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cultural differences

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Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 1369
Location: Sagamihara

PostPosted: Sat Mar 06, 2004 1:46 am    Post subject: cultural differences Reply with quote

recently I moved in Japan. While I was packing, I came across an old notebook that I kept while working in Irkutsk. On some of the pages I wrote down what I found different about Russia (I am American).
I wonder how much of what I wrote is still true, and what has changed. Feel free to add.

1. dogs in stores with their owners
2. smoking in university buildings
3. too much drinking
4. less stuff to buy in stores, but less packaging
5. clothing - fur hats, coats
6. irritability - lack of smiling - bitterness
7. the military as a man`s university
8. boring diet (especially Siberia - potatoes, meat, beets, cabbage, pelmeni)
9. less cars, so public transportation is used a lot (buses, trams, and trolly buses)
10. apartment buildings that look the same with depressing colors
11. pirated videos and cassettes, which are cheap
12. interest in the West. By contrast, Americans can be very ignorant about the rest of the world
13. mandatory military service. Extensive draft dodging. I wonder how this is done (I think by either having two children or by being at a university or graduate school.)
14. lower life expectancy for men. 59 or so
15. Controller on buses and trams. Always have to stand. It must be a tough job, especially when it is crowded.
16. people bump into you and never apologize. Today a running girl elbowed me in the stomach (2/1/1998)
17. extensive use of foreign currency (mostly the USD). Guards with big guns at banks.
18. different prices for foreigners and Russians - museums, train and plane fares.
19. a different kind of ice. Certain kinds of boots are required. Packed snow which freezes. It is treacherous. You just get used to falling down.
20. women walking arm in arm
21. a lack of lines. Aggressiveness in Russian is required to get the seller`s attention - she may just be talking to her friend and ignoring you, the customer who happens to want to buy something.
22. an ignorance about the Russian church
23. some people still think Lenin was a good guy
24. racism that is overt - to blacks and Asians. Muslims too (especially Azeris)
25. Many products are imported that aren`t made here - kiosks sell mostly imported goods by far (German yogurt and Polish frozen vegetables, for example.)
26. soldiers,which guard the main university building, as well as our dormitory. I don`t understand. What is it for? A make-work program for poor soldiers? I didn`t like the midnight curfew when we were locked into the obshaga.
27. The space between people when they talk is much less than in the US. People get so close together in order to buy things, it`s like they are married. (or maybe they are)
28. less feminism. Women aren`t as concerned about work (careers) as in the US.
29. Russians talk less in class than Americans would.
30. Shopping isn`t interesting. There isn`t as much stuff to buy as in the US
31. a superiority/inferiority complex due to the Cold War and a great disline of America`s policy toward Iraq
32. younger women are more concerned with how they look. More skirts here. Wool skirts and knee high boots in winter.
33. Different kinds of shapkas. A fashion industry around it.
34. People walking around with various large plastic bags, since bags aren`t given for free (in Prague too).
35. So much raw fish eaten as appetizers. Like the Japanese.
36. Apparently, you shouldn`t talk loudly in public areas, but I heard Russians do this.
37. People not getting paids for months. How do they buy things?
38. Rambunctious kids at school. Fighting. A lack of discipline. Kids smoking.
39. So much fat in the diet: meat, cheese, salo, etc.
40. long delays by Aeroflot. Waiting 24 hours or more for a flight because they didn`t pay the fuel bill.
41. Having no electricity in the dorm because the hotel next door didn`t pay the electric bill after a fire burned the electrical wires at a nearby house.
42. brown water from the tap. Having no hot water at times or none at all.
43. A love for soccer more than any sport (more than hockey), played even in winter, even at -17 C
44. For a reception in Bratsk, having only vodka, cognac, and wine offered to drink. That was considered polite. And only raw fish to eat.
45. Having a different Lenin statue in every city (Lenin's head in Ulan Ude, and Lenin hailing a taxi in Irkutsk).
46. People selling various things near kiosks (socks, cigarettes, etc). The mafia gets a 10% cut for protection money.
47. An ability to slide down icy hills while standing, without falling.
48. Having a small envelope with postage already on it, so it doesn`t matter how much is stuffed into it. It can be mailed overseas.
49. Having one small cafeteria with 13 tables for a university of 20,000
50. Things look generally run down: much new paint is needed. Brighter colors would help.
51. People selling frozen vegetables on the street, and they aren`t refrigerated because it`s 8F or less.
52. Students hanging plastic bags outside their windows, because winter is long and temperatures don`t rise above -6F. So no refrigerator is needed for at least 4 months out of the year.
53. Children begging. Beggars can be aggressive, or merely stand near a grocery store with an outsteched hand or hat. One of the saddest scences I have ever witnessed was of an elderly man begging. It was on a winter`s night. How hard the life must be for the poor who are elderly.
54. being able to buy individual cigarettes or batteries.
55. People carrying a loaf of bread in the hand (without a bag).
56. People shop for food more often than Americans, because many people don`t have cars.
57. A lack of bars, restaurants, and places to hang out. There`s more to buy in my small hometown of 30,000 people in upstate New York.
58. Dryers only for the rich. No laundromats. Most people don`t have washing machine. I was lucky one of my students let me use his on a weekly basis.
59. People have internal passports. Why? I remember traveling in Siberia and I needed a document from my supervisor, proving that I worked at the university. I guess it was needed since I went to a different oblast.
60. new money came out in 1991, and then old people had their savings wiped out.
61. using long German buses, and the instructions inside are in German only. But maybe that wasn`t a problem, since people were more familiar with German than English.
62. differences in speech, like 'commrade'. More formality with people of different ages. Ivan Sergeivich, for example.
63. much use of cursive, such as on store signs.
64. valenkis (felt boots).
65. many gold teeth
66. the arrogance of new Russians
67. sometimes a Russian would say something that I would consider rude - like, you should lose weight.
68. many evangelists. The largest group of foreigners, except for workers from Mongolia or the former USSR (Uzbeks, Azeris, etc.)
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Joined: 10 Jan 2003
Posts: 15343

