] civilization commits suicide on top of all the ruins accumulated by it. … And when we see rise above this immense wreck this even more immense Eastern Empire like the Ark of the Covenant, who could doubt its mission...

— Fyodor Tyutchev, The Rock of Refuge

Fyodor Tyutchev, a Russian diplomat and poet, wrote those words in 1848 in response to the liberal revolutions sweeping Western Europe in that year. He saw Western civilization as disintegrating while Russian civilization, morally and spiritually superior, was rising.

Russian Orthodox Christianity with its mystical and otherworldly perspective is believed to have imparted on Russian politics a grand image of Russia's spiritual destiny to guide mankind.[92]

Messianism is still alive in Russia today particularly among intellectuals on the left as well as the right, who share a belief and pride in Russia as a great power with a special mission in the world. Economist Mikhail F. Antonov, for example, in an interview with The New York Times Magazine, stated:

"Let other countries surpass us in the technology of computer production, but only we can provide an answer to the question: Why? For whose sake? We are the only legitimate heirs to the great, spiritual Russian culture. The saving of the world will come from Soviet Russia."[93]

Russian thinkers past and present seek to excuse Russia's material backwardness by acclaiming her correctness of cause, spiritual superiority, and messianic mission.

Serge Schmemann of The New York Times writes:

"The notion of ‘Holy Russia’ runs deep of a people lacking the German’s industriousness or the American’s entrepreneurship, but endowed with unique spirituality and mission."[94]

A similar view was espoused by a contemporary Russian philosopher when author Yale Richardson asked him about Russia’s role in the world. “Russia is European on the surface, but deep inside it is Asian, and our link between Europe and Asia is the Russian soul. Russia’s mission is to unite Europe and Asia.”[95]

Such messianic missions are common throughout the history of America, who have always believed that they have something special to bring to the less fortunate — Christianity to heathens, democracy to dictatorships, and the free market to state-run economies.

Americans who believe in their own mission should be sensitive to Russian messianism and fears for the future. Without great-power status, Russians fear that other countries will no longer give them the respect they are due and Russia will lose its influence in the world.

Along with messianism, there is also a Russian tendency to blame others for their misfortunes, which has a certain logic. If Russians are indeed the chosen people and have a monopoly on truth, then others must be the cause of their misfortunes. Freemasons and Jews, among others, have often been blamed in the past for Russia’s troubles.


Russians’ rebellious spirit

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Не приведи Бог видеть русский бунт, бессмысленный и беспощадный!

— А.С. Пушкин, "Капитанская Дочка"

The Russians’ patience sometimes wears thin and they rebel. History is replete with rebellions of serfs against masters, peasants against gentry, Cossacks against lords, nobles against princes, and communists against commissars — usually with mindless destruction and wanton cruelty. There is also a record of revolt from within — palace revolutions — in the time of general secretaries and presidents as well as tsars, as Mikhail Gorbachev learned in August 1991 when a junta attempted to seize power in Moscow, and as Boris Yeltsin learned in 1993 when a similar attempt was made by hard-liners in the Russian parliament.

Conspiracies, coups, insurrections, ethnic warfare, and national independence movements all reflect the instabilities and inequities of Russian society and its resistance to change. When peaceful evolution is not viable, revolution becomes inevitable.

Russians have long been seen as submissive to authority, politically passive, and unswerving in policy. But when the breaking point is reached, the submissive citizen spurns authority, the docile worker strikes, the passive person becomes politically active, and rigid policies are reversed almost overnight.

Such a point was reached in the late 1980s when the Soviet Union experienced food shortages, crippling strikes, a deteriorating economy, nationality unrest, ethnic warfare, movements for sovereignty or independence by the republics, inept government responses to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and Armenian earthquake, and revelations of widespread environmental devastation.

In reaction to these events, voters of the Russian Federation rebelled in June 1991. Given a choice, they rejected the candidates of communism and chose as their president Boris Yeltsin and his program of decentralization, democracy, and economic reform. Yeltsin thus became the first freely elected leader in Russian history.

In August 1991, Russians rebelled again, taking to the streets of Moscow in a massive protest that helped bring down the old guard junta that had attempted to seize power. And in December 1995, disillusioned with reform, corruption, and a deep decline in their standard of living, Russians repudiated the Yeltsin administration by electing a parliament that was deeply divided between opponents and supporters of democratic and economic reforms, and between Westernizers and Slavophiles (Russians determined to protect and preserve Russia’s unique cultural values and traditions).[96]


Alcoholism - Russia’s Scourge

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More people are drowned in a glass than in the ocean. (В стакане тонет больше людей, чем в море.)

— русская поговорка

To all the other “-isms” that help one to understand Russians, alcoholism must unfortunately be added.

For Karl Marx, religion was the opiate of the people. For Russians, the opiate has been alcohol.

The Russian affinity for alcohol was described by the French aristocrat Marquis de Custine in 1839:

"The greatest pleasure of these people is drunkenness; in other words, forgetfulness. Unfortunate beings! they must dream, if they would be happy. As proof of the good temper of the Russians, when the Muzhiks [peasants] get tipsy, these men, brutalized as they are, become softened, instead of infuriated. Unlike the drunkards of our country, who quarrel and fight, they weep and embrace each other. Curious and interesting nation!"[97]

In 1965, the distinguished Russian novelist Andrei Sinyavsky has described drunkenness as:

"The Russian people drink not from need and not from grief, but from an age-old requirement for the miraculous and the extraordinary—drink, if you will mystically, striving to transport the soul beyond earth’s gravity and return it to its sacred noncorporeal state. Vodka is the Russian muzhik’s [peasant’s] White Magic; he decidedly prefers it to Black Magic— the female."[98]

Per capita consumption of alcohol in Russia and the United States is not very different. Americans, however, drink more wine and beer, Russians more hard liquor, mainly vodka. And like their North European neighbors from Ireland to Finland, Russians drink their distilled spirits “neat,” without a mixer, and in one gulp.

Vodka is described by Hedrick Smith as "one of the indispensable lubricants and escape mechanisms of Russian life. … Russians drink to blot out the tedium of life, to warm themselves from the chilling winters, and they eagerly embrace the escapism it offers."[99]

To take the measure of a man, Russians will want to drink with him, and the drinking will be serious. Americans should not attempt to match their hosts in drinking. This is one competition Russians should be allowed to win, as they surely will.

Vodka is also a prelude to business transactions. As one Western financier explains:

"Business is done differently everywhere. In Russia … any negotiation is preceded by an arranged dinner that is extremely boozy. … You can’t expect to go in there with a stiff upper lip and a pressed suit. It’s a test. The trick is to play the game, but not get distracted by it."[100]

Vodka is drunk straight, ice-cold in small glasses in one “bottoms-up” gulp.

What should a visitor do when confronted with vodka and the obligatory toasts at a dinner where the visitor is guest of honor? If the guest knows when to stop, then by all means drink and enjoy it. Guests who fear they will not know their limit can abstain, pleading doctor’s orders or religious reasons. Or they can down their first drink and slowly nurse subsequent rounds through the evening.

Russians prefer to drink while seated, and the stand-up cocktail party, a Western innovation, is consequently alien. Anyone invited to a Russian home should expect to be seated, fed a substantial repast, and drink during the meal. When invited to an American home, Russians will expect more than chips or cheese and crackers.

A night on the town usually consists of an evening with friends at a restaurant—eating, drinking, and dancing for several hours to very loud music. The eating will also be serious. Older Russians recall the difficult days when food was scarce, and they relish a good meal with many courses that can last several hours. Toward the end of the evening there may be a bloody brawl among the more serious drinkers, which ends only when the police arrives.

“Demon vodka,” as the Russians call it, is the national vice. Excessive vodka consumption is a major cause of absenteeism, low productivity, industrial accidents, wife beating, divorce and other family problems, birth defects, and a declining longevity. Tens of thousands of Russians die each year of alcohol poisoning from bootleg alcohol or alcohol-based substitutes. Alcohol also plays a major role in road accidents, homicides, suicides, and violent crime. It is also a contributing factor to Russia’s very high rate of deaths from fires — more than 17,000 deaths in 2006, more than 10 times rates typical of Western Europe and the United States — because intoxicated people inadvertently set or are unable to escape fires.[101]

With the economic, social, and physical ills that alcohol causes, it was not surprising that the first published decree after Gorbachev took office in 1985 signaled a state campaign against it. The intent was to limit consumption, but the immediate result was a sugar shortage because Russians purchased more sugar to increase their production of samogon (home brew). Consumption of products with alcoholic content also increased—industrial alcohol, jet fuel, insecticide, perfume, shoe polish, and toothpaste—thus creating additional shortages. Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign also resulted in a 10 to 20 percent reduction in tax revenues.[102] A complete failure, the program was scrapped after three years. The anti-alcohol campaign, however, did have one virtue. At the peak of the campaign, violent crime dropped and life expectancy for men immediately increased, but these trends reversed when the campaign ended.

Alcohol continues to take its toll, contributing heavily to the mortality rate for Russian males who imbibe toxic samogon and other alcohol-based substances, although the number of such deaths has been declining due to the imposition of taxes on industrial alcohols. Particularly alarming has been the spread of alcoholism among teenagers and children, which often leads to suicide.[103] [104]

Of the alcohol consumed in Russia, one bottle in every three is believed to be made clandestinely.[105]

Vodka is a basic ingredient of Russian life and will not be easily eliminated. During the height of the anti-alcohol campaign, author Yale Richmond attended several official lunches in Moscow where wine was the strongest drink served. But as a reminder of our own Prohibition days, bottles of vodka were passed under the table.

Vodka does have one virtue. While it can produce a hangover when drunk to excess, it seldom causes a headache or nausea. And with zakuski, in moderation, it is the ideal drink.[106]


Russian’s Deep Distrust of Government

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Who serves the Tsar cannot serve the people.

— Russian proverb

Russians have a deep and abiding suspicion of government. Public opinion polls show that the vast majority of Russians are convinced that most of their leaders hold public office only for personal gain and do not care about the concerns of the common person. This government mistrust is very high and is based, in part, on past experience.

In the past, Russian governments have served rulers rather than the ruled, so why should the populace believe things will be different now? Until Russia’s free elections of 1991, democratic governance was experienced only once, in 1917, during the brief period between the democratic February revolution and the Bolshevik October Revolution. With those exceptions, authoritarianism has been the rule in Russian governance.

American journalist Robert G. Kaiser explains, “There is little in the country’s past that has prepared it to become a modern, tolerant, and efficient democracy. Russians have no real experience with independent civic institutions, checks and balances, or even the restrained use of power. Russian citizens have been estranged from the state for many centuries....”[107]

For centuries, Russia was an absolute monarchy, ruled as a paramilitary garrison state to guard against threats both internal and external. George Vernadsky, Yale University professor of Russian history explained:

"In the Tsardom of Moscow of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries we find an entirely new concept of society and its relation to the state. All the classes of the nation, from top to bottom, except the slaves, were bound to the service of the state..."[108]

That state was ruled by hereditary tsars who held absolute power, issuing decrees that had the force of law. The Russian ukaz (decree) has come into English as ukase, a decree having force of law. In the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin also ruled by decree, as tsars and commissars had done before him; Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin’s successor, also had extraordinary powers, even under the Constitution of 1993. As Yuri Afanasyev, a leading reformer in the 1980s, explained:

It was characteristic of Russia to have the people at the “bottom” harshly subordinated to the people at the “top,” and for people generally to be subordinated to the state; such relations were formed back in the twelfth century. The eternal oppression in Russia created a reaction against it of intolerance, aggression, and hostility; and it is this oppression and the reaction to it that create cruelty and mass violence.[109]

Russia’s rulers, perceiving domestic unrest and political dissent as threats to their ability to govern a vast empire, have not hesitated to use force to maintain their authority. They saw Russia surrounded by hostile or unstable powers, and they took advantage of any weakness or instability along their state’s periphery to secure its borders and extend its territorial reach.

