Russians and Americans
Americans often think that they have a better chance of finding a common ground with aliens from outer space than with “resident aliens” from Russia. Frequently Russian immigrants feel exactly the same way about their American co-workers, classmates and even spouses. A key to gaining and sustaining a mutual respect in cross-cultural relationships is an understanding of distinctive cultural norms of people from different countries. Without going too deep into historical and psychological aspects of typical Americans’ and Russians’ behaviors and traditions, let us look at a few dissimilarities between representatives of these two cultures.
In Russia, children are customarily expected to stay with their parents in the same apartment or live nearby, and parents are often very upset when children move away. This closeness arises not necessarily by choice, but by deep-rooted traditions and, later on, by difficulties in getting a separate apartments. Many older people feel that several generations should still live together. Also, Russian grandmothers feel that it is their duty to raise grandchildren; in many cases they are involved in their childrens’ live much more than parents are and they greatly enjoy it. In the USA it is customary for the younger generation to leave home right after high school, often moving across the country to start college or a new job, and live in his or her own apartment or house. The older generation is even glad, when this move occurs, and happily builds plans for a free life that starts when “children are out of the house.”
Traditionally, Russian men are breadwinners, and wives are house-makers and full-time mothers. After the revolution in 1917, the majority of women entered the workforce, but people’s mentality has not changed. All household duties are still considered a woman’s responsibility, even if she works longer hours than her husband or makes more money. Lately, in the most “modern” families, husbands have started to take on more household duties, but in the majority of families, the situation remains the same as a hundred years ago. In the USA, if both spouses work outside the home, it is a norm to share responsibilities for housekeeping and for spending time with children. More so, it is quite normal for fathers in America to take care of children after work, even if their wives stay at home during the day. That is something unthinkable for a majority of Russian fathers.
In Russia it is very normal to visit friends or even distant acquaintances without calling them first to anounse the visit. So Russians might misinterpret a common American offer “to drop by anytime” and arrive at their doorsteps around mid-night with a bottle of vodka. This is not a sign of disrespect or craziness; on the contrary, it usually means that they have taken or interpret the invitation literally, and desire to “fuel” (meaning to drink alcohol) the growing friendship. Furthermore, it is also quite common to arrive to one’s friend’s house not only without an invitation or even warning, but also to bring along people completely unknown to the host. In the USA, an advance call even to close friends, for a visit, is considered a common courtesy. If people are planning a big party, they like to give their guests at least a one or two weeks notice, unless guests are very close friends – then the gathering could be planned on a shorter notice.
Since grade school, Russians were raised to be modest, or at least appear as such, so talking about one’s own achievements in public is considered inappropriate. Further, if somebody praised you, a sign of good upbringing would be to contradict and diminish one’s praised achievements or good qualities to the point of self-deprecation. A much-made-fun-of response froma complimented woman on her dress is: “this old thing”- can characterize a typical response from a Russian’ reaction to praise. Americans, on the other hand, are brought up to “put their best foot forward” and make a point of informing everybody of their talents, not hesitating to abundantly praise themselves for their real achievements. Only in very rare cases would Americans tell a total lie on a job interview; they just might “embellish” a truth a little bit.
Russian schools and universities do not have a tier system, as many US colleges do, and future employment rarely depends on grades or class standing. Russian children are not involved in such intense competition with students in their classes to be first, second, and so on, as American students are and do not mind helping out their classmates in all possible ways.
Actions that are considered “cheating” in US schools, such as taking clues from your neighbor’s paper during a test, or copying somebody elses homework assignment are unacceptable to Americans but, are very common and very matter of fact for Russian students.
I read an article that described American children’s reaction to a classmate’s cheating on a test. Middle-school students were asked what they would have done if they caught a classmate looking at his neighbor’s paper during a test. All children said, that they would have informed a teacher so that the cheater would have to retake the test. In Russia, such “ratting” on one’s classmate is out of the question, and a kid who’d tell a teacher about somebody’s cheating would have been called a “traitor” and ostracized for the rest of his school life. Furthermore, many students would even offer to share their answers with less-knowledgeable friends during a test.
For the dominating majority of Americans, bribery is a forbidden way to conduct any type of business, and people would not even consider offering or accepting bribes, at least not in a pure monetary form. If the person in the USA would try to bribe a police office who stopped this person for speeding he or she most likely would be going directly to jail. In Russia, on the other hand, a tradition of bribery is deeply rooted in all levels of society, and bribes are welcomed and expected. In very many cases officials, waiting for a bribe, very creatively delay performing their duties, and frequently simply ask for it beforehand. If a person get caught for a traffic violation he or she better give a policeman money right away even if the person did not actually speed; otherwise that person might loose not only his or her license, but also, for a few days, his or her freedom.
Americans mostly mind their own business when it comes to somebody else’s demeanor or behavior as long as it does not directly disturb them. Russians on the other hand, especially older folks, very often make it their business to know other people’s business. They might on the length of a persn’t dress or the misbehavior of a child and complement this opinion with a full lecture on appropriate clothing or upbringing of youngsters.
In general, Americans are individualists and Russians are collectivists. This essay is the comparison of two great different nations, which are similar and different at the same time in our views and desires, aspirations, concerns and prejudices. It seems that Americans have much of an open mind than Rusians. Russians are very conservative. In most of cases it is difficult for them to a change in their beliefs. For the Americans freedom is good, but it is nothing without responsibility.