Differences between Americans and Russians
- 1 Housework
- 2 Talking about Mental health - revealing every secret
- 3 SEX
- 4 Fidelity - Adultery
- 5 Total honesty in marriage
- 6 Privacy
- 7 Household furnishings
- 8 Clothing - appearance
- 9 Walking barefoot and sitting on the floor
- 10 Table manners
- 11 Common courtesies
- 12 Smiling
- 13 Gesturing
- 14 personal space - eye contact
- 15 Physical contact between the opposite sex
- 16 conversational style
- 17 Perceptions of time
- 18 Abortion
- 19 Russian in business
- 20 Russian's superiority complex
- 21 Dating
- 22 Wedding
- 23 Marriage
- 24 Divorce
- 25 Online dating
- 26 Other issues and topics
- 27 Notes
Most wives in Russia [wind] up doing all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Even if a Russian wife works, the man looks on himself as the breadwinner and on her as responsible for the housework and child care.
Russian men...are thrown off by the unwillingness of "liberated" American women to take on the role of homemaker.
Talking about Mental health - revealing every secret
The American infatuation with "professional help" and "mental health" puts most Russians off. Russians do not like to engage in detailed analysis of their feelings towards each other with their spouse or lover. Russians believe that people should solve problems and conflicts on their own, or with help from friends. A Russian journalist was surprised by the widespread role of therapists in the United States. "And I want to emphasize a specific trait-the aspiration of Americans to total candor. To unveil everything secret, to talk through everything." For Russians, true intimacy lies in the silence of a couple who understand each other by a look or a gesture. As a matter of fact, the American penchant for self-analysis and "letting it all hang out" strikes Russians as mostly superficial: when it comes to a real opening up, Russians find Americans quite closed.
[Russians have] A glaring contrast between a kind of puritanism that avoids the slightest mention of sex and a tolerance for obscene jokes and language that shocks even sophisticated Westerners.
A recent survey of sexual activity in fifteen countries shows Americans as the most active nationality, engaging in sex 135 times per year, with Russians in second place with 133 acts annually.
When Joyce told Pyotr that she was getting up from bed to insert her diaphragm he was shocked. "That female stuff-go do it and don't talk about it!" he snapped. He insisted that she always jump up and "wash" immediately after sex since, like many Russian men, he was convinced that "washing" was an effective means of contraception-and besides, he felt that after sex a woman was "dirty." Joyce would have much preferred to fall asleep in his arms, but he saw her reluctance as yet another proof of her poor hygiene.
Russian mothers rarely talk about sex or contraception to their daughters, and, even though most Russian doctors are women, many young women are too embarrassed to speak to them.
Seventy per cent of Soviet women say they have never experienced orgasm." Partly this is because many Russian men don't know, or don't care, what satisfies a woman, but another common reason is the fear of pregnancy and a widespread belief that female orgasm increases chances of conception.
In Russia talking about sex - which many Americans take for granted-was for perverts and prostitutes. This silence appears to have been a blessing for many American men, tired of being told what to do during every minute of lovemaking. Unless he were hurting her, a Russian would be horrified by his wife's telling him she did not like what he was doing, and would be even more shocked were she to tell him what he should do. One Muscovite whose marriage ended in divorce was repelled by his American wife's behavior. "She was unbelievably aggressive in bed," he recalled. "Always telling me what she liked and what she didn't, put my hand here and my tongue there, trying to program me as though I were a computer. And she never shut up. It was like being at a horizontal seminar, not like making love."
In Russia, a woman who initiates sex is considered extremely forward. It is the man who calls the shots. Even though Muriel had to get up early, Sergei insisted on having sex whenever he wanted, even at five in the morning after an all-night drinking bout. A man does not expect his initiatives to be rejected. "
Despite this "chauvinist" attitude, Russians can seem very romantic to American women who have talked themselves hoarse about sex inside and outside the bedroom. apart from vulgar "men's language" there is no "erotic language" in Russian, and that the language barely has the linguistic tools with which to talk about sex. "Even married couples," writes Kon, "find themselves in terrible straits because they have no acceptable words to express their specific desires or explain their problems, even to each other."