With power concentrated at the center, the influence of the state on Russian society has been pervasive. In old Russia, the largest landholders were the crown, the church, and the aristocracy. Many sectors of the economy were controlled or subsidized by the state. For both rulers and the ruled, service to the state was the primary duty.

In the Soviet era, the state played an even larger role. Moscow’s heavy hand was found in the economy, culture, education, the media, religion, and citizens’ private lives—planning, directing, instructing, and stifling initiative in the process. Big Brother—or rather Big Daddy, in a paternalistic society—was everywhere.

Paradoxically, Russians have often idolized their leaders. The tsar was seen as the tsar-batyushka (tsar-father). Stalin was similarly adored as a father figure. And Putin, unknown prior to being named by Yeltsin as his successor, has regularly received approval ratings of more than 70 percent. Many Americans wonder if these approval ratings are real and not fudged. These opinion polls are often conducted by legitimate Western organizations and are legitimate.

Commenting on Russian governance, American diplomat George F. Kennan wrote:

"Forms of government and the habits of governments tend over the long run to reflect the understandings and expectations of their peoples. The Russian people...have never known democracy as we understand it. They have experienced next to nothing of the centuries-long development of the discipline of self-government out of which our own political culture has evolved."[110]

The result has been a submissive citizenry, accustomed to—indeed expecting— direction from above, being told what to do and what to think. As an example of this passivity, in 2000 a fire broke out in the iconic landmark Ostankino television and radio tower in Moscow. The fire trucks arrived at the scene and waited for hours at the base for directions from the newly installed President Putin on what to do next, causing untold damage and potentially more loss of life.

A Russian psychologist explained to the author Yale Richmond: "It is difficult for us to make decisions. We are so used to being told what to do that we cannot take the initiative and decide for ourselves." Such an attitude helps to explain the reluctance of individual Russians to become involved in issues that they believe are the responsibility of government and where the role of the individual citizen seems insignificant.

Another centuries-old tradition is a state-sanctioned ideology that serves as a moral guide, determining what is right and wrong. In the tsarist era, the ideology was Russian Orthodoxy, the state religion. In the Soviet period, the Communist Party imposed its own standards of cultural, moral, and political behavior. Today, Russia is searching for a new ideology—a “Russian idea” to serve as a moral guide.

The contrasts between Russia and the United States are again apparent. In the United States, state power has been limited and diffused, both within the federal government and between federal and state authorities. Free elections and a multiparty system have ensured representation of the popular will. A government role in culture and the media has been avoided. Church and state have been separate and the rights of religious minorities protected. The development of moral and cultural values has been left to private institutions independent of government—the churches, the media, universities, and that typically American institution, the private voluntary organization. An economy based on private property and the free market, although at times assisted and regulated by the government, has remained free from state control.[111]

Time and Patience

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Punctuality has been exceedingly difficult to instill into a population unused to regular hours.

— Margaret Mead, Soviet Attitudes Toward Authority (1951)

Time is money to Americans, and punctuality is a virtue. Meetings are expected to start on time, and work under pressure of the clock is a challenge routinely accepted. To Russians, however, with their agricultural heritage, time is like the seasons—a time to reap and a time to sow, and a time for doing little in between.

Seychas budyit (it will be done right away) is an expression heard often in Russia, from waiters in restaurants, clerks in stores, and officials in offices. Be assured, however, that whatever has been promised will not be done right away but will more likely take some time. Being late seems to be part of the Russian makeup. The anthropologist Edward Hall has described two types of time, monochronous and polychronous, each true for one culture but not for another. The United States goes by monochronous time, meaning that an American gives his undivided attention to one event before proceeding to the next. He takes deadlines seriously, values promptness, and attaches importance to short-term relationships. Russians basically live in polychronous time, in which a person deals simultaneously with multiple events and is very flexible about appointments. He is always ready to change his schedule at a moment's notice to accommodate a friend or relative, since he attaches more importance to long-term relationships than to short-term ones.

Muriel would make lunch appointments with magazine editors three weeks ahead. Sergei would call up a busy executive in the morning hoping to see him that afternoon. Who knew what might happen three weeks hence? Fyodor thought it was ridiculous for Carol to invite guests to dinner two weeks in advance; Carol found it odd when his Russian friends called up late Friday night to invite them to dinner the next evening. As Ronald Hingley observed, "To the excessively time-geared Westerner, Russia still seems to operate in an atmosphere relatively emancipated from the clock."' Fyodor hardly ever wore a watch unless Carol reminded him that he had a very important appointment. He canceled a promising job interview because his best friend from Russia, whom he had been seeing almost every day during the man's month-long visit to America, called up that morning and said he needed to talk. If a friend or family member needs something, appointments and business commitments go by the board. Such an attitude does not go over well in American offices. Fyodor's boss threatened to fire him because of his chronic tardiness, and only an alarm clock set forty-five minutes ahead forced him to change his behavior.

Americans naturally quantify time. They will meet a friend in ten minutes, finish a project in five months, and apologize if they are more than five minutes late." The Russian concept of time is porous. Joyce finally figured out that when Pyotr said "I'll be ready in an hour" he meant two hours; "in twenty minutes" translated into forty-five; "right away" or "immediately" meant in fifteen minutes. The vagueness of Russian time expressions can drive American spouses crazy. "He'll come during the second half of the day" means anytime between 1 P.M. and 6 P.M., while "around seven o'clock" covers the period from 6:10 to 7:50.[112]

Communism reinforced the native Russian disrespect for time, since workers could not be fired and there was no incentive to do things on time. Moreover, in a country where time is not a vital commodity, people become more sanguine about accepting delays. When something very important must be done, it will be done, and time and cost will not be obstacles. But time for Russians is not yet an economic commodity to be measured in rubles or dollars.

Being on time is consequently alien. Russians are notoriously late, and they think nothing of arriving long after the appointed hour, which is not considered as being late. (Concerts and theater performances, however, do start on time, and latecomers will not be seated until the first intermission.)

When Russians do arrive, there are a number of rituals that must be played out before the business part of a meeting can start. First, the small talk, a necessary part of all personal encounters; then, the customary tea or other drink, followed perhaps by talk about family and personal problems; and finally, the business of the day. All this takes time and usually does not start before ten o’clock in the morning.

The business part of the talk will also be lengthy, because important issues are approached in a roundabout rather than in a direct manner. Impatient foreign business people will wonder when the key issues of the meeting will be discussed. And after the meeting has concluded and the visitor believes he has agreement to proceed, nothing may happen for weeks, or months, or ever.

For Russians, time is not measured in minutes or hours but more likely in days, weeks, and months. The venerated virtue is not punctuality but patience. As a student from India who had spent four years in Moscow advised me, “Be patient, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Everything here takes time, and sometimes never gets done.”

Americans and many other nationalities are oriented toward doing; Russians, toward contemplating. As a Russian psychiatrist explained to Yale Richmond, "Russians can look at an object all day and reflect on it but take no action." When faced with an issue to be resolved, they will first think through the historical, philosophical, and ideological considerations as well as the consequences of whatever is to be decided. In contrast, Americans and other “doers” will first consider the practical points, the obstacles to be overcome, the details, and how to get from here to there.

A Russian conference interpreter, recalling her experience with Russians and Americans in the evenings after their formal meetings had adjourned, told Yale Richmond, “The Russians would sit all night drinking tea, discussing and reflecting, while the Americans would be thinking about what they had to do the next day and preparing to do it.”

Such divergent views of time can create difficulties in cooperative efforts and joint ventures. Americans will want to negotiate an agreement expeditiously, schedule an early start on the venture, begin on time, meet production deadlines, complete the work as promptly as possible, and show early results or profit. Russians will need more time to get organized, and there will be frequent delays and postponements. They will be less concerned with immediate results, and profit is a concept that they are just now beginning to understand. The job may be completed, but only after considerable prodding from the American side.

What to do? Persist patiently, and speak softly but carry a big prod. Once prodded and made to understand that a deadline must be met, Russians can show prodigious bursts of energy and will work around the clock to complete the job.[113]



Communication Differences

Russians interpret the question of “How are you?” and strangers asking personal questions very differently than Americans

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Americans are:

1. more likely than those from many cultures to smile at strangers,

2. to ask “how are you?” (which is a form of “hello” to Americans)

3. to ask several personal discussions with people they hardly know.

Kak dela?

Russians like to ask about your mood: How do you feel today? How is everything? In American culture, however, it is not accepted to respond to these questions in detail. In contrast, when a Russian asks about your mood, he’s ready to hear the full story.

If you know the Russian who asked you “How are you?” well they may consider an answer such as “fine” as insincere, or think that you’re hiding something. When they ask what exactly is “fine,” you should add something. You don't need to make a full confession; you can just say, “fine, I feel cold today,” or add an emotion.

Russians are a rather emotional people, and they always share their feelings with everyone. An answer such as: “Fine” plus an emotion will be the same short polite answer that you can use in order to respond to “How are you?” In Russia, it’s normal to share private emotions with friends and to find a way to solve the problem together.

Sometimes, even strangers in Russia can act like Americans and ask personal questions, especially if they will be spending a long time together. For example, absolutely unknown people on an overnight train may share their food and ask why a person is not married or have no kids.[114]

Russians who know each other well may answer the questions “how are you” i.e. kak dela with humorous answers that might make no sense to foreign friends. Russians don’t use these informal phrases with people who they don’t know very well.

“Poka ne rodila” (“I have not given birth yet”) – a woman may jokingly respond this way, meaning that everything is ok (this rhymes with the word “dela” in Russian).

“Kak sazha bela” (“Things are all right as soot is white”) – also a joking rhyme used mostly by seniors.

“Vsyo v shokolade” (“Everything is in chocolate”) – everything is super and you want to show it.

“Vsyo puchkom” (“Everything is in the form of a bunch”) – means you’re fine and feel like a bunch of dill; Russians love dill and it’s good when your things are like a bunch.

“Ne dozhdyotes” (“Don’t expect”) – meaning "If you think things will go bad for me, don't hold your breath".[114]


Americans Ask Strangers Personal Questions

Russians may interpret personal questions from a stranger as “friendliness” and as an offer of friendship. Later, when the Americans don’t follow through on their unintended offer, Russians often accuse them of being “fake” or “hypocritical.”

Igor Agapova...tells this story about his first trip to the United States:

I sat down next to a stranger on the airplane for a nine-hour flight to New York. This American began asking me very personal questions: did I have any children, was it my first trip to the U.S., what was I leaving behind in Russia? And he began to also share very personal information about himself. He showed me pictures of his children, told me he was a bass player, and talked about how difficult his frequent traveling was for his wife, who was with his newborn child right now in Florida.
In response, Agapova started to do something that was unnatural for him and unusual in Russian culture—he shared his personal story quite openly with this friendly stranger, thinking they had built an unusually deep friendship in a short period of time. The sequel was quite disappointing:
I thought that after this type of connection, we would be friends for a very long time. When the airplane landed, imagine my surprise when, as I reached for a piece of paper in order to write down my phone number, my new friend stood up and with a friendly wave of his hand said, “Nice to meet you! Have a great trip!” And that was it. I never saw him again. I felt he had purposely tricked me into opening up when he had no intention of following through on the relationship he had instigated.[115]

Language - different shades of meaning

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The Russian language surpasses all European languages, since it has the magnificence of Spanish, the liveliness of French, the strength of German, the delicacy of Italian, as well as the richness and conciseness of Greek and Latin.

— M. V. Lomonosov

Foreigners most successful in understanding the Russians, as readers will have noted by now, are those who speak some Russian. Speakers of Russian—be they businesspeople, journalists, scholars and scientists, professional or citizen diplomats—have a significant advantage. Communication may be possible with smiles, hand signals, body language, and interpreters, but the ability to carry on a conversation in Russian raises the relationship to a more meaningful level.

Those who are put off by the challenge of studying Russian should know that it is far easier to learn than many other languages such as Chinese, Arabic, or Finnish. Russians, moreover, are not offended by foreigners with an inadequate command of Russian. Many of their own citizens also speak Russian poorly.

Russian is a Slavic language, as are Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, and several other related tongues. They are all Indo-European languages, a group that includes, among others, the Germanic, Romance, and English languages, all of which have common roots.

It takes about 10 to 15 percent longer to say something in Russian than in English, and experienced translators say that they will often need three or more Russian words for one English word. Add to this the Russian tendency to be long-winded—a characteristic of agricultural societies, the old American South included—and you have another reason for Russian verbosity.

Another difficulty with Russian results from the shifting accentuation of words. There is no general rule on where the stress falls in a word or sentence, as there is in most European languages, but a Russian word placed at the beginning of a sentence will have more importance than when placed at the end.

The Cyrillic alphabet, named after St. Cyril, the apostle to the Slavs who devised the Glagolithic alphabet on which Cyrillic is based, may also faze some students. Russian, however, is mostly pronounced as it is written. If you can read Cyrillic, you can pronounce it. This makes Russian pronunciation easier than English, where words are seldom pronounced as they are written.

Russian has acquired numerous words from Western languages. Many mechanical, medical, and technical terms are from German; artistic and cultural words from French; and business and modern scientific terms from English. More recently, many English words previously unknown in Russia have also come into common usage—kserokopiya (Xerox copy), faks (fax), mikser (mixer), forvardy (forward), optsiony (options), dzhinsy (jeans), and biznesmeni (businessmen)—although they are given a Russian pronunciation and often a Slavic ending.

Words are inflected, as in Latin and German, to denote such distinctions as case, gender, number, tense, person, and mood. And Russian verbs have two aspects—the imperfective for repeated actions and the perfective for completed actions. The grammar sounds complex, and it is, but there are a few rules that explain it all.

Although Russian can be learned cold, it helps to know another inflected European language.

Russian is also replete with negatives, and positive ideas are often expressed negatively. An object will be “not big” rather than “small.” A Russian will describe his or her feelings as “not bad” rather than “good.” And a double negative in Russian does not make an affirmative as in English; instead, it emphasizes the negative. The more negatives in a sentence, the more negative the meaning.

Younger Russians with access to computers are starting to use the universal Internet language. This is a development that bothers the “purists,” much as the introduction of Anglicism in France bothered the French Academy in the years following World War II. To protect against what they see as an assault on the Russian language, the government declared 2007 as the “Year of the Russian Language in Russia and the World,” and it has taken steps to promote the study of Russian abroad.

While Russian has its share of earthy and vulgar expressions, they are not used in polite society.[116]


Untranslatable ideas

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There are two ways you can tell when a man is lying. One is when he says he can drink champagne all night and not get drunk. The other is when he says he understands Russians.
— Charles E. Bohlen, former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, 1953 to 1957.[117]

Russian is a very rich language. In English one word may suffice to convey an idea, while Russian will have several words to choose from, each with a slightly different shade of meaning. This presents problems for interpreters and translators, as well as possibilities for misunderstandings.

Many words and expressions in one language simply do not exist in the other. Aleksei Mikhalev, a Russian translator of American literature, said that differences in language and literature — two significant products of a nation’s thought and psychology—demonstrate that English speakers and Russians are not very much alike. He cites the impossibility of finding precise Russian equivalents for the simple English word privacy, a concept that does not exist in Russian (nor in many other languages as well). Other untranslatables from English to Russian listed include "take care", "have fun", "make love", "efficiency", and "challenge".[118]

Russians are long winded

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Russia has an oral rather than a written tradition—understandable in a country where most of the people were illiterate until less than a century ago—and talking comes naturally to its people. Every Russian seems to be a born orator. Conversations begin easily between complete strangers as well as between men and women. The complexities of the language notwithstanding, it can be a pleasure to listen to Russian speech. Delivery is unhurried, often eloquent, and without pretense. But Russians can also talk around a difficult issue without addressing it directly. Listeners should pay close attention to what is left unsaid in addition to what is said. As Lyudmila Putin, ex-wife of the president, once told a German friend, “You must always listen between the words and read between the lines.”170

Don’t expect short responses to simple questions. The question-and-answer approach simply will not do. Rather than respond with a brief yes or no, Russians are more likely to give a lengthy explanation that will leave the listener wondering whether the answer is indeed yes or no. Former Washington Post correspondent David Remnick recalls how, in an interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, “I asked a question, and he finished his answer forty minutes later. …”171

Then there are differences in conversational style. Russians tend to talk in lengthy, uninterrupted monologues, and find the American style of short answers and repartee brusque and rude. Americans normally talk about their activities and experiences what they have done, where they have gone, whom they have seen. For Russians, anything and everything is grist for the mill: people, ideas, politics, books, movies. "They can even analyze a borshch," American Muriel commented, "as though it were a theoretical problem, like the existence of God."

When answering a question, Americans get straight to the point. Russians tend to go back to the beginning of time. "Every time someone asks Fyodor how he likes America, all he has to do is say 'fine,"' American wife Carol sighed. "Instead out comes a doctoral thesis on the history of the United States and what's wrong with the country." "When my aunt asked Russian husband Pyotr how his mother was, he gave her the woman's entire medical history," American wife Joyce said. The Russian feels it is discourteous to give a short answer. The American resents being held captive to a long monologue. Americans feel that simplicity and brevity are the soul of wit and wisdom. For Russians, a valuable idea is a complex idea. Muriel phoned a friend for some information and spent only a minute or two on pleasantries before getting down to business. In Moscow there would first have been a long conversation about the family, the weather, and so on. Starting off with a request, or responding with "What can I do for you?" would be rude.

To American spouses and friends, the endless Russian stories that are a staple of Russian get togethers can be boring and pompous. Americans like to save time and get to the point. The Russian prefers to go around in circles, lacing his speech with literary, mythological or historical allusions. As the cultural anthropologist Edward Hall noted,

"Americans are often uncomfortable with indirectness . . . Most Americans keep their social conversations light, rather than engaging in serious, intellectual or philosophical discussions, a trait which especially bothers Europeans."

"I'm wasting my time with your friends," Sergei grumbled at Muriel. "I keep trying to tell them something interesting, and they sit there fidgeting and interrupting."

Years of living in fear of the secret police make Russians hesitant to state their ideas explicitly Years of living in fear of the secret police make Russians hesitant to state their ideas explicitly, and they often seek a veiled or subtle way of conveying a thought. If the listener is intelligent, he should understand what is meant, and it is insulting to spoonfeed him. For the American, speaking intelligently means speaking directly and clearly. "I feel like they're talking in code," Joyce complained of Pyotr and his friends. "Why can't they just say what they mean?" Many Russians see their [American] mates as childish and unsophisticated.' "I can see my American friends' eyes glaze over when Sergei gets going on one of his half-hour philosophical diatribes," Muriel said. "That just convinces him even more of how superior he and his friends are to all of us."

Straight Talk

Straight talk is appreciated, even when it leads to disagreement. But when disagreement does occur, Russians appreciate honesty rather than attempts to paper over differences. It is far better to level with them and to be certain that they fully understand your position. They respect adversaries who are straightforward and sincere in expressing views that diverge from their own.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, en route to a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov, recalled his long record of interactions with Russian leaders over the years as national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the first Bush administration. “If one speaks openly and candidly,” said Powell, “you can make progress as long as you don’t shy away from the tough issues and as long as you don’t forget that there are many areas of interest that we have in common.”174

But confrontations over differences of views can often be avoided by letting Russians talk themselves out. After they have expressed their righteousness and indignation and have unburdened themselves, their opposition may moderate and the differences may turn out to be less than originally believed. In fact, after talking themselves out, Russians and Americans may even find that they have a unanimity of views.

No (Nyet) Nyet is a simple Russian word that is often misunderstood, and it seems to be an almost automatic response by Russians when asked if something can be done. Clerks, doormen, officials, and others seem to prefer the easy response, “Nyet.”

There can be several reasons for the automatic nyet. One common explanation is “We don’t do it that way here.” Or the item requested in a store or restaurant may not be available. Or the clerk may not care whether it is available, or may not be at all interested in helping the customer. In any event, Russians do not routinely accept a nyet, and neither should you. Continue talking, keep your cool, don’t raise your voice, smile, and keep repeating your request. As noted before, a good interpersonal relationship can often overcome the obstacle, whatever it may be, and beat the system.

A nyet, however, when expressed in a manner indicating that the real response is “perhaps,” may indicate that a little incentive is needed. In such cases, a few dollars discreetly brought into view may produce the desired effect.


Intimate touch between friends

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Physical contact by Russians—touching another person — is a sign that things are going well and that a degree of rapport has been reached. The degree of physical contact will indicate how well things are going. Placing a hand on another person's arm, for example, or embracing, are good signs. Closeness and physical contact with other persons are much more common in Russia than in the West, a heritage of the village past when people lived in close proximity in small huts. Russians also stand very close when conversing, often less than twelve inches, which is closer than most Americans will find comfortable. They do not hesitate to make physical contact and invade the other person’s space.

American Muriel had to explain to her girlfriends that when Russian Sergei moved very close to them during a conversation, he was not making passes. He would stand eight inches away, much closer than the distance at which Americans feel comfortable: it's the Russian way. Nor was he trying to look soulfully and romantically into their eyes.

Russians are in the habit of looking directly and unblinkingly at the person they are addressing. Fred had to tell Irina not to "stare" at his American friends, who were uncomfortable when she concentrated her gaze on them.

Body language situations are particularly tricky because the problem remains unstated; the American does not say "You're standing so close I feel uncomfortable," and a Russian does not ask "Why are you looking away from me?"

On meeting and parting there is far more embracing, kissing and holding hands among Russians than among Americans. Carol explained to her girlfriend that Fyodor was not trying to flirt when he took her arm while escorting her to a cab after dinner; he was being a gentleman.

She, in turn, could not get used to the way the Russian wives of her American friends took her arm in the street.

Accustomed to close physical contact, Russian men, as well as women, touch when talking. Women dance with other women if there are not enough men to go around or if not asked by a man for a dance.

Russian men embrace and kiss each other, on the lips as well as cheeks. As author Yale Richmond recounted, he once had a male kiss planted on my lips, much to his surprise, at the end of a long and festive evening.

Americans are advised, however, not to initiate such spontaneous displays of affection, as President Jimmy Carter learned when he kissed Leonid Brezhnev (on the cheek) at their Vienna summit meeting, much to Brezhnev’s surprise and embarrassment.

School discipline

An American teacher of Russian recalls how, while studying at Moscow State University, a Russian instructor playfully rapped the knuckles of some Americans in his class as a sign of displeasure over their inadequate preparation for the day’s lesson:

The American men, in an uproar at both the teacher’s invasion of their space and his use of body contact to enforce his wishes, went immediately after class to the director to complain about the instructor’s behavior. … As a result, the instructor was reprimanded and told to maintain “a proper distance” from his students and to refrain from all physical contact with Americans, “who do not understand these things.”[119]

There are times, however, when Russian knuckles should be rapped. George F. Kennan wrote:

"The Russian is never more agreeable than after his knuckles have been sharply rapped...The Russian governing class respects only the strong. To them, shyness in dispute is a form of weakness."[120][121][122]



American’s infatuation with mental health

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The American infatuation with "professional help" and "mental health" puts most Russians off. Russians do not like to engage in detailed analysis of their feelings towards each other with their spouse or lover. Russians believe that people should solve problems and conflicts on their own, or with help from friends. A Russian journalist was surprised by the widespread role of therapists in the United States:

"And I want to emphasize a specific trait-the aspiration of Americans to total candor. To unveil everything secret, to talk through everything."

