Myths & stereotypes about Russia which are not true
27 August, 2017
Today marks the six month anniversary of my initial move to Russia in February, and my flight back to the UK. To find a way to say goodbye to this wonderful, crazy country, I thought I would take some classic stereotypes and bash them with my experiences.
Russians are grumpy all the time
It’s easy to think this, I’ll give you that. On the metro, in the street, basically anywhere public Russians can be incredibly unhelpful and aggressive at points (although I would argue that that kind of behaviour can be found in most big cities like Paris or Milan). However, this is only because outward displays of emotion in public and towards strangers are seen as strange and sometimes even impolite. Russians are actually very hospitable and friendly once you get to know them. Once, when I met my friend’s host mum, she didn’t know I was coming round and rushed to offer me something. She kept apologising that she didn’t have any конфеты and plied me with fresh vegetable stew in an effort to have something to give me.
Russians don’t know how to have fun
Although the stereotype dictates that the Russian idea of fun is to sit in a room playing cards, smoking cigarettes, doing numerous shots of vodka and maybe beating someone up – go into any random bar on a Saturday night and you’ll see that this is, unsurprisingly, entirely untrue. I am constantly amazed by the number of people who, after a few beers, are happily singing away to some classic Russian songs (which are a lot of fun) and shaking their hips like there’s no tomorrow. Part of the reason they can come across as rude is because they don’t feel the need to please everyone all the time, and this lack of self-consciousness is brought to the fore when you see limbs flailing and the dance floor quickly filled. Even for more relaxed nights out, during the last month I’ve found some chilled, trendy bars and terraces where people laugh and drink and chat like they do all over the world.
Russian food is all disgusting
Some of it is pretty questionable, especially the dishes involving gelatine and gristle. However, there are lots of foods which I will definitely miss when I leave: borsch, grechka,
draniki. The reason behind the ‘disgustingness’ of Russian food is that throughout history they’ve had to store and conserve it, and that’s what pickling it does. Anyway, growing up with a weird food and having it as part of your culture makes it easier to stomach, Russians would probably look at food like black pudding and beef jerky and want to cry. I am, however, never going to make excuses for cream cheese in sushi, which I will never be able to understand.
All Russians love vodka
Ok, it is a popular beverage, but saying that all Russians love their vodka is like saying that all Scots love their scotch whiskey. And, hold on to your seat, I’ve even met some Russians who don’t drink at all, and teetotalism is becoming more and more widespread.
It’s not always minus zero
When they think of Russia, lots of non-Russians seem to summon up the idea of a lone babushka, struggling against the wind and the snow with bags full of grocery shopping, or just miles and miles of barren waste land covered in snow. Sure, it does get very cold in the winter (I have no personal experience of this and am making excuses for it even though I cleverly planned my year abroad to arrive at the tail end of winter), but Russia has been known to experience high temperatures during a handy little season called summer. Particularly in the south – think Krasnodar or Sochi – the temperatures do not dip as dramatically as in other places.
Russians don’t just read Dostoevsky and Tolstoy
One thing I do love about Russians is their fondness for literature, there is a strong literary tradition here, and people are rightfully proud of the great writers who have emerged from the country. One of the best places to observe people’s choice of literature is on the metro, and only ONCE in two months have I spotted a Tolstoy novel floating about. Like people in any country, Russians do not stick solely to their famous writers. They love a good trashy novel, or a sound contemporary one, it just depends on taste. Many read novels that have been translated (you can spot this by finding names like Джейк and Джеймс on the page). I even once saw a girl reading Harry Potter, in English, then get out her phone and look up words – there was real language student solidarity.
So there we have it, I can’t be sure that there aren’t any exceptions to the rules and there must be some straight-laced, vodka-guzzling Russians who read solely Tolstoy somewhere, but one thing I can be sure of is that I will miss this beautiful city and the people here very much.
This post was written by Claire, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz.