Russian Stereotypes: Times Russia out-Russia-ed herself

The stereotypes of Ladas being a multi-purpose vehicle are, well, largely true...

Russia truly is a wonderful country. It has a fascinating history, a rich language, and is a cultural powerhouse that has greatly contributed to world culture. However, Russia has also acquired some stereotypes over the years for being a country where certain situations only ever seem to happen in Russia.

Anyone remember that viral video of a bear riding in a motorbike side-car? What about that time when a stout Russian babushka pushed a would-be armed robber out of a shop, whilst shoppers carried on as if nothing had happened? Things that are just so bizarre and hilarious to us, yet only merit a mere shrug here in Russia, are really beyond words. Simply put; это Россия.

The funny thing is, stereotypes, whilst obviously exaggerated, often find their roots in some sort of truth. When you come to study in Russia, you really do come across situations where you just think “Wow Russia, you’ve truly out-Russia-ed yourself”.

Lada-land, and the magical properties of Duck-tape

Who needs a bumper when the engine works fine? #LadaLife
Who needs a bumper when the engine works fine? #LadaLife

Ladas are just something else; that quintessential brand of Soviet car design that have survived the test of time that their creator state did not. In St P, and generally everywhere around Russia, especially in the provincial cities, Ladas remain the car of choice. Reliable and resilient, if you were to crash a Lada into a brick wall, I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if it would survive unscathed. Of course, even the hardiest of Ladas need a bit of T.L.C. I once met a friend of a friend from Yaroslavl (called Yaroslav…) who showed me his beloved Lada. It was older him and still drove like the day it rolled off the production-line, he boasted.

I may have been impressed, had it not been for the fact that the entire front bumper was held on to the car by duck-tape. Yaroslav had been whizzing around Yaroslavl in his Lada like this for months, he said. The funny thing is though, he isn’t alone in swearing by using Duck-tape as a go-to home remedy, it seems. Got a wonky licence plate? – a touch of duck-tape will do. Tail-lights just about falling out of place? – just use Duck-tape. No rear door? – duck-tape is now your rear door. I’ve seen it all with Ladas and duck-tape, really. The only thing I haven’t seen is a bear in the passenger seat. Maybe one day, though, if the stereotypes of bears in Russia are true.

Judge Judy? Move over, here comes the Babushka.

There are two categories of Russian women according to stereotypes. The first is the young, attractive types that are most at home on the catwalk, with their long legs and Louboutin high-heels. The second, into which the first category seem to transform into overnight, is the notorious Babushka.

The Babushka is typically an older woman who isn’t afraid to judge you and will make her thoughts known, often wearing a flowery headscarf with mismatched, drawn-on eyebrows (just to emphasise the judging). One day I was with friends on a bus, and one friend had cracked a joke which I laughed at. Out of nowhere, this little Bab plodded up to me and told me off, telling me I’d never meet my future wife with a laugh like mine. «Ужас», she deplored, “men don’t laugh in public, men don’t smile”. Real men must be serious and stone-faced at all times, you see.

The indomitable Babushka in her natural environment: public transport.
The indomitable Babushka in her natural environment: public transport

These women literally don’t put up with any nonsense. Often, it is also these women who do jobs such as cashiers or conductors on public transport. One night I caught the bus back home, when a really drunk guy got on. It transpired that he had no cash to pay the fare, and after a heated discussion with the Babushka conductor, at the next stop, she literally picked him up and threw him off the bus as we drove off from the stop. You do not mess with a Bab. I doubt even a bear would fare well against her.

These experiences are just only some of the many ‘moments’ that I have had in Russia, and of course there are many, MANY more out there…But of course, stereotypes are meant to be broken. Check out this post by Nick and Louis on FIFA fans and Russian stereotypes!

Photo credits of the featured article go to Magda Myszura (Спасибо!!)

Posted by Thomas Reid

A passionate Russian and history student, I'm here in bonny St P. to build on my knowledge of Russian and learn more about the shared history between Scotland and Russia.

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