For Russians, true intimacy lies in the silence of a couple who understand each other by a look or a gesture. Victor Ripp wrote: "The American habit of parading personal detail startles Russians. Our fascination with intimacies is more than bad taste; it suggests an utterly alien way of looking at life."[123]

American's habit of self-analysis and "letting it all hang out" strikes Russians as mostly superficial: when it comes to a real opening up, Russians find Americans quite closed.[124]

As one Russian argued, Russians feel that admitting depression, and other mental health problems is a sign of weakness. So even if a Russian feels emotionally unhealthy, they don't say admit it. It's okay to get drunk, it's okay to commit suicide, but it's not okay to say "I feel depressed", which is only permissible through art.


Americans find Russian rude because they hardly ever say please or thank you

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In Russian, polite requests are expressed primarily through a rise and fall in intonation, or through expressions such as "be so kind." This can cause cultural misunderstandings. In one example, American friends of an American wives found their Russian husbands rude because they hardly ever said "please" and "thank you." The Russian was very polite, but "Give me this" or "Pass the bread" sounded extremely rude to the American wife's American friends.

Nor do Russians write thank you notes. One Russian bride had to be pushed by her American mother-in-law to write thank you notes for the wedding gifts. "Russians don't write them," she said in exasperation.

This Russian husband was offended when people he had just met addressed him by his first name. So were his Russian friends when his American wife addressed them by their first names instead of by the first name and patronymic. "I can't remember everybody's father's name!" she wailed. "It's hard enough remembering all the first names in this impossible language!"

Body Language: Russians tend to gesture more

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Body language is important. Russians use hands and facial expressions to express ideas and emotions, in contrast to Anglo-Saxons who consider such demeanor distracting if not unmannerly. Through body language, a person’s intent can be determined without even understanding the words. Facial expressions are also clues to behavior. Americans are taught to open conversations with a smile and to keep smiling. Russians tend to start out with grim faces, but when they do smile, it reflects relaxation and progress in developing a good relationship. Winks and nods are also good signs, but if a stony look continues, you are not getting through and are in trouble.

Russians tend to gesture far more than Americans. American wife Muriel thought her Russian husband Sergei was upset when he waved his arm or hammered his fist on the table, but this was merely nonverbal punctuation. Russian husband Pyotr's habit of shaking his index finger at her, as though scolding a naughty child, infuriated American wife Joyce. "Cut it out and stop lecturing me!" she snapped. "I'm not lecturing you. I'm just saying be sure you lock the door when you leave."

Chapter 4 - Visiting a Russian’s home

Visiting a Russian’s home

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At home do as you wish, but in public as you are told.

— Russian proverb

Russians live two separate and distinct lives—one at work and the other at home. At work they can be brusque and discourteous but will watch what they say. At home, within the intimate circle of family and friends, they feel secure and are relaxed, warm, and hospitable, are sharing and caring, and speak their own minds.

As Morath and Miller describe it:

There is still a homeliness about many Russians that has the scent of the country in it, a capacity for welcoming strangers with open, unabashed curiosity, a willingness to show feeling, and above all a carelessness about the passing of time.[125]

When asked what Russians were thinking during the many decades of political repression, legal scholar Nina Belyaeva explained:

People did not connect themselves with the power of the state. On the one hand, they seemed from outside not to care, so they seemed submissive. But inside, they said, “Inside, I am me. They can’t touch me. When I’m in my kitchen with my friends, I am free.”[126]

The kitchen is indeed the center of social life, and visitors should not pass up opportunities to get into those kitchens and see Russians at home. There is no better way to get to know Russians than over food and drink or merely sitting around a kitchen table sipping tea. And when hosting Russians in your own home, bear in mind that Russians will appreciate dining in the kitchen, which gives them the feeling they are being treated as “family” rather than as guests in a formal dining room.

Richard Stites, states that, "The secret of social life in Russia is conviviality around a table, drinking, telling jokes, laughing. When you get to that point, the battle is half won."[127]

Describing conversations with Russians, Geoffrey Hosking writes, “the exchange and exploration of ideas proceeds [sic] with utter spontaneity and at the same time concentration. In my experience, the art of conversation is pursued in Moscow at a higher level than anywhere else in the world.”[128]

How visitors live is also of great interest to Russians. Bring photos of family, home, and recreational activities, which will all be of interest. Russians are curious about the lifestyles of others in professions and occupations similar to their own, and they will not hesitate to inquire about a visitor’s salary or the cost of a home and how many rooms it has. When a celebrated Soviet writer visited AUTHORS home in the United States, he expected the conversation to be about life and literature. Instead, the world-renowned author requested a tour of the house and had a series of questions about the heating, air conditioning, and insulation, how much everything cost, and whether the house was my year-round home or my weekend dacha.

Russians welcome inquiries about family and children, and they will be interested in learning about a visitor’s family. Such interest is genuine and should not be seen as merely making small talk. The fastest way to a Russian host’s heart is to speak frankly about personal matters—joys and sorrows, successes and failures—which show that you are a warm human being and not just another cold Westerner.

Family and children are important in Russian life, although society’s current ills—housing, high prices, lack of privacy, crime, alcoholism, and divorce—have taken their toll. In cities, families with one child are the norm.

Visiting a Russians Home

Russians do not hesitate to visit a friend’s home without advance notice, even dropping in unexpectedly late at night as long as a light can be seen in a window. They routinely offer overnight accommodations to friends who are visiting their cities, a gesture based not only on their tradition of hospitality to travelers but also on the shortage of affordable hotel accommodations. Americans who are accepted as friends by Russians will find that they too may receive unexpected visits and requests for lodging from their new friends.

Due to the rising incidence of crime in the 1990s, Russians triple- and quadruple-locking their apartment doors, and they are reluctant to open them without knowing who is standing outside. To be sure they know who you are, call beforehand and tell them you will be there shortly. Guests to a Russian home should observe an old custom and bring a gift.

Handshaking is required practice in Russia, both on arrival and taking leave, with eye contact maintained during the handshake. Men do not shake hands with a woman unless she extends hers first, and women should not be surprised if their hands are kissed rather than shaken. Shaking hands in a doorway is an omen of bad luck and should never be done. If you are a man, physical signs of affection toward your host (embracing or touching) are good, but show reserve toward his wife. She will not appreciate hugs and kisses but will welcome flowers—in odd numbers only, though, but not thirteen. Old superstitions survive, and an even number of flowers is considered unlucky.

Remove your shoes. The host will likely offer slippers.

Be cautious about expressing admiration for an object in a Russian home. In a spontaneous gesture of hospitality, the host may present the admired object to the guest, and the offer will be difficult to refuse.

Hospitality is spontaneous and intrinsic to the culture. Russians will share what they have and make their guests feel at home. Dinner may be served in the kitchen or in a parlor that doubles as a bedroom. The dishes may not match and the table service will be informal, but the visitor will be made to feel welcome. Food will be tasty, and guests will wonder how the hosts could afford the many delicacies. Friends and relatives may drop in unexpectedly and join the table. Spirits will flow, and the talk will be lively and natural. Conversation is a very important part of social life, and over food and drink Russians open up and reveal their innermost thoughts.

Tea is the favorite nonalcoholic drink of Russians. On a per capita basis, Russia is second only to Great Britain in tea consumption, and half of all Russians are believed to drink at least five cups a day. Traditionally, tea is brewed in a samovar (self-boiler), where the water is heated in a metal vessel with an inner cylinder filled with burning coals. Another novelty for foreign visitors may be the podstakannik (literally, an “under-glass”), a metal glass holder with a handle on one side.

Russian ice cream is very good, and the favorite flavor, as in the United States, is vanilla.

Table manners

At dinner the Russians did not wait for the hostess to start eating before starting to eat.

Russia summer cottages

A dacha, literally a summer cottage, is something every Russian, reflecting their attachment to the land, seems to have or want, and where they spend weekends, weather permitting. Dachas used to be little more than a small shack without electricity or running water but with a garden plot for growing vegetables, which sustained entire families when food was scarce. But they have gradually grown in size, depending on the resources of the owner and the availability of transport from the city. Today, for Russia’s privileged a dacha may also be a substantial brick or masonry home with all the “conveniences” in a gated community surrounded by a fence and protected by armed guards.


The Toast

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Za vashe zdorovye (To your health).

— A short Russian toast

Visitors should be prepared to raise their glasses in a toast, as toasting in Russia is serious business.

Toasts are usually made at the beginning of a meal when vodka is consumed with the first course, or at the end of the meal after the sweet wine or champagne that is served with dessert, and often throughout the meal as well. Hosts toast first, and the ranking guest is expected to follow with a return toast. With each toast, glasses are clinked with those of other guests while looking at each guest directly and making eye contact. The person being toasted also drinks.

In contrast to the laconic American or British “cheers” or “bottoms up,” a toast in Russia is a short speech. For starters, there are the obligatory thanks to the hosts for their hospitality. This may be followed by references to the purpose of the visit, to international cooperation, peace and friendship, and the better world we hope to leave to our children as a result of our cooperation. Be poetic and dramatic when making a toast, and let your “soul” show. Russians appreciate a show of emotion and imagination. Make the most of your toast and don’t hesitate to exaggerate. Humor may be used, but the substance of the toast should be serious. Russians will judge a toast as an indication of the seriousness of a visitor’s purpose. Prudent travelers will have a few toasts prepared in advance; they will surely be needed.

Women, by tradition, do not toast in Russia, but more and more Russian women are now doing so, and Russians will not be surprised if a foreign woman raises her glass and gives a toast. And if a hostess is present, she gets a separate toast, complimenting her on her home, food, and hospitality, but never on her looks, as pretty as she may be.[129]


Chapter 5 - Sex and dating

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Russian people marry early -- by the age of 22 more than 50% of people are already married. By the age of 25 about 80% of people are married. Since there are less men than women in Russia (10 million more women of marriageable ages than men, according to the latest census), and even less men who are worthy, the competition for eligible men is extremely harsh. As a result, the men become spoiled and promiscuous.[130]

Attractive women in Russia do get many dating offers from Russian men. But those men are seeking only casual sex. They are either already married, unwilling to commit, or they are not worthy of marriage because they cannot provide for a family. A normal man who has a stable job (being able to solely provide for his family), is career and health conscious, and willing to commit are rare. Guys like this are scarce in Russia and not available for long.

In contrast, good-looking women are in abundance in Russia, since the tough competition drives women to perfect their looks.

Historically, during the 20th century, Russia has had many wars, with World War II alone taking 20 million lives, along with another 20 million people dying in Stalin's concentration camps. Nearly 90% of those victims were men. After the war, simply having a man was a blessing. Then there was the 14-year Afghani conflict, in which hundreds of thousands of young Russian men died. Throughout the entire 20th century Russian women had to compete to ensure they had a husband. Now they've got Chechnya - since 1993, just a few years after Russian troops left Afghanistan.

It is scientifically proven that where there are many more women in society than men, men tend to pursue short-term sexual strategies and are unwilling to commit.[131][132]

Generally, most women prefer their husbands to be 5 to 10 years older than themselves, but the younger the woman is, the less of an issue a wider age difference will matter to her.

Many Russian women seeking marriage abroad have advanced careers and live well even according to western standards. The conditions of life in a major Russian city such as Moscow or St. Petersburg are comparable to any European capital. The pace of life in Moscow is similar to the one of New York City.[133]

Dating rules

The man is in charge

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The man may ask a date suggestions, but only in the way, "I know there is this attraction, would you like to see it? Or would you like to go somewhere else?"

The man should be the leader. Once you accept this assertive position, your personal communications will go much more smoothly with her. This might be not the style you are accustomed to, but this is the style that works with Russian women.

If the suiter is in the Russian woman's home city, the woman will be looking after them, after all, he is her guest. She will look after the suitor, even if she does not like the suitor, just because he is a guest. In Russia, every guest is precious and will be treated with the utmost respect. From the suitor's side, they will be expected to agree to her suggestions, even if he is e not very excited about them.[134]

Gift giving

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A man must always bring gifts when visiting their girlfriend for the first time, and not just for her but for her family as well. Gifts are very important in Russian courting etiquette. Gifts show that the man is "generous". It is not only about spending money on a girl. Gift giving shows the quality of the soul. It shows a person who is not selfish, a man who enjoys giving and receiving.

