There are a few more points to raise in the second of this two-part article concerning ‘S’s trip to the USA. As an addendum to the ‘Opposing Worlds’ series, we have been hearing about the experience from the perspective of ‘B’ and ‘G’, ‘S’s hosts.
There are no tales of gaffs and hilarious faux pas to be had -in case you were wondering. The truth is quieter, though much more significant. The simple fact is that these characters from two disparate worlds got along just fine.
“S’ fitted in real quickly,” reveals ‘B’. “These people (the Russians) are just the same as we are; ‘just like in the USA, Australia…” he trails off, the point having been made, then adds: “The more time you spend together, the more you realise how similar you are.”
Perhaps that’s an essential lesson for those who care to lump members of an entire culture together, and then tell us how bad “they” are.
‘B’ has more to say about ‘S’: “(He) was really helpful. There’s not a lazy bone in that man’s body”. He reveals how his Russian guest helped with lifting and driving, set about the garden with ‘B’s leaf blower and waded in icy water to help install the roll-in dock at ‘B’s cabin. On an excursion to ride balloons over Mesa, ‘S’ could be found helping fellow balloon riders in and out of their baskets (whilst on the ground, that is).
Of course, being Russian; he had to be re-trained to keep his shoes on indoors. Why do we pride ourselves on having clean houses whilst trampling a layer of ‘street’ into our carpets? That’s not forgetting the quick “that’ll do” brush on the doormat of course. At any rate, it’s a mystery. Washing hands on entry is also a Russian thing too – we could learn a lot.
“He showed us how to drink vodka” says ‘B’, revealing another kind of lesson entirely. I assume he means more than ‘with a glass’. “I never liked that s***”, he says, in summary “but he did bring caviar!”. The myth that the contents of an opened bottle must be consumed dates back to the Soviet era -and then only among hardcore drinkers. These days it’s more of a show of bravado for tourists. Shots however are still taken as a hit-in-one before placing the glass back down onto the table. Don’t sip your vodka!
Then there’s the whole “toasting” thing to consider of course, should the occasion warrant it. Whatever transpired, ‘B’ claimed to be fine the following morning, although ‘G’s state was somewhat delicate. ‘S’ is still the “impeccable” guest in her eyes, however. Is that in spite of (or because of) the vodka? – I didn’t ask.
When Russians and Americans collide, either physically or merely in conversation; politics becomes the elephant in the room. Sometimes it remains unspoken, at other times; cautiously approached. Usually it’s best left alone, frankly.
Somehow, the subject of Stalin came around at ‘B’s behest, but he found himself backing out into safer territory almost immediately. As if opening his mouth to sing, but striking a wrong note: the atmosphere changed, then so did the conversation (very quickly).
Whilst many seem to have plenty to say about Russians, ‘B’ has the advantage over many ‘commentators’, in that he knows one. He also has positive things to say about their culture -as he sees it. “I’m impressed how Russia has evolved economically,” he says, and that Moscow is “on a par with the best cities, it’s better than under the Communist system”.
The latter is true of course – for most. But there are still hardships to contend with, whose solutions we have long since taken for granted here in the west. The plight of the disabled or the elderly spring to mind. These are subjects for discussion another time.
Why can’t we all just get along?
Having experienced the epiphany that “they” and “us” are essentially the same, ‘B’ reflects on the tit-for-tat brinkmanship that is played out on the international stage between our respective ‘sides’. “It’s a cat and mouse game,” he says, “Nothing but stupidity. We’re both advanced, successful people – why are we fighting each other?”. He has the same question about the conflict between Russian and Ukraine.
The reasons lie in their historical relationship, of course – but on a gut level I share a parallel viewpoint. It’s like watching impotently whilst two of your favourite people tear chunks out of each other. It feels raw, and there’s nothing I can do.
Just like home
Incidentally, even encouragingly: ‘S’ did share some of ‘B’s experience of oneness. Whilst on the road, they encountered a “mad driver” weaving through traffic in a bid to get ahead -seemingly at the expense of his life (or others). Whilst ‘B’ let out a volley of colourful road rage, ‘S’ turned to him with a smile: “That” he said, “That’s just like Russia”.