Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What You Thought You Knew, but Don't about Russia

So Jamie S/Z asked me what it was with Russia; how is it that I like this place so much? What is Russia about, anyway? Without professing to be a Russiologist (there's really no catchy synonym to "Sovietologist"), here are my thoughts on what people think of when they think of Russia and how wrong they are.

Common Generalization #1. Russia is icy cold and dark all year round.

Okay, yes I lived in the north of Russia, with 35 degree below winters, and yes, 2/3rds of the country is in permafrost, but Russia does get warm. In fact, it gets downright hot, even in Petrozavodsk. I spent a summer there sweating and downing delicious mango ice cream. Some places in Russia are warm all year long. In fact, some people forget that Russia goes down to the Black Sea. It borders Georgia and across the lake from Iran. There are even palm trees and beautiful beaches in Russia.

This is Sochi, for example. (Yeah, this is where they're having the winter Olympics. Go fig.)

Common Generalization #2. Russian men are drunken pigs.

Yes, the average Russian consumes 27 liters of alcohol (and this statistical average includes newborns and the comotose, so that's got to be a lot higher for the adult, conscious drinker). Yes, men are more likely to be the drinkers. Yes, there's a culture of machoism that leads to abuse and violence. Yes, Russia is fifth on the list of the most violent countries in the world and men, far and away, are the ones perpertrating that violence. But even though Russian men have a lot of forces working against them. The best Russian men though, are very good. Very, very good. In fact, some of the best men I have ever met have been good Russians. It's like that poem about the little girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead: when Russian men are good, they are very, very good; when they are bad, they are horrible.

My theory? Satan is doing his best to destroy all the the good Russian men.
Don't give up, Russian men! Stay good! Staaaay good!

Common Generalization #3. Russia is all a bunch of white athiests.

Okay, while I was in St. Pete I saw exactly 3 black people over the course of 22 months and Russia has a very high incidence of athiests: 24% and that doesn't include very nominal Orthodox.

But Russia has lots of Muslims and Buddahist and even plenty of old-style pagans. There are plenty of brown people from the southern republics and lots of Asian people. Russia is actually a very diverse place. In fact, if you define an empire as a diverse group of states ruled by a single authority, Russia has been an empire THREE times: under empires, under Soviet rule, and now again. Russia includes several "republics" which are semi-autonomous. Know where Karelia is? I do. I served there. What about Tartarstan? (yeah, Tartars! How cool is that?) Russia has all these very culturally diverse republics brimming with different races, religions and political traditions.

Well, that's enough of that for now. I'll do a sequel later. In the meantime, let's all remember why we all love Russia: Rocky IV's Ivan Drago.


Andrew said...

Well defended, Mary! However, you confirmed every stereotype even as you were denying it! I'm still not convinced (and I like seeing pictures of palm trees in Russia), so I look forward to the sequel. Dostoevsky's image still haunts me. -Jamie

Makayla said...

I am SO pleased that you mentioned Rocky IV at the end, as it is my favorite in that series of movies (though admittedly, I like all of them... Rocky V is the weakest...)

And I like this post. Of course Russia has some warm spots. It's HUGE. How could a country be THAT big and not have at least a few palm trees?

Day said...

interesting; thanks. :)