Giving generously, without expecting anything in return, was the traditional quality that was the pride of Russian character. Historically, Russians were always proud of their non-materialistic nature, and this included giving generously (if you had something to share). Since the man is financially secure, it would be perceived as stinginess, if they did not make occasional gifts when dating a woman. It would mean that the man is not generous and is selfish.[135]

Talking about money

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The biggest turn off for Russian women is when men talk about money. Money talks are a big "no-no" in Russian courting etiquette.

Talking about money in the Russian courting stage is as bad as chewing with your mouth open. She just cannot help feeling disgusted. Being frugal when a man is dating equals being cheap. The man might accidentally say, "Wow, that's expensive!" the man will be labeled as stingy and greedy.

According to Russian courting etiquette, men should pay for everything on a date - and do it with a smile. Even if this means he must spend to his last ruble.

If you say that something is expensive, what your woman hears is that the suitor doesn't think she is worth this money! For example, if the suitor say, "Wow, $5 for a glass of Coke, that's expensive!"; what she hears is that the suitor doesn't consider her worthy of those $5.

In Russian, the meaning of the word expensive is rather absolute, it means "I cannot afford to buy this item", as opposed to the relative meaning, "this item is overpriced".

Sometimes, men erroneously start explaining the details of their travel arrangements to their woman. An example would be that they need to book tickets at least two months in advance because it is 10% less. For Russian women, this sounds cheap. Of course, one would assume that if she is making $100 a month, for her saving 10% from $1,000 ticket would be equivalent to her monthly salary, which is a lot of money. But women don't think that way.

Put it simpler, remember as the rule of thumb: mentioning money matters is taboo in the Russian courting etiquette. The suitor pays or doesn't pay, and that's it. The suitor should NEVER tell her that they are not buying something because it is "expensive".

A suitor should Never, EVER tell the woman how much money they have spent on her.[136]

Sex

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Russians have a glaring contrast between a kind of puritanism that avoids the slightest mention of sex and a tolerance for obscene jokes and language that shocks even sophisticated Westerners.

A recent survey of sexual activity in fifteen countries shows Americans as the most active nationality, engaging in sex 135 times per year, with Russians in second place with 133 acts annually.

When Joyce told Pyotr that she was getting up from bed to insert her diaphragm he was shocked. "That female stuff-go do it and don't talk about it!" he snapped. He insisted that she always jump up and "wash" immediately after sex since, like many Russian men, he was convinced that "washing" was an effective means of contraception-and besides, he felt that after sex a woman was "dirty." Joyce would have much preferred to fall asleep in his arms, but he saw her reluctance as yet another proof of her poor hygiene.

Russian mothers rarely talk about sex or contraception to their daughters, and, even though most Russian doctors are women, many young women are too embarrassed to speak to them.

Seventy percent of Soviet women say they have never experienced orgasm. This is partly because many Russian men don't know, or don't care, what satisfies a woman, but another common reason is the fear of pregnancy and a widespread belief that female orgasm increases chances of conception.

In Russia talking about sex - which many Americans take for granted - was for perverts and prostitutes. Russian women’s silence appears to have been a blessing for many American men, tired of being told what to do during every minute of lovemaking. Unless he were hurting her, a Russian would be horrified by his wife's telling him she did not like what he was doing, and would be even more shocked were she to tell him what he should do. One Muscovite whose marriage ended in divorce was repelled by his American wife's behavior. "She was unbelievably aggressive in bed," he recalled. "Always telling me what she liked and what she didn't, put my hand here and my tongue there, trying to program me as though I were a computer. And she never shut up. It was like being at a horizontal seminar, not like making love."

In Russia, a woman who initiates sex is considered extremely forward. It is the man who calls the shots. Even though Muriel had to get up early, Sergei insisted on having sex whenever he wanted, even at five in the morning after an all-night drinking bout. A man does not expect his initiatives to be rejected. "

Despite this "chauvinist" attitude, Russians can seem very romantic to American women who have talked themselves hoarse about sex inside and outside the bedroom. apart from vulgar "men's language" there is no "erotic language" in Russian, and that the language barely has the linguistic tools with which to talk about sex. "Even married couples," writes Kon, "find themselves in terrible straits because they have no acceptable words to express their specific desires or explain their problems, even to each other."

Since Russian women have been brought up to think that displaying an interest in sex is indecent, many never dared say anything if a man ignored foreplay.[137]

Promiscuity is common but exists side by side with extreme modesty. While the 1980s glasnost lowered official barriers to nudity and sexually explicit scenes in films, television, and theater, most Russians of the older generations feel uncomfortable with those new liberties, and sex is not a subject for public discussion. Prudery also prevails.

A Russian woman will never ask a man for directions to the ladies’ room; if this happened the man would be even more embarrassed than the woman.

Chapter 6 - Marrying and Divorcing a Russian – Why do Russians cheat on their spouses so much?

A warning

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Americans considering marriage to a Russian should heed this advice:

While Americans are attracted by the emotional intensity, close relationships, and cultural richness of Russian life, Russians are captivated by free and easy Americans and the wide range of opportunities held out by the United States. Where Russian women look for strong, caring, and sober American husbands, American women seek romantic, passionate Russian spouses. And while American men are attracted to feminine, “old-fashioned” Russian women, Russians are intrigued by the energetic and independent American working wives. … For better or worse, in the years to come, more and more Russians and Americans are likely to become involved in the most exciting and permanent of bilateral exchanges—marriage. The risks are great, and the losses can be enormous. So can the rewards.[138]

Psychotherapist and sexologist professor Aleksandr Poleyev states:

“The Russian woman—and this is proven by research—is more capable of love than Europeans and Americans. Passions of Russian women last longer, and dependence on love is a characteristic of Russian women.” But he adds that patriarchal prejudice and taboo affect the sex life of Russian women. 33 percent of women report that they are not satisfied with their sex life.[139]

Both male and female foreign visitors may find that they are objects of considerable interest from the opposite sex, especially outside of cosmopolitan Moscow. Before a westerner becomes romantically involved they should understand that it may be their passport rather than their person that is the principal attraction. There is a Russian joke that a foreigner is not just a future spouse but also a means of transportation (from Russia).

Women—the Stronger Sex

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Oh, Russian women, draft horses of the nation!

— Andrei Sinyavsky, Goodnight! (1989)

Some countries are called a fatherland, others a motherland. Russia is clearly a motherland. Rodina, the Russian word for “homeland,” is feminine, and Mother Russia is the symbol of the nation. In this motherland, women are strong, hardworking, nurturing, long suffering, and the true heroes of Russia. They hold the country together.

There is a paradox with Russian women, that of the beautiful, feminine creature who turns out to be psychologically stronger than her husband. Once her man is hooked, a sweet young thing begins to show her claws, and an American husband may only then realize what a strong woman he has acquired. The stereotype of the feminine, romantic Russian girl makes the strong, dominant nature of so many of these women come as a shock to a foreign husband. The Russian femininity which so captivates American men is coupled with a toughness American feminists could envy.

Russian women have been obliged for so long to cope on all fronts that they have become rather cynical about Russian men, who, in turn, resent these domineering but capable females. This is because in Russia there is the cult of the mother who does everything for her son, attends to his every need and passes him on to a wife from whom he expects the same attention.

This developed because nearly an entire postwar generation was raised without a man in the house. The demographic imbalance created in Russia by 70 years of purges, famines and war produced strong women used to fending for themselves at home and at work. Yet these same women were expected to retain their femininity and looks or have their spouse wander off to one of the many single women who would be only too happy to have him, even on a part-time basis.

The hardships of these decades created, as the British scholar Ronald Hingley observed, "a corps of formidable, energetic and sometimes lamentably strong matrons," women who can tolerate extremely difficult conditions, and empathize with and understand suffering. Russian women simply assume that men are generally incompetent, and that when the chips are down they can only rely on other women. As two Swedish women journalists who interviewed a wide range of Russian women concluded, they "yearn for men who are strong, protective, and good fathers, and find instead men who drink heavily, refuse to share housework, and have limited interest in children."[140][141]


Marriage

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"The biggest fear of a Russian girl is not to be married by the age of 30."

-- Elena Petrova, (2006) How To Find And Marry A Girl Like Me.[142]

Ninety percent of women are married by the time they are 30, and few had children after that age.[143]

With Russians suddenly free to emigrate after the fall of the Soviet Union, foreign men offered another route to prosperity. Love was optional. An American who taught English in Moscow tells me that during a class presentation a young woman recounted how her friend Maria married an American man, had a child with him, then turned around and divorced him. In the class discussion that followed, the storyteller’s classmates praised Maria for her “cleverness” and castigated the American husband for allowing himself to be duped.[144]

Since it is a part of Russian culture, all Russian women want children in their marriages. So, Russian women seek men who will be able to support their family while they are unable to work during the child caring years. Most women in Russia will take full care of their children through age three. This tradition was inherited from the Soviet times when their work position was preserved for 3 years after childbirth, with fully paid maternity leave for 18 months and unpaid leave for an additional 18 months. Nowadays, maternity leave is not paid, but women believe it is proper to stay home with their baby while it is small, and seek men who are able to provide for their families.[145]

In 1992, there were 20 percent to 30 percent fewer new marriages concluded in Russia than in 1990. In the same period, the number of divorces has risen by 15 percent.[146][147]

Fidelity and Adultery - Russians cheat A LOT whereas Americans act like Puritans

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The shortage of men in Russia provides considerable opportunities for short and long-term adulterous affairs. Since the 1980s the average life expectancy for Russian men has fallen from 65 to 58. They die of alcoholism, cigarettes, job injuries, and car accidents. By the time men and women reach sixty-five there are just 46 Russian men left for every 100 women (compared with 72 men for every 100 women of that age in the United States).

These skewed demographics infect romance. For Russian men infidelity is the rule rather than the exception.

In Moscow, women in their forties told a New York Times author that, by necessity, they only date married men. It is clear that Russian men flaunted this demographic advantage. With the exception of a pastor (who was sitting with his wife at the time), Pamela Druckerman didn't meet a single married man in Russia who admitted to being monogamous. A family psychologist whom Druckerman had intended to interview as an "expert" boasted about her own extramarital relationships and insisted that given Russia's endemic alcoholism, violent crime, and tiny apartments, affairs are "obligatory.

Journalist Pamela Druckerman had lunch with a well-off single woman in her forties who tells her that if she didn’t go out with married men she would have almost no one to date. In fact this woman doesn’t know any single women who don’t date married men. And none of them try to hide this. For Russian women in their thirties and forties, let alone older ones, a man who is not married or an alcoholic is as rare as a Faberge egg.

Druckerman explains if there’s a 50 percent affair rate for men, then presumably the other half of men don’t cheat. So where are these missing men? Druckerman couldn't find them. The whole time she was in Moscow, she didn’t meet a single person who admits to being monogamous.

Since men are at a premium, a wife may have to put up with her husband's having a permanent mistress and even an out-of-wedlock child. Such a "second family" is quite common, and a man is not criticized for it; in fact, he may be praised for keeping both women happy by not abandoning either of them. A man is expected to be discrete, and to spare his wife's feelings by keeping his dalliances from her. The ideal of total honesty that is professed in many American marriages is alien to the Russian mentality.[148]

A Russian woman will not be criticized for leaving a husband who beats her or who is an habitual drunkard, but unlike America, male adultery is not assumed to be automatic grounds for the wife walking out and filing for divorce.[149]

Extramarital sex, both casual and long-term, is quite common:

  • More than three quarters of the people surveyed had extramarital contacts in 1989,
  • in 1969, the figure was less than half.

But public opinion is critical of extramarital sex.