Since Russian women have been brought up to think that displaying an interest in sex is indecent, many never dared say anything if a man ignored foreplay.
Fidelity - Adultery
Attitudes towards sexual fidelity also differ. In Russia, the shortage of men provides considerable opportunities for short and long-term affairs, and for Russian men infidelity is the rule rather than the exception. Since men are at a premium, a wife may have to put up with her husband's having a permanent mistress and even an out-of-wedlock child. Such a "second family" is quite common, and a man is not criticized for it; in fact, he may be praised for keeping both women happy by not abandoning either of them.
A Russian woman will not be criticized for leaving a husband who beats her or who is an inveterate drunkard, but male adultery is not assumed to be automatic grounds for the wife's walking out.
A man is expected to be discrete, and to spare his wife's feelings by keeping his dalliances from her.
Extramarital sex, both casual and long-term, is quite common; more than three quarters of the people surveyed had extramarital contacts in 1989, whereas in 1969, the figure was less than half. But public opinion is critical of extramarital sex. In a 1992 survey only 23 percent agreed that it is okay to have a lover as well as a husband or wife, while 50 percent disagreed. Extramarital affairs seem to be morally more acceptable for men than for women.
During the Soviet Union, “Sex was the last thing they couldn’t take away from us, and that’s why we did it so much. Everyone had affairs with everyone. Moscow was the most erotic city in the world.”
One REASON there’s so much adultery in Russia is that there are so few men. Since the 1980s the average life expectancy for Russian men has fallen from sixty-five to fifty-eight. They die of alcoholism, cigarettes, job injuries, and car accidents. By the time men and women reach sixty-five there are just 46 Russian men left for every 100 women (compared with 72 men for every 100 women of that age in the United States).
These skewed demographics infect romance. In Moscow I have lunch with a well-off single woman in her forties who tells me that if she didn’t go out with married men she’d have almost no one to date. In fact, she doesn’t know any single women who don’t date married men. And none of them try to hide this. For Russian women in their thirties and forties, let alone older ones, a man who isn’t married or an alcoholic is as rare as a Faberge egg.
Woman "need to accept [men cheating], because he feeds her, her children, everybody. She needs a strong man, but a strong man can leave for one or two nights.”
Eighteen-year-old Katya is tall and skinny, with a pageboy haircut and a precocious command of English. She’s animated and confident, especially when describing what she wants in a husband: someone who doesn’t drink or beat her. She says she’ll be lucky if she finds someone like this. She’s just a few years shy of marrying age. Though she has the occasional fling, there are no significant prospects on the horizon. Boys her age are “very cruel, and they drink.” The few serious ones are more focused on their careers than on relationships, and there’s a lot of competition for them. “For me, of course I would like my husband to be faithful, and I will do the same, but I don’t know, it depends on the situation. But if we have a good relationship as family partners, we have children, then if he has someone on the side, I have someone on the side, it’s okay, so that the child will grow up in a family with both parents.”
In the Russian edition of Cosmopolitan, Russia’s bestselling magazine, is running a primer for women on how to hide their lovers from their husbands.
Outside Russia’s big cities some husbands don’t even bother hiding their affairs.
Russians, like Americans, seem to believe that married people shouldn’t keep secrets from each other. But whereas in America that presupposes a harmless emotional openness and intimacy, in Russia it often means exposing harsh truths about affairs.
If there’s a 50 percent affair rate for men, then presumably the other half of men don’t cheat. So where are these missing men? I can’t find them. The whole time I’m in Moscow, I don’t meet a single person who admits to being monogamous.
In Moscow, women in their forties told me that, by necessity, they only date married men. That's because, since the life expectancy for Russian men has fallen so sharply (to 59) that by age 65 there are just 46 men left for every 100 women.
