As I’m winding down my time here in Las Vegas, I started summarizing the differences and especially the stereotypes that still exist between Russia and the United States. My preliminary conclusion is we all belong in a nuthouse…
There are two sides of the coin here (a common Russian phrase) where Americans have this understanding of what Russia and Russians are. During the last couple of days at an investment symposium (I’m not naming it because this is not an advertising platform), an overwhelming majority of people asked me if it was safe living in Russia, that it’s got to be dangerous being a journalist in Russia, and if we have anything on our store shelves besides vodka. How many times did I hear the phrase: “Well, what I read in the papers about Russia is…”
This for me is extremely frustrating. Many of these stereotypes come from what these people have read in some western papers (The Wall Street Journal is a great example) or they traveled to Russia 20-25 years ago. Yes, 20 years ago Moscow was a wild place with all the reforms, no more Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin shelling the Russian “White House,” and crime (in particular industrial crime) was prevalent. This has all changed.
One of the questions asked, and I’m asked this in Russia as well, is: “Do you like it there (here) in Russia?” I kind of think this is one of the most stupid questions I could hear especially after they’ve already been told that I’ve lived in Moscow for almost 20 years. Of course I like it, I haven’t been sitting in prison for the last two decades, I have a choice of where I want to work and live and could leave at any time. Think about it…20 years in Russia, I hate living here. Now that would be an odd answer.
So, back to stereotypes….
Many from the group of Russians I traveled to Las Vegas with have never been to the United States. They grill me with questions about the U.S. because they can’t believe their eyes of what the Americans are like and their behavior. This means that they are building their own stereotypes of Americans and the United States as a whole based on what they see in Las Vegas.
What are those stereotypes and impressions? Well, Americans are loud and rambunctious, swilling brews while walking down the street, unfashionably clad, and extremely overweight.
Unfortunately, it’s up to me to explain to my Russian friends that this is not America and deferring to the stereotypes that the Americans have about them. I think I may have had some impact on their impressions and that they don’t think that we’re all a bunch of fat boozing slobs, just as I hope the Americans I ran across don’t think that the Russians are starving poor drunkards. Neither of these statements is true.
I was told yesterday by one of the members of my group that one of them was nearly arrested in a bar in Las Vegas for voicing a stereotype about Americans. To make a long story short, he was sitting there having drinks with his Russian comrades and turned to an obese couple of women sitting next to them and asked: “Why are all American women big fat cows like yourself?” Needless to say, she was offended and began a war of words which the Russian couldn’t really keep up with because of his limited English abilities. In an attempt to end the debate, the Russian just told her to F*** off, which would basically work in any conversation. Before he knew it, the police were around him because of public verbal assault, which he found out is against the law in the United States. This is also on the books in Russian law but it is hardly ever enforced.
Though his statement was pretty much true (I say that as an American), it should not have been voiced. I told him in the future that if he has such questions to run them by me first to avoid similar incidents.
For those of you who do have stereotypes, don’t support them with what you read in the papers, on the TV or movies (yes, the Russians are always the bad guys in films). Find someone who knows what’s going on, come to Russia and find out for yourself. It is a wonderful country filled with lots of friendly people who are very generous. And what is this judgment call on who anybody is?
As it turns out from rumors, both Americans and Russians are extremely different people; however, in actuality we’re pretty similar in the end. Maybe they should lock us all up in one big nuthouse where we can hash it out and find out that there are actually more similarities between us than differences. Trust me, I’m an expat and know what I’m talking about…