  • In a 1992 survey 23 percent agreed that it is okay to have a lover as well as a husband or wife
  • 50 percent disagreed that it is okay to have a lover as well as a husband or wife

Extramarital affairs seem to be morally more acceptable for men than for women.[150]

Artyom Troitsky, editor of Playboy's Russian edition, explains that during the Soviet Union, “Sex was the last thing they couldn’t take away from us, and that’s why we did it so much. Everyone had affairs with everyone. Moscow was the most erotic city in the world.”[151]

Women "need to accept [men cheating], because he feeds her, her children, everybody. She needs a strong man, but a strong man can leave for one or two nights.”[152][153]

Eighteen year old Katya is tall and skinny, with a strong command of English. She describes what she wants in a husband: someone who doesn’t drink or beat her. She says she will be lucky if she finds someone like this. She is just a few years shy of marrying age. Though she has the occasional fling, there are no significant prospects on the horizon. Boys her age are "very cruel, and they drink." The few serious ones are more focused on their careers than on relationships, and there’s a lot of competition for them.

“For me, of course I would like my husband to be faithful, and I will do the same, but I don’t know, it depends on the situation. But if we have a good relationship as family partners, we have children, then if he has someone on the side, I have someone on the side, it’s okay, so that the child will grow up in a family with both parents.”

In the Russian edition of Cosmopolitan, Russia’s best selling magazine, is running a primer for women on how to hide their lovers from their husbands.

Outside Russia’s big cities some husbands don’t even bother hiding their affairs.[154][155]

Soviet policies which encouraged adultery

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After the Soviet Revolution, the Bolsheviks intervened more directly in domestic life. The new Code on Marriage and the Family (1918) established a legislative framework that clearly aimed to breakdown the traditional family. It removed the influence of the Church from marriage and divorce, making both a process of simple registration with the state. It granted the same legal rights to de facto marriages (couples living together) as it gave to legal marriages. The Code turned divorce from a luxury for the rich to something that was easy and affordable for all. The result was a huge increase in casual marriages and the highest rate of divorce in the world – three times higher than in France or Germany and twenty-six times higher than in England by 1926 – as the collapse of the Christian patriarchal order and the chaos of the revolutionary years loosened sexual morals along with family and communal ties.[156][157]

In the early years of Soviet power, family breakdown was so common among revolutionary activists that it almost constituted an occupational hazard. Casual relationships were practically the norm in Bolshevik circles during the Civil War, when any comrade could be sent at a moment’s notice to some distant sector of the front. Such relaxed attitudes remained common throughout the 1920s, as Party activists and their young emulators in the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) were taught to put their commitment to the proletariat before romantic love or family. Sexual promiscuity was more pronounced in the Party’s youthful ranks than among Soviet youth in general. Many Bolsheviks regarded sexual license as a form of liberation from bourgeois moral conventions and as a sign of ‘Soviet modernity’. Some even advocated promiscuity as a way to counteract the formation of coupling relationships that separated lovers from the collective and detracted from their loyalty to the Party.[158]

It was a commonplace that the Bolshevik made a bad husband and father because the demands of the Party took him away from the home. ‘We Communists don’t know our own families,’ remarked one Moscow Bolshevik. ‘You leave early and come home late. You seldom see your wife and almost never see your children.’ At Party congresses, where the issue was discussed throughout the 1920s, it was recognized that Bolsheviks were far more likely than non-Party husbands to abandon wives and families, and that this had much to do with the primacy of Party loyalties over sexual fidelity. But in fact the problem of absent wives and mothers was almost as acute in Party circles, as indeed it was in the broader circles of the Soviet intelligentsia, where most women were involved in the public sphere.15[159][160][161]

Soviet Khrushchev administration policies encourages infidelity

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For decades in the Soviet Union had been trying, and failing, to recover from the catastrophic population loss caused by the Second World War and the Gulag extermination system. The thrust of the population policies initiated by Khrushchev was to get as many women as possible to have children by the comparatively few surviving men. The policies dictated that men who fathered children out of wedlock would not be held responsible for child support but the state would help the single mother both with financial subsidies and with childcare: she could even leave the child at an orphanage for any length of time, as many times as she needed, without forfeiting her parental rights. The state endeavored to remove any stigma associated with resorting to the help of orphanages, or with single motherhood and having children out of wedlock. Women could put down a fictitious man as the father on the child’s birth certificate—or even name the actual father, without his having to fear being burdened with responsibility. “The new project was designed to encourage both men and women to have non-conjugal sexual relationships that would result in procreation,” writes historian Mie Nakachi.[162]

Russians are willing to cheat on there spouses more than 24 other countries

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In 1998, a study showed that Russian men and women led their peers in 24 other countries in their willingness to engage in and approve of extramarital affairs. Faithfulness in marriage is seen as something that is nice but unrealistic. If women don't really expect it of their husbands, they can pre-empt feelings of shock and betrayal.[163]

Americans expect total honesty in marriage

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The ideal of total honesty that is professed in many American marriages is alien to the Russian mentality. Muriel and Joyce were surprised that their Russian husbands did not tell them about their former girlfriends, and did not want to hear about their wives' previous experiences. "Those things are private," Sergei explained. "If you're married and you're attracted to someone else, you keep it to yourself. Otherwise you only hurt your spouse's feelings." Muriel's arguments about honesty got nowhere. "I'm not going to tell you what I do outside the house," Sergei retorted. "All this blathering Americans think is honesty only winds up offending everyone."[164]

Abortion

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Attitudes on birth control stem from traditional Russian conservatism as well as the views of a male-dominated leadership, which has sought to stabilize the family and increase the birthrate. Most families, however, avoid having a second child due to limited housing (especially in the cities), a decline in state-subsidized day care, the collapse of the state welfare system, and the deterioration of health care, as well as the increased cost of living. The use of contraceptives, now more available, has been rising slowly, but they are still not widely used, and family planning information is not readily available.

Abortion, legal and free in Russia since 1920, is still the common form of birth control, as it was in the Soviet period. Although the rate has been declining in recent years, more than two million abortions are registered each year (not including unreported ones), and 10 percent of women who undergo the procedure are left sterile. According to U.S. demographer Murray Feshbach, two of every three pregnancies in Russia end in abortion, and women, on average, have six to eight abortions during their lifetime; at least 80 percent of all women have a pathology (abnormality) during pregnancy; and only 30 percent of all children are born healthy.[165][166]

  • Women have, on average, four abortions in their lifetime.[167][168]
  • Lifetime abortions per woman: Average number of abortions a Russian woman has during her reproductive years.
    • 1990: 3.0,
    • 2006: 1.2,
    • 2010: 1.0.[169]
  • In 1920....the Soviet Union became the first state in the world to legalize abortion... (it was banned once before — for a 20-year period beginning with Josef Stalin in 1936)...official figures show almost 930,000 women terminate a pregnancy each year. That number is half of what it was in 1995, and one seventh what it was for the Soviet Union in 1965, when abortions nearly tripled the number of births.[170]


Divorce

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In the 1990s, approximately one marriage in three ended in divorce, with the rate increasing 20 percent in the early 1990s after the break up of the Soviet Union. About 60 percent of Russian marriages now end in divorce.[171]

Forty million Soviet men died in the three cataclysmic events of the USSR — the collectivization of agriculture, the political purges, and World War II. This created a severe shortage of men for two generations of women. Moreover, the mortality rate for Russian men today is four times that of women in all age groups over twenty due to alcoholism and related accidents and illnesses, and women outlive men, on average, by thirteen years. This explains why there are so many babushki (grandmothers) in Russia and so few dyedushki (grandfathers).[172]

A few more facts helps explain women's status in Russia. One of every two marriages ends in divorce, and the number of single mothers and single women continues to rise. Nearly one-third of all babies born in Russia in the year 2000 were born to unwed mothers, double the percentage of a decade earlier, and 40 percent of those babies were born to teenagers.[173]

Like many other movements originating in the West, feminism has been late in reaching Russia. Grassroots women’s groups are springing up around the country, but feminism is not yet a mass movement. The equality that Russian women want differs from that of Western women. Russian women see themselves as far more traditional in their dealings with men and their views on domestic life. In dress and style, for example, they prefer glamor to comfort, femininity to practicality. Russian women are duly recognized on March 8 Women’s Day, a Russian version of Valentine’s Day. In communist years the festival was used to emphasize the equality of sexes lacking in the capitalist West, but it remains popular today.[174]

To cope with their hardships, women depend on and support each other to a remarkable degree. Through networks of trusted and lifelong friends, they help one another with the daily hassles of life and provide moral support in times of crisis.[175]

Chapter 7 - Living with a Russian – Russian Home life

Housework

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Women actually work two shifts—one at the workplace and the other at home, where they put in another full workweek performing the duties of wife, mother, and homemaker. Most wives in Russia wind up doing all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Even if a Russian wife works, the man looks on himself as the breadwinner and on her as responsible for the housework and child care. Russian men...are thrown off by the unwillingness of "liberated" American women to take on the role of homemaker. Moreover, as Russian society becomes more consumer-oriented, men work longer hours to earn more and now do an even smaller share of the household tasks than before.[176]

Domestic Abuse

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Wife beating at home is common in Russia. According to official statistics, 14,000 Russian women are killed each year by their husbands and boyfriends, and 38,000 are beaten daily. Police generally take a hands-off attitude, and women do not know their rights in a country that still seems to believe a popular Russian adage, “If he beats you, it means that he loves you.”[177][178]

Lee Harvey Oswald household's first house in America was shabbily furnished and decrepit, but Marina was enchanted by the privacy and space.' Even a woman as sophisticated as Raissa Gorbachev was amazed by the spaciousness of the home of the American family with whom she had tea during her visit to the United States, and by the fact that each of the four children had his own bedroom.'

When everything is available, Russians can become incredibly demanding. Nothing but the best will do. A new house or apartment is treated as a home for life, for in Russia if you were lucky enough to find a nice place to live, moving again was furthest from your thoughts.

When married couple Carol and Fyodor wanted to buy an apartment they saw at least eighty places before Fyodor was satisfied. The rooms were too small or the lobby was unattractive, or there was no view. When it comes to wallpaper, furniture, and china, the Russian spouse is likely to opt for the most colorful, extravagant, and expensive items.

The memory of hundreds of virtually identical Soviet interiors is engraved on Russians' minds. The standard set of glossy dark wood furniture, a couch doubling as a bed, a rug hanging on the wall, glass-enclosed bookcases, a large television set and a sideboard with china and crystal-all this is transferred like a decal to the new American home. Svetlana could not imagine doing without a hall with a large mirror for the ritual hair-combing that takes place the minute a Russian enters, or a rack for the boots and shoes that are exchanged for slippers when coming in from snowy streets.

"Mary keeps saying Russian furniture is gloomy," husband Boris complained about his American wife. "But I don't really like that rug that looks as if it's from the Museum of Modern Art." "I didn't want the place to look like a Russian souvenir store," Mary recalled. "Boris had all these clumsy wooden figures and nesting dolls, and cheap reproductions of Impressionist landscapes.[179]

Clothing and public appearance

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Carol could not make Fyodor wear a tie-which, like so many Russian men, he detested-to anything other than a wedding or a funeral. In Russia men often wear boxer shorts and tank top undershirts at home, but Carol could not stand Fyodor sitting around the house in his underwear. Many American wives were surprised to discover that undershirts and boxer shorts doubled for their husbands as night clothes, since men's pajamas are virtually nonexistent in Russia.

Nor do most Russian men use deodorant or change their underwear. Several Russian women commented that they had originally been attracted to their American spouses because they were so incredibly "clean" compared to Russians.

Russian women spend hours primping in front of the mirror, styling their hair and freshening their makeup.

Today much has changed, but high prices mean that many Russians still have relatively few clothes. Laundry and dry cleaning facilities are still poor, expensive and inconveniently located, and Americans are often surprised to see their Russian business associates wearing the same clothes day after day.