PostPosted: Sat Mar 06, 2004 5:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

An interesting list. Highlights the differences between someone from the US and the former USSR.

But the things that you find strange are not strange to all of us !
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Joined: 29 Jun 2003
Posts: 719
Location: China

PostPosted: Sat Mar 06, 2004 5:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree, very interesting list. What year was it?

-->an ignorance about the Russian church

I didn't understand that one. I think I'm the only one in this town who's ignorant of the church Smile
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Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 1369
Location: Sagamihara

PostPosted: Sun Mar 07, 2004 11:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wrote it in early February of 1998.

So what is not strange to you Scot?

I was in Siberia, and the people there considered themselves to be "real" Russians. They didn`t drink as much wine in beer as people in Moscow do.

I found that the Soviet Union did a good job at killing off organized religion. For example, one of the government buildings in Irkutsk used to be on the site of the largest church in the city. It was razed about 1930.

I guess I was suprised that there were more atheists than I imagined.
Russia used to be such a religious country (before 1917).

New Year`s was a more important holiday than Christmas (thanks to communism).
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Joined: 17 Dec 2003
Posts: 5
Location: Kansas

PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2004 12:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My experience is limited to just a couple weeks, but in my time there it seemed that people away from the city were much more willing to spend time with each other than we are here in America. Often the western world seems so driven to succeed that we forget others along the way. That was really the biggest cultural difference that impressed me in my short time there.
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Joined: 27 Apr 2004
Posts: 310
Location: Saint Petersburg

PostPosted: Thu Apr 29, 2004 7:38 am    Post subject: Weird? Reply with quote

18. different prices for foreigners and Russians - museums, train and plane fares.

That's the same for museums, but on transport everyone pays the same. Most of the rest is a fair description.

None of it is particularly weird though. When I go I'll miss the cat sleeping on the meat counter of my local 24 hour shop. Dogs in shops is nothing. Being able to buy whatever medicine you like from a chemist (sorry, pharmacy Wink without a prescription, or by just getting one of your friends to scrawl something in illegible Russian script (not only foreigners have trouble with Russian handwriting, I once had a whole busload of people trying to decipher an address for me Very Happy

The place is changing fast though. Shops have everything now, but sometimes they won't sell you stuff (net, molodoi chelovek, nado zakliuchit' dogovor...) Service standards are still hilarious.

Religion is no less killed-off than in the UK

Russians are still very outspoken. I find this refreshing. Unlike with Americans (no offence to anyone intended) and to some extent the Brits, they rarely hide behind false smiles. You always know where you stand.
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Joined: 31 Mar 2004
Posts: 545
Location: Between Russia and Germany

PostPosted: Thu Apr 29, 2004 9:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't know if I'd say less feminism. Different feminism. I know a lot of female university students (very few men in the department) and they seem pretty keen on education and career, but they're also pretty keen on getting married and having some guy bring in the lion's share of dough. A lot of them want to be educated so their future husband won't lose interest in them, and so they'll have something to fall back on, maybe partly to keep him from getting uppity.

I like the ice. It makes things interesting. Between puddles and ice and holes in the pavement and mud, the walking paths and sidewalks are never boring. You can't just walk mindlessly down the street, you're always picking out the best path.
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