Monday, February 4, 2013

Russian-American Relations(hips)

Apparently I'm not a "typical" American. Or so I was told several times today by Russian friends. When I asked for clarification on what that meant, things got a little complicated.

"You know that one American we all know? Well, he smiles." Just for the record, I smile. Maybe not in the metro, but even I know that's not allowed in Russia.

"The skirt you're wearing isn't long and it's not short. It's European style." And the jokes begin.

So, what's a typical American?

Maybe I'm not the one to ask. After working/living in Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Missouri, Washington DC, San Francisco, and New York City, and traveling across most of our country, I feel like the primary unifying characteristic might be diversity. I'm not going to argue that many stereotypes of our country are founded on accurate trends. We smile. Our portion sizes in restaurants are often ridiculous. We use credit cards. We plan.

But at the end of the day, we're people. And no person is typical.

I spent Monday and Tuesday in a mid-year conference with fellow Fulbright grant recipients, hearing about their research, their experiences in Russia, their cultural frustrations, but most importantly...about their passion for Russia and its wonderful people. Topics ranged from US-Russia science cooperation to the study of the Chuvash language; patterns of rainfall along the Volga river over several thousands of years (based on the analysis of an 11,800-year-old stalagmite) and the history of Cossack music. Not one project dealt with bringing any type of change to Russia, but simply understanding and appreciating all that this country has to offer.

I'm not going to say that this was a conference of "typical" Americans. But I love the thought that I was sitting in a room filled with people who might defy the standard Russian definition of "American" and who, in turn, will take home a picture of Russia that can help broaden American understanding of the Russian people.

Speaking of those American stereotypes of Russians...while I myself never assumed there were bears roaming the streets here, and never even heard said stereotype until arriving here, I have witnessed where such misunderstandings are born. I don't know what animal this is, but I couldn't help snapping a picture. Please look closely so as to not miss the tail.

The complexity of Russian-American relations politically speaking seems unending. But politics aren't people. And, as I see it, Russian-American relationships are alive and well, containing only the universal complexities that characterize relationships in general. I love this country. The complexity of the language while mind-numbing on occasion, is brilliantly fascinating and seriously beautiful. But the best part about this place is without a doubt the people. Many of the relationships I've developed here are the type that will last a lifetime. The type where at the end of a conversation about cultural differences and frustrations, you don't really feel like you were speaking in a foreign language because you understood each other so well. The type of relationships that can be defined as anything but "typical."

--Steps off soapbox--

Side note: (hips) in parentheses was too comical an effect to eliminate once typed. But I will now forever desire to type (hips) as such purely for the visual imagery.
The end.


  1. As I was reading your post, I couldn't help laughing when I saw the picture. That was completely unexpected. :) I realized that the more we get to know and bond with different nationalities, we tend to stop stereotyping. I agree no one is ever the same. There's always culture, history and maybe religion that somehow influence common attributes in each country, but it's always interesting to discover many exceptions in each place.

  2. Wonderful post, Stephanie! I have never been to Russia, and am therefore more than happy to gain a little more insight. I loved your statement "politics aren't people". Politicians are mostly drawn by (some more, some less) personal, ego centered issues(I mean they are people in the end, so I am not sure whether we can blame them) which are simply maximizing ones fortune and power, so to say. In using the media and broadcast the people of the other country just as it suits them best, seems logical (of course I know that mostly there is not such thing as censure anymore, but sometimes I feel a mild form is still apparent.). That is why I do not take the vodka drinking, slightly rough and world apart picture of Russian people we get over here for granted... The only problem is that many people who do NOT look behind the scenes do..

    I am always in search of the truth, and that is why it is so enchanting and inspiring to travel around the blog world... :)

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment over at my place! I have replied there :)

    Have a wonderful week!

  3. Ugh, it is one of the things that I dislike about being an expat the generalisations on the typical American "Why do Americans feel that way about gun control?" "no,no, just SOME Americans"

    This was a lovely post! I like your soapbox.

  4. Steph!

    I love this post. And I love you.

    The bear walking around comment is cracking em up.

    You're cool.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...