When the laundry lost an old and ragged undershirt, Pyotr was convinced that this cherished piece of clothing had been deliberately stolen. Russians often find American women badly dressed. "With all the stores bursting with clothes, they run around in torn jeans and T-shirts with those silly advertisements on them!" Svetlana exclaimed. "I don't understand them."

Regardless of the pressures of housework, jobs and standing in line, Russian men expect their wives to be well groomed, their hair perfectly set, their nails manicured and polished.

“All you American females yapping about liberation, always in a rush-you look as if you came off the garbage heap! No wonder you couldn't find an American husband!"

Fyodor could not understand why Carol refused to paint her toenails bright red the way many Russian women do. "It makes me look like a whore," she said.[180]

Walking barefoot and sitting on the floor

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Sergei and Pyotr disliked their wives' habits of kicking off their shoes, walking around barefoot, and sitting on the floor. Aside from being "unaesthetic," walking barefoot meant catching cold, and sitting on the floor was guaranteed to produce all kinds of feminine pelvic problems alluded to in somber whispers.[181]

Chapter 8 - Russians in business

Women in the workforce

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Women in Soviet History

The Bolsheviks professed to liberate women and give them full equality with men, and in the 1920s Soviet women enjoyed an equality under law unequaled anywhere else in the world. On this point Soviet law was explicit. As Article 35 of the 1977 Soviet Constitution declared:

Women and men have equal rights in the USSR … ensured by according women equal access with men to education and vocational and professional training, equal opportunities in employment, remuneration and promotion, and in social and political and cultural activity.[182]

In practice, however, women were recognized but unrewarded. A state that claimed to have given all power to the people did in fact give power to only a few, and almost all of them were men. During the entire Soviet era, only three women were named to the ruling Politburo of the Communist Party, and almost none were appointed to high positions in the military and diplomatic corps. To be sure, the first woman ambassador of any country was an early Bolshevik, Aleksandra Kollontai, who was named Soviet Minister to Norway in 1923—but only after her ardent feminism and advocacy of free love put her on a collision course with Party leaders at home.

Women worked in factories and on farms to help build the Soviet economy, and they fought in World War II. The Soviet air force had three air groups “manned” entirely by women, flying bombers by night, dive bombers by day, and even fighter planes. Together, they flew more than 30,000 combat missions during World War II.

Today in the new Russia, equal rights for women and men have been reaffirmed by Article 19 of the Constitution of 1993, which asserts, “The state shall guarantee equal human and civil rights and freedoms without regard to sex. … Men and women shall have equal rights and freedoms and equal opportunities to exercise them.” In practice, however, the results differ.

Some 62 percent of Russian women are college graduates, compared to 50 percent of men, but the average woman’s salary is one-third smaller than that of men.[183] The majority of middle and high-ranking professionals are women, and Russia has one of the highest rates of women bosses. But while more than 80 percent of school principals are women, they comprise only 6 percent of rectors (presidents) of universities and other higher schools, and women make up only 8 percent of high-ranking officials. In cutbacks, women are the first to be fired, but they are quick learners of new professions and bolder in business, and they head about 30 percent of medium-sized businesses and 10 percent of big businesses.

Women, who outnumber men by 10 million, are active today in all professions and occupations, but they are especially strong in medicine where, reflecting an old Russian tradition, three-fourths of all medical doctors are women. They also predominate in teaching and in the textile, food, and social service industries. But while few women occupy high government positions, they have been active in recent years in establishing a broad range of public and political organizations in the new civil society of Russia. Women are also becoming more active in business, founding and directing their own firms, and in journalism.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is common.

Unemployment is much higher for women. During Yeltin’s destabilizing tenure as president many of them looked for marriage abroad. Others, mostly young women, turned to prostitution; literally thousands of them could be found on the main streets and in hotels, clubs, and casinos in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Others were lured abroad by promises of employment but then find themselves prisoners in foreign bordellos.

Western women

Western women warn that Russian men will turn on the charm, but their basic attitude toward a female visitor will be patronizing. Her professional qualifications will be regarded initially with some skepticism, and the Western woman will have to prove herself before she will be taken seriously. But as one Russian advised, “We judge women as we judge everyone else, according to their poise, personal strength of character, and whether they demonstrate an air of authority.” Indeed, Western women, as well as men, will be judged by their professional expertise, seriousness of purpose, cultural level, and knowledge of Russia and its history.[184]

Negotiating with a Russian

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Business Negotiations Between Americans and Russians

Source: Louneva, Tanya, "Business Negotiations Between Americans and Russians" (2010). Wharton Research Scholars. 57. https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1059&context=wharton_research_scholars

Both Americans and Russians value:

  1. Negotiation goals
  2. time sensitivity
  3. agreement building,
  4. agreement form,
  5. communications and
  6. personal styles.

There are some differences between the negotiating styles of Russians and Americans. For instance, Russians may rely more on interpersonal relationships and indirect communications. Russians are emotionally-driven in negotiations.

Russia has a low-trust environment, because it is a high context culture. This could be due to a weak regulatory environment, historical constraints, and rising disposable income levels. Therefore, the key in negotiations in Russia is to built trust. After this is done, a competitive advantage is gained since it will take a long time to build a level of trust with another partner.

Americans have a high-trust environment, because it is a low-context culture, as there is a strong regulatory framework and a history of law enforcement. Therefore, building trust is easier, and it is not viewed as a competitive advantage; instead, counterparties often rely more on the signed contracts than on mutual trust.

In Russia, the establishment of trust is exhibited through five behaviors:

(1) putting the relationship first,
(2) having a low sensitivity to time so that trust can be patiently established,
(3) forming relationships “outside the boardroom”,
(4) focusing on top-down decision making while disregarding the details, and
(5) employing high emotions.[185]

Russian Business Meeting Characteristics

Russian Business Meeting Characteristics

There are a few ground rules you should be aware of about a Russian business meeting:

1. Timeliness: While Russians are not as prompt as Germans, Russians are rather prompt. So being 5 minutes late is ok, anything later needs an excuse. Preferably by calling ahead. For example, "We are stuck in traffic". Being 30-40 or more minutes late without a very good reason, such as the Italians or Spaniards tend to do, is considered very bad manners.

Note: If during the meeting you agree to set due dates or deadlines, be sure to accomplish them by the agreed upon date. Everything during the meeting will be set down in writing in the Minutes of Meeting and not meeting due dates is a major blow to one's credibility and reliability in Russia.

2. Inclusiveness

It is considered very rude to turn your back on someone while continuing your conversation with another person in the group...one to remember for non-Russians who have no such issues. This additionally means, turning to your co-workers, and beginning a conversation in a separate language not understood by everyone. This is also considered very rude. If the need arises to have such a discussion, request some time alone, a break from the meeting and maybe a separate room to do so in.

3. Emotions:

While getting into an emotionally "hot" discussion can happen, never over do it. Never get personal and never ever ever throw a temper tantrum and walk out. The author had an Engineering - Procurement - Construction (EPC) project manager who would do this. He had zero respect from the other side who had to beg him to return. This is viewed as unmanly and childish.

4. Shaking Hands:

Shake hands with everyone and anyone who enters the room after the start and before you hand out or receive business cards individually. When leaving also shake everyone's hand. Walking by some person who stops to talk to someone in your party? Shake his hand. And make it a firm hand shake. Additionally, women shake hands also, so not to shake the hand of a woman is a grave insult.

5. If a woman enters the room to join the meeting?

Get up and show respect, as if it was a senior person, and since 42% of Russian executives are women (twice that of the "progressive" West) it just may be. Additionally, if there are no more seats, surrender yours to the woman.

6. Bargain Hard

Russian price negotiations used to be described as something between a mugging and a bar fight. Its gotten a bit more civilized but....The author recalls remembering fighting a supplier over each 0.01$ of a price on forgings. The 2 groupsfinally agreed to limit it to just full round dollars or they would never get it done. This resulted in a 15% savings from already low prices which saved the author's company several million dollars.

7. Never take an initial response of "NO IT CANT BE DONE" as the final answer.

If the junior or secondary management says no, go straight to the senior leadership. If they say yes it will be yes. Equally, since Russian culture is conservative, use your persuasion skills to sell the idea, either by its merits or by its profitability.

8. Figure out who the trusted lieutenant of the general director is.

Russian chain of commands are linier except for that special lieutenant who has the ear of the boss.

9. Meetings must come to some decisions...

....why else are you in a meeting (except if its just an introductory meeting). People around the equator like to have meetings for the sake of meetings and no decisions are reached, this is very infuriating to Russians. Most meetings usually have a set agenda and the agenda is set to come to a decision.

10. All meetings will end in a Minutes of the Meeting (MoM) with all parties involved signing. Sometimes getting the MoM done takes longer than the whole meeting and all parties most definitely must sign it, so be careful what actually goes in to it, as this is a legal document.


Chapter 9: Muscovites are Shit

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"Muscovites are shit....They are mean, arrogant and proud....the capital is inhabited by rather unpleasant people who are ready sell you, their friends and their mother if they see something to gain in it."
-- A Russian, in the article "Why People Hate Muscovites"[186]

America is unique in that it has 3 Moscows: New York City, Hollywood, and Washington DC. The vast majority of countries, especially in the third world, have one central hub in which all business, politics, and soft power (the film industry) is located. Moscow is no different. If a Russian wants to be the best of the best in movies, politics, business, or crime in Russia, they move or have a base of operations in Moscow.

During the Soviet Union moving to another city was extremely restricted within the vast country. Every citizen had one passport, which was a central passport for travel inside the Soviet Union (Российский паспорт). International passports (Загранпаспорт) were rare and prized. Only the very best, brightest, ambitious, and in some cases, ruthless, would be allowed the opportunity to live in Moscow.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, the entire country was besieged by what Naomi Klien calls "The Shock Doctrine".[187] Naïve isolated Russians believed the sophisticated American "soft power" propaganda (still today 20 years ahead of any other country) and promises of America: No expansion of NATO on a handshake deal, etc. (see the Russian business section) This planned shock destroyed the country and laid Russia to waste with the help of powerful corrupt Russian oligarchs. Drunkard former President Yeltsin was kept in power as an American puppet.

When President Putin came to power in 1999, 2/3rds of the country was in poverty and many cities were controlled by mafia factions. In 1999 President Putin created a level of stability and began to rebuild Russia. Today, 80% of the economy flows through Moscow. This means the most ambitious and greedy people move to Moscow, competing for scarce resources against hardened Muscovites who survived the purges of Stalin and the Moscow crime spree of the 1990s.

Today Moscow is a beautiful façade with a very dark underbelly. As a tourist you will love Moscow. People are friendly, the tourist police are helpful, and the city is much much safer than any American city. But try and stay and make a life in this breathtaking dystopia, you will inevitably see the deeper darker side.




Chapter 10: Soviet Mentality and Russian Leadership Today

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"Suvok" is translated as "dustpan" (dustbin) in Russian.

Dust pan why dont russians smile.png

In its simplest form, "Suvok" means to be a Soviet Citizen. The Soviet Union "Советский Союз" is "Советский Grajidin (?)" is what dedicated Soviets used to say, and a lot of old Russians took pride in that.

Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the "old mentality" Russians today say:

"Look what is going on, everyone is at everyone's throats, the Ukrainians, the Kazakhs, the Russians. In the former Soviet Union we were all together, we were all in one boat, maybe it wasn't all that rich, but we were all in one boat."

This is a classic line by the elderly.

Origin of the Russian word "dust bin"

There were two concepts that emerged from Советский Grajidin (Soviet Citizen).

One is the intelligentsia. This is the somewhat contentious book "Homo Sovieticus", written by dissident author Aleksandr Zinovyev. Homo Sovieticus is an effort to define a certain type of person. In the late 1920s and early 1930s Stalin said he was going to be the "engineer of human souls" to justify the deaths of millions. In large part he was successful. Stalin created a certain type of man.

Later on with a touch of bitter humor, Homo Sovieticus came to be known in a wider circle outside of the intelligentsia as "Subor" - which is a potter.