And it was clear that Russian men flaunted this demographic advantage. With the exception of a pastor (who was sitting with his wife at the time), I didn't meet a single married man in Russia who admitted to being monogamous.
A family psychologist whom I had intended to interview as an "expert" boasted about her own extramarital relationships and insisted that given Russia's endemic alcoholism, violent crime, and tiny apartments, affairs are "obligatory."
From the book The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
The Bolsheviks also intervened more directly in domestic life. The new Code on Marriage and the Family (1918) established a legislative framework that clearly aimed to facilitate the breakdown of the traditional family. It removed the influence of the Church from marriage and divorce, making both a process of simple registration with the state. It granted the same legal rights to de facto marriages (couples living together) as it gave to legal marriages. The Code turned divorce from a luxury for the rich to something that was easy and affordable for all. The result was a huge increase in casual marriages and the highest rate of divorce in the world – three times higher than in France or Germany and twenty-six times higher than in England by 1926 – as the collapse of the Christianpatriarchal order and the chaos of the revolutionary years loosened sexual morals along with family and communal ties. 13
In the early years of Soviet power, family breakdown was so common among revolutionary activists that it almost constituted an occupational hazard. Casual relationships were practically the norm in Bolshevik circles during the Civil War, when any comrade could be sent at a moment’s notice to some distant sector of the front. Such relaxed attitudes remained common throughout the 1920s, as Party activists and their young emulators in the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) were taught to put their commitment to the proletariat before romantic love or family. Sexual promiscuity was more pronounced in the Party’s youthful ranks than among Soviet youth in general. Many Bolsheviks regarded sexual licence as a form of liberation from bourgeois moral conventions and as a sign of ‘Soviet modernity’. Some even advocated promiscuity as a way to counteract the formation of coupling relationships that separated lovers from the collective and detracted from their loyalty to the Party. 14
It was a commonplace that the Bolshevik made a bad husband and father because the demands of the Party took him away from the home. ‘We Communists don’t know our own families,’ remarked one Moscow Bolshevik. ‘You leave early and come home late. You seldom see your wife and almost never see your children.’ At Party congresses, where the issue was discussed throughout the 1920s, it was recognized that Bolsheviks were far more likely than non-Party husbands to abandon wives and families, and that this had much to do with the primacy of Party loyalties over sexual fidelity. But in fact the problem of absent wives and mothers was almost as acute in Party circles, as indeed it was in the broader circles of the Soviet intelligentsia, where most women were involved in the public sphere. 15
Khrushchev administration policies encourages infidelity
For decades in the Soviet Union had been trying, and failing, to recover from the catastrophic population loss caused by the Second World War and the Gulag extermination system. The thrust of the population policies initiated by Khrushchev was to get as many women as possible to have children by the comparatively few surviving men. The policies dictated that men who fathered children out of wedlock would not be held responsible for child support but the state would help the single mother both with financial subsidies and with childcare: she could even leave the child at an orphanage for any length of time, as many times as she needed, without forfeiting her parental rights. The state endeavored to remove any stigma associated with resorting to the help of orphanages, or with single motherhood and having children out of wedlock. Women could put down a fictitious man as the father on the child’s birth certificate—or even name the actual father, without his having to fear being burdened with responsibility. “The new project was designed to encourage both men and women to have non-conjugal sexual relationships that would result in procreation,” writes historian Mie Nakachi.
Russians are willing to cheat more than 24 other countries
By 1998, a study showed that Russian men and women led their peers in 24 other countries in their willingness to engage in and approve of extramarital affairs. Faithfulness in marriage is seen as something that is nice but unrealistic. If women don't really expect it of their husbands, they can pre-empt feelings of shock and betrayal.
