Following last week’s introduction to a Russian traveller’s American experiences, it’s time to hear from the man: ‘S’ himself. His journey started a few years before the flight itself; when ‘S’ made an acquaintance, and later a friend, ‘B’ on a language practice site. With mutual understanding and increased familiarity came offers of a “vacation” in the ‘States.
After initial doubts about the practical and financial viability of such an offer, ‘S’ was able to accept, and so applied for an American visa – which initially proved problematic. International relations between America and Russia had fallen to their lowest ebb since the end of the Soviet era -with inevitable knock-on effects for mutual tourism. By 2018, staff levels in Moscow’s American embassy had been reduced to such an extent that ‘S’ had to wait for almost a year for an appointment at a Visa centre (an essential requirement). The long wait finally paid off, the interview and application were successful and suddenly, ’S’s travel plans snapped into reality.
I ran ‘S’s original Russian text through a translator and edited the results – but only slightly. I’ll cut in from time to time, but I’d like you to absorb ‘S’s words -and gain his insight- in the most unadulterated way possible. Over to ‘S’:-
‘My opening into America’
“Finally I was ready to go to America. I defined the purposes of my trip as:-
- To see ordinary American life from inside
- To try to understand the mentality of American people
- To tell them about Russian life
B and his wife G welcomed me much better than they would a loving relative. It is very unusual to live in the home of “alien” people in another country who provide you a room and food – and also pay for your entertainment! They even trusted me to drive their car.
Only now I think I know the American character. They are polite, friendly people: accepting the laws but feeling free enough. They enjoy their life and are not interested in the outside world.”
‘S’ is referring largely to the residents (and countryside) of Arizona – he would tell me later that he found the population of Hollywood to be entirely different, less interested in outsiders whilst also living life at a faster pace. He regards Tinseltown itself as a “reservation for millionaires”!
“Some though, would like to satisfy their curiosity about other countries. I brought a few classic Russian movies and my own photographs. My (American) friends viewed them with interest -I suppose. I guess life there (in Arizona) is very safe.
I never saw security grids on the windows or doors, B never locked his car. I liked the behavior on the roads; It was very polite and safe. I liked the relationship between B and G. They are very kind, endearing people.”
Distance divides us
‘S’s opinion of American buildings may seem strange to us, but in Moscow -his home city- most residents live in multi-story apartment blocks. The older, post-war variety may have only 5 floors, but modern structures can reach 70 floors or more. Don’t forget that normality for ‘S’ is Moscow’s urban sprawl. Here’s his perspective:-
“To me, America seemed to be an uncomfortable country because of the huge spaces, wide roads and low buildings. Movement is possible only via car. Walking is only done in the park or around shopping centers. It was impossible to stop on the main roads – though this is understandable for safe driving. If you need gas, you have to leave the main road and spend some effort to return.”
Health and recreation
“The Americans don’t eat soup or drink tea! We (I mean the Russians) are not used to that. I suppose the food is not very good because I saw a lot of fat people. Maybe it’s because food is cheap and easily available?”.
‘S’ doesn’t touch on the issues of choice, self-delusion and willpower here of course – or even in special cases: medical conditions. Political correctness isn’t a Russian thing either, they simply don’t do it. That’s our invention/curse, not theirs. Expect a frank opinion at all times, like it or not. He has better things to say about the American service industry, however:
“About the entertainments” he begins, on various themed, tourist locations, “I like their organisation and the American guides. They are very informal and fun! I also like the service in stores. For example, we tried the whisky together with the guy from the liquor store!
That is, of course, a great image to leave you with. Read the final part next week.