Subor was a group of people united with one goal, a collective mentality wrapped around a particular idea of a Soviet citizen. Troskti said "we will all be in the dustbin of history"

The most obvious and simple historical reason behind the Suvok mentality is this:

This suspicious mentality is understandable because most of the Soviet period everyone was against everyone. A Soviet citizen couldn't say anything in front of your children because they would blurt it out in school and that would be at best 25 years in the Gulag.
Dust pan leadership personalities today

Although currently not used by the general Russian population, "Suvok" can explain heartless Muscovites today, the majority of those who have economic (oligarchs) and political power.

These "Suvok" will never say:

  • I am sorry,
  • they will never admit they are wrong.
...They can't because it is a sign of weakness.
  • They don't smile. Because there is nothing to smile about.
  • There is Endless suspicion. To a Suvok there is the sense that nothing is what it seems. You have to keep digging until you find out where the person's real interest is.

This Moscow attitude has infected (permeated) international relations. This attitude is small part of the reason that the West is so hostile to Russia today.

*****

The average American reading the above description of Russia, probably feels a deep habitual pride about America's system of government. What social scientist call "American Civil Religion". In addition, they probably feel sorry for the Russian government, dominated by Russia's oligarchs....

American "Democracy" is a hoax, according to social scientists.
Social scientist have determined that the United States is not a democracy, but it is an oligarchy. As the BBC quoted an academic study:
Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.
In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power. Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy. (17 April 2014). BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746

Chapter 11 - Conclusion

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Much of the popular Russian literature and many Russian movies today end in a rather depressing tone, which is alien to Americans. In that spirit, we will end this guide on Russia with the famous George F. Kennan:


Soberly viewed, there is little possibility that enough Americans will ever accomplish...any general understanding of Russia on the part of our Government or our people. It would imply a measure of intellectual humility and a readiness to reserve judgment about ourselves and our institutions, of which few of us would be capable.🙷

For the foreseeable future the American, individually and collectively, will continue to wander about in the maze of contradiction and the confusion which is Russia, with feelings not dissimilar to those of Alice in Wonderland, and with scarcely greater effectiveness. He will be alternately repelled or attracted by one astonishing phenomenon after another, until he finally succumbs to one or the other of the forces involved or until, dimly apprehending the depth of his confusion, he flees the field in horror.....

Distance, necessity, self-interest, and common-sense....may enable us [Americans], thank God, to continue that precarious and troubled but peaceful co-existence which we have managed to lead with the Russians up to this time. But if so, it will not be due to any understanding on our part.

-- Memorandum by the Counselor of Embassy in the Soviet Union (George F. Kennan), September 1944

Further Reading and Links

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Index

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Footnotes

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NEWER /\

Older

  1. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  2. Moscow Believes in Tears: Russians and Their Movies. Louis Menashe. (2014). Famous Russian idioms. New Academia Publishing. https://books.google.ru/books?id=S3u3b_U-c78C&printsec=frontcover
  3. Seymour Martin Lipset (1922–2006), Sociologist.
  4. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  5. Nicolas Zernov. (1978). The Russians and Their Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. 176.
  6. Hofstede Insights, Country Comparison: USA. https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/the-usa/
  7. Hofstede Insights, Country Comparison: Russia. https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/russia/
  8. Realo, Anu; Allik, Jüri. (April 1999). A Cross-Cultural Study of Collectivism: A Comparison of American, Estonian, and Russian Students. The Journal of Social Psychology 139(2):133-142. DOI: 10.1080/00224549909598367 http://universitypublications.net/ijas/0705/pdf/H4V1015.pdf
  9. Lugris, Mark. (June 13, 2018). Russian Workers Being Trained To Smile More Before The World Cup. https://www.thetravel.com/russia-teaches-workers-smile/
  10. Trompenaars, Fons., & Hampden-Turner, Charles. (1998). Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business, 2nd ed. McGraw Hill. 83–86.
  11. Riding the Waves of Culture. Exclusive Interview with Dr Fons Trompenaars. https://mundus-international.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Swedish-Press-Mar-2018-Interview-Trompenaars-Williams.pdf
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Meyer, Erin. (May 30, 2014) One Reason Cross-Cultural Small Talk Is So Tricky. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2014/05/one-reason-cross-cultural-small-talk-is-so-tricky
  13. Taras, Vas. (December, 2015). Peach Vs. Coconut Cultures. https://x-culture.org/peach-vs-coconut-cultures/
  14. Lebowitz, Shana. (August, 2017). The 'coconut vs peach' metaphor explains why Americans find the French standoffish and the French find Americans superficial. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/why-french-people-find-americans-superficial-2017-8
  15. Meyer, Erin. (2014). The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1qoT-v2SDoSuj0VIXAmOpVxvvw4uUi5Vy (FULL BOOK).
  16. Lugris, Mark. (June 13, 2018). Russian Workers Being Trained To Smile More Before The World Cup. https://www.thetravel.com/russia-teaches-workers-smile/
  17. Bohm, Michael. (April 28, 2011). Why Russians Don't Smile. The Moscow Times. https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2011/04/28/why-russians-dont-smile-a6672
  18. Putnam, Samuel., & Gartstein, Masha A. (June 2018). Russians don’t smile much, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like you. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/russians-dont-smile-much-but-that-doesnt-mean-they-dont-like-you/2018/06/29/beceb9d8-7a21-11e8-93cc-6d3beccdd7a3_story.html
  19. Khazan, Olga. (May, 2016), Why Some Cultures Frown on Smiling, Finally, an explanation for Bitchy Resting Face Nation. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/05/culture-and-smiling/483827/
  20. Olga Khazan. (May 3, 2017). Why Americans Smile So Much How immigration and cultural values affect what people do with their faces. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/05/why-americans-smile-so-much/524967/
  21. Adam Chandler. (October 21, 2016). Why Do Americans Move So Much More Than Europeans? The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/10/us-geographic-mobility/504968/
  22. Park, Robert E. (July-August, 1924). The Concept of Social Distance. Journal of Applied Sociology, 8 339-344. Emory S. Bogardus. (March-April, 1925). Measuring Social Distance. Journal of Applied Sociology, 9 299-308.
  23. Putnam, Samuel., & Gartstein, Masha A. (June 2018). Russians don’t smile much, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like you. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/russians-dont-smile-much-but-that-doesnt-mean-they-dont-like-you/2018/06/29/beceb9d8-7a21-11e8-93cc-6d3beccdd7a3_story.html
  24. Arapova, Maria A. (2017), Cultural differences in Russian and Western smiling, Russian Journal of Communication, 9:1, 34-52, DOI: 10.1080/19409419.2016.1262208
  25. Khazan, Olga. (May, 2016). Why Some Cultures Frown on Smiling, Finally, an explanation for Bitchy Resting Face Nation. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/05/culture-and-smiling/483827/
  26. Samuel Putnam, (June 27, 2018). Why are Russians so stingy with their smiles? https://theconversation.com/why-are-russians-so-stingy-with-their-smiles-98799
  27. The "Heartland" is the central part of a country. A prerogative used by those on the coasts of the USA is “Fly over states”.
  28. Visson, Lynn. (2001). Wedded Strangers: The Challenges of Russian-American Marriages. Hippocrene Books.
  29. Bohm, Michael. (April 28, 2011). Why Russians Don't Smile. The Moscow Times. https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2011/04/28/why-russians-dont-smile-a6672
  30. Koren, Marina. (February, 2014). Why Russians Aren’t Smiling at You in Sochi. The first rule about smiling at Russians is you do not smile at Russians. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/02/why-russians-arent-smiling-at-you-in-sochi/569632/
  31. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  32. Hugh Seton-Watson. 1952. The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855–1914 (New York). 24.
  33. Paul Gray. Alexander Solzhenitsyn: Russia's Prophet in Exile, Time Time Magazine. July 24, 1989. 61.
  34. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  35. Edward Adrian-Vallance, https://www.facebook.com/edward.adrianvallance
  36. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  37. Edward Adrian-Vallance, https://www.facebook.com/edward.adrianvallance
  38. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  39. 55
  40. Herbert, Wray. ‘To suffer is to suffer’: Analyzing the Russian national character. (June 30, 2010). Association for Psychological Science. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/were-only-human/to-suffer-is-to-suffer-analyzing-the-russian-national-character.html
  41. Oleg Yegorov. February 22 2019. Why do Russians benefit from suffering? https://www.rbth.com/lifestyle/330011-russian-suffering
  42. Jonah Lehrer. 2010. Why Russians Don't Get Depressed. https://www.wired.com/2010/08/why-russians-dont-get-depressed/
  43. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  44. Li Mu, https://www.facebook.com/li.mu.5015
  45. Edward Adrian-Vallance, https://www.facebook.com/edward.adrianvallance
  46. Edward Adrian-Vallance, https://www.facebook.com/edward.adrianvallance
  47. Nina Khrushcheva, "Culture Matters, But Not (of All Places) in Russia," in Correspondence: An International Review of Culture and Society (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, winter, 2000/2001 no. 7), 48.
  48. Laurens Van der Post. (1964). Journey Into Russia. Random House.
  49. Richard Stites, Revolutionary Dreams, Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 124.
  50. Richard Stites, Revolutionary Dreams, Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 207.
  51. Daniel Matuszewski, former IREX deputy director, in a December 15, 2001 e-mail to Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  52. Lev A. Tikhomirov, Russia, Political and Social, quoted by Wright Miller in Russians as People (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1961), 81.
  53. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  54. Fred Hiatt. (December 3, 1994). Russian Astrologers' Horrorscopes. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1994/12/03/russian-astrologers-horrorscopes/3a9536df-d9f3-402c-b798-6418b3b10c82/
  55. Richard Lourie. 1991. Predicting Russia’s Future. Knoxville, TN: Whittle Direct Books. 82.
  56. Richard Lourie and Aleksei Mikhalev. Why You'll Never Have Fun in Russian. The New York Times, June 18, 1989. https://www.nytimes.com/1989/06/18/books/why-you-ll-never-have-fun-in-russian.html
  57. Richard Bernstein. (November 28, 1989). Soviet Author's Humor Has a Bitter Aftertaste. The New York Times.
  58. Llewellyn Thompson, in his final briefing for American correspondents prior to his departure from Moscow in 1968, a meeting that Yale Richmond, attended found in From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. (2008) Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  59. Tibor Szamuely. (1974). The Russian Tradition. New York: McGraw-Hill. 6.
  60. Leonid Andreyev. (1913). Vserossiiskoe vranyo. Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (All Russian Lies. Full Composition of Writings). St. Petersburg. Volume V.
  61. Samuel Rachlin. (March 20, 2015). Propaganda and the Russian Art of Lying. https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/96536/propaganda-and-the-russian-art-of-lying
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Bibliography

e 

Johnson's Russia List. https://russialist.org/


About the Authors

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Travis

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Travis Lee Bailey








Anna

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Меркулова Анна Сергеевна – переводчик с английского и немецкого языков. Окончила ЮФУ по специализации "Английская филология" и обучается в СПбГУ на магистерской программе "Литературный перевод". Анна перевела данную книгу с английского на русский язык.


Anna Merkulova is a Russian-English-German translator. She finished Southern Federal University (English philology) and is currently studying Literary Translation at Saint-Petersburg State University. Anna translated this book from English into Russian.

Nitish

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Akhauri Nitish Kumar

Akhauri Nitish Kumar is a Russian language scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and has submitted his PhD thesis(2019) on Russian literature. He received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Russian Language. He has written several scientific papers on Russian Literature and Culture. Currently, he teaches Russian language at Delhi University as a guest lecturer.

Olga

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Olga Diamant is a Cross-Cultural Coach, she can be reached at kladd@mail.ru

Irina

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Irina Manakina Irina Manakina currently lives and works in Moscow. She is an actress in Theatre "V". Irina spent several years in London, graduating from Schiller International University. She can be reached at reefknot@yandex.ru

Michael

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