Total honesty in marriage
The ideal of total honesty that is professed in many American marriages is alien to the Russian mentality. Muriel and Joyce were surprised that their Russian husbands did not tell them about their former girlfriends, and did not want to hear about their wives' previous experiences. "Those things are private," Sergei explained. "If you're married and you're attracted to someone else, you keep it to yourself. Otherwise you only hurt your spouse's feelings." Muriel's arguments about honesty got nowhere. "I'm not going to tell you what I do outside the house," Sergei retorted. "All this blathering Americans think is honesty only winds up offending everyone."
Accustomed, in Russia, to living in a two-room apartment with his parents, grandfather and sister, he was able to ignore Muriel's telephone conversations, the television and the clatter of pots and pans. "It's as though he builds an invisible wall around himself," Muriel said. "Their language doesn't even have a word for privacy, and in Russia there was so little of it that they simply create their personal space out of nothing."
Americans do not give up their "personal space" lightly. Mary C. refused to have the living room in her St. Petersburg apartment double as a bedroom, and insisted on making the smaller room, which Boris wanted as a study, into the bedroom.
Many Russians don't understand why two people, even if they plan to have children, would need four or six rooms.
Gelsey Kirkland found Baryshnikov's austerely furnished country house heavy, dark and oppressive, but he loved the place because it reminded him of Russia.' The Oswalds' first house in America was shabbily furnished and decrepit, but Marina was enchanted by the privacy and space.' Even a woman as sophisticated as Raissa Gorbachev was amazed by the spaciousness of the home of the American family with whom she had tea during her visit to the United States, and by the fact that each of the four children had his own bedroom.'
When everything is available, Russians can become incredibly demanding. Nothing but the best will do. A new house or apartment is treated as a home for life, for in Russia if you were lucky enough to find a nice place to live, moving again was furthest from your thoughts. When Carol and Fyodor wanted to buy an apartment they saw at least eighty places before Fyodor was satisfied. The rooms were too small or the lobby was unattractive, or there was no view. When it comes to wallpaper, furniture, and china, the Russian spouse is likely to opt for the most colorful, extravagant, and expensive items.
The memory of hundreds of virtually identical Soviet interiors is engraved on Russians' minds. The standard set of glossy dark wood furniture, a couch doubling as a bed, a rug hanging on the wall, glass-enclosed bookcases, a large television set and a sideboard with china and crystal-all this is transferred like a decal to the new American home. Svetlana could not imagine doing without a hall with a large mirror for the ritual hair-combing that takes place the minute a Russian enters, or a rack for the boots and shoes that are exchanged for slippers when coming in from snowy streets.
"Mary keeps saying Russian furniture is gloomy," Boris complained. "But I don't really like that rug that looks as if it's from the Museum of Modern Art." "I didn't want the place to look like a Russian souvenir store," Joyce recalled. "Pyotr had all these clumsy wooden figures and nesting dolls, and cheap reproductions of Impressionist landscapes.
Clothing - appearance
Carol could not make Fyodor wear a tie-which, like so many Russian men, he detested-to anything other than a wedding or a funeral.
In Russia men often wear boxer shorts and tank top undershirts at home, but Carol could not stand Fyodor's sitting around the house in his underwear. Many American wives were surprised to discover that undershirts and boxer shorts doubled for their husbands as night clothes, since men's pajamas are virtually nonexistent in Russia.
Nor do most Russian men use deodorant or change their underwear. Several Russian women commented that they had originally been attracted to their American spouses because they were so incredibly "clean" compared to Russians.
Russian women spend hours primping in front of the mirror, styling their hair and freshening their makeup.
Today much has changed, but high prices mean that many Russians still have relatively few clothes. Laundry and dry cleaning facilities are still poor, expensive and inconveniently located, and Americans are often surprised to see their Russian business associates wearing the same clothes day after day
When the laundry lost an old and ragged undershirt, Pyotr was convinced that this cherished piece of clothing had been deliberately stolen.
Russians often find American women badly dressed. "With all the stores bursting with clothes, they run around in torn jeans and Tshirts with those silly advertisements on them!" Svetlana exclaimed. "I don't understand them."
