Or ‘How to cause an international incident!’
It’s a vague question, but one that we’re always curious about: “What are the … [insert nationality plural] like?”. To put such a question into perspective consider this: A good percentage of those reading this will be British. So Brits, what are the British like? If you are American: what are the Americans like? Unless you spend your life solely on the street of your home address, then you’ll probably realise that you’ve encountered so many personality types that such a question seems ridiculous However, when suddenly encountering a whole new set of folks from elsewhere – you still might be struck with the thought that “Oh, so they do that”. Paradoxically then, the outwardly worthless question still has some value.
What are the Russians like? Well, after having dealings with several, in addition to members of other Slavic nations, certain generalisations start to emerge – although my relatively limited exposure can hardly lead to absolute conclusions. I certainly do find them more ‘direct’ than us Brits though that comes across in spades, so be prepared to hear it like-it-is, with less ‘frill’ to the conversation.
You may well hear that your faltering Russian language skills are “horrible” for instance – I certainly have. One of the folks I practise with stuck their fingers in their ears and made a face like they had just seen road-kill. Hey ho! I just laughed, hammering down any feeling of offence and re-interpreting their candour as license to really take the ****! OK, so we’re on that level playing field now: let’s have at it! And then of course I’m wondering if I’m going too far, as they in turn goof-up their English. “Why do you laughing?”, “I think it is not funny”, “I am a clown to you!”. Yes, you may find that a considered “horrible” and a sour face is acceptable whereas spontaneous laughter isn’t. Work that one out.
It’s probably a pride thing: taking a jab means that you are strong, whereas laughter just means that you are ridiculous? – or something. Whatever, it’s safe to assume that my career in international diplomacy is decidedly off. But I still enjoy it, and learn from it.
Family is an important institution for Slavs; a fact (generalisation?) that comes across repeatedly. One of my Russian-language contacts recently ended our trans-global practice session to go and make dinner for her father who would soon be home from work. Yes, in her late 20s, she still lives ‘at home’ and makes dinner for dad, a scenario that would probably horrify most western feminists.
She doesn’t have to do it, she explains; but if she didn’t, then she would be a “bad daughter”. That’s primarily in her estimation, incidentally. She wants to do right by her father, something that our western Dad-Taxi and Bank-of-The Parents clientele might want to consider when they return home with a big bag of washing. Oh yes: she also has a career, sorry to confound your conclusions.
Being at home for longer, much longer, is common. Younger family members – the term “children” doesn’t feel right – might only leave when they are married, or at least when they move in together. Not everyone, but it’s there. Naturally, they don’t understand our haste to leave home as much as we don’t understand their relative ‘norm’ to stay. Of course, finances will play a part in this, as those still trapped with the folks here in the UK – with its comedic house prices and beaming estate agents – will understand. Inadvertently, we too are adopting the Slavic family model.
Speaking of domesticity: take your shoes off at the front door (that’s on the way in). Yes, that’s a thing, as with the Japanese and others. Quite right too, have you seen the state of the streets? Residue from the canine deposit that you recently took a heel-slide through is not something that they want on their carpets. Why don’t the Brits get this?
More faux pas next week.
(Photo by Maurice)