Regardless of the pressures of housework, jobs and standing in line, Russian men expect their wives to be well groomed, their hair perfectly set, their nails manicured and polished.
“All you American females yapping about liberation, always in a rush-you look as if you came off the garbage heap! No wonder you couldn't find an American husband!"
Fyodor could not understand why Carol refused to paint her toenails bright red the way many Russian women do. "It makes me look like a whore," she said.
Walking barefoot and sitting on the floor
Sergei and Pyotr disliked their wives' habits of kicking off their shoes, walking around barefoot, and sitting on the floor. Aside from being "unaesthetic," walking barefoot meant catching cold, and sitting on the floor was guaranteed to produce all kinds of feminine pelvic problems alluded to in somber whispers.
At dinner the Russians did not wait for the hostess to start eating before diving in.
Americans find Russian rude because they hardly ever say please or thank you
Their American friends found Sergei and Pyotr rude because they hardly ever said "please" and "thank you." In Russian, polite requests are expressed primarily through a rise and fall in intonation, or through expressions such as "be so kind." Sergei was very polite in Russian, but "Give me this" or "Pass the bread" sounded extremely rude to Muriel's American friends.
Nor do Russians use a pen to say thank you. One Russian bride had to be pushed by her American mother-in-law to write thank you notes for the wedding gifts. "Russians don't write them," she said in exasperation.
Fyodor was offended when people he had just met addressed him by his first name. So were Boris's Russian friends when Mary C. addressed them by their first names instead of by the first name and patronymic. "I can't remember everybody's father's name!" she wailed. "It's hard enough remembering all the first names in this impossible language!"
Gestures and body language can also cause misunderstandings. For an American a smile on being introduced signals pleasure at making a new acquaintance, and a willingness to engage in conversation. Russians do not smile on meeting people. When Carol first introduced Fyodor to scientists who could be professionally helpful, his face was locked in a scowl. "Why should I smile at someone I don't know?" he asked her. "I'm not a clown. If I'm ready for a serious conversation I have to look serious." In Russia a smile on meeting a stranger may be interpreted as a sign that the person is not serious about the upcoming talk, or that he has a hidden agenda under a superficial and hypocritical smile. Carol explained to Fyodor that his refusal to smile made colleagues think he was being cold and unfriendly.
As an American professor of Russian observed, Russians are accustomed to using an unsmiling expression as a barrier between themselves and the outside world: The Russians' lack of personal space at home in their apartments, on public transportation or on the job causes them to erect their personal space boundaries next to their skin. Therefore it is common for Russians to have deadpan or frozen expressions on their faces. We tend to perceive this as unfriendly and it may ruffle our feathers."
Russians tend to gesture far more than Americans. Muriel thought Sergei was upset when he waved his arm or hammered his fist on the table, but this was merely nonverbal punctuation. Pyotr's habit of shaking his index finger at her, as though scolding a naughty child, infuriated Joyce. "Cut it out and stop lecturing me!" she snapped. "I'm not lecturing you," he protested, surprised. "I'm just saying be sure you lock the door when you leave."
personal space - eye contact
Muriel had to explain to her girlfriends that when Sergei moved very close to them during a conversation, he was not making passes. He would stand eight inches away, much closer than the distance at which Americans feel comfortable: it's the Russian way. Nor was he trying to look soulfully and romantically into their eyes. Russians are in the habit of looking directly and unblinkingly at the person they are addressing. Fred had to tell Irina not to "stare" at his American friends, who were uncomfortable when she concentrated her gaze on them. Body language situations are particularly tricky because the problem remains unstated; the American does not say "You're standing so close I feel uncomfortable," and a Russian does not ask "Why are you looking away from me?"
Physical contact between the opposite sex
On meeting and parting there is far more embracing, kissing and holding hands among Russians than among Americans. Carol explained to her girlfriend that Fyodor was not trying to flirt when he took her arm while escorting her to a cab after dinner; he was being a gentleman. She, in turn, could not get used to the way the Russian wives of her American friends took her arm in the street. Sergei learned not to embrace or kiss American men on meeting or parting, a friendly Russian gesture which can be drastically misinterpreted by American men.
Russians talk in lengthy, uninterrupted monologues
Then there are differences in conversational style. Russians tend to talk in lengthy, uninterrupted monologues, and find the American style of short answers and repartee brusque and rude. Americans normally talk about their activities and experienceswhat they have done, where they have gone, whom they have seen. For Russians, anything and everything is grist for the mill: people, ideas, politics, books, movies. "They can even analyze a borshch," Muriel commented, "as though it were a theoretical problem, like the existence of God."
Americans get straight to the point
When answering a question, Americans get straight to the point. Russians tend to go back to the beginning of time. "Every time someone asks Fyodor how he likes America, all he has to do is say 'fine,"' Carol sighed. "Instead out comes a doctoral thesis on the history of the United States and what's wrong with the country." "When my aunt asked Pyotr how his mother was, he gave her the woman's entire medical history," Joyce said. The Russian feels it is discourteous to give a short answer. The American resents being held captive to a long monologue. Americans feel that simplicity and brevity are the soul of wit and wisdom. For Russians, a valuable idea is a complex idea. Muriel phoned a friend for some information and spent only a minute or two on pleasantries before getting down to business. In Moscow there would first have been a long conversation about the family, the weather, and so on. Starting off with a request, or responding with "What can I do for you?" would be rude.
To American spouses and friends, the endless Russian stories that are a staple of Russian gettogethers can be boring and pompous. Americans like to save time and get to the point. The Russian prefers to go around in circles, lacing his speech with literary, mythological or historical allusions. As the cultural anthropologist Edward Hall noted, "Americans are often uncomfortable with indirectness . . . Most Americans keep their social conversations light, rather than engaging in serious, intellectual or philosophical discussions, a trait which especially bothers Europeans."15 "I'm wasting my time with your friends," Sergei grumbled at Muriel. "I keep trying to tell them something interesting, and they sit there fidgeting and interrupting."
Years of living in fear of the secret police make Russians hesitant to state their ideas explicitly
Years of living in fear of the secret police make Russians hesitant to state their ideas explicitly, and they often seek a veiled or subtle way of conveying a thought. If the listener is intelligent, he should understand what is meant, and it is insulting to spoonfeed him. For the American, speaking intelligently means speaking directly and clearly. "I feel like they're talking in code," Joyce complained of Pyotr and his friends. "Why can't they just say what they mean?" Many Russians see their [American] mates as childish and unsophisticated.' "I can see my American friends' eyes glaze over when Sergei gets going on one of his half-hour philosophical diatribes," Muriel said. "That just convinces him even more of how superior he and his friends are to all of us."
Perceptions of time
Being late seems to be part of the Russian makeup. The anthropologist Edward Hall has described two types of time, monochronous and polychronous, each true for one culture but not for another. The United States goes by monochronous time, meaning that an American gives his undivided attention to one event before proceeding to the next. He takes deadlines seriously, values promptness, and attaches importance to short-term relationships. Russians basically live in polychronous time, in which a person deals simultaneously with multiple events and is very flexible about appointments. He is always ready to change his schedule at a moment's notice to accommodate a friend or relative, since he attaches more importance to long-term relationships than to shortterm ones.
Muriel would make lunch appointments with magazine editors three weeks ahead. Sergei would call up a busy executive in the morning hoping to see him that afternoon. Who knew what might happen three weeks hence? Fyodor thought it was ridiculous for Carol to invite guests to dinner two weeks in advance; Carol found it odd when his Russian friends called up late Friday night to invite them to dinner the next evening. As Ronald Hingley observed, "To the excessively time-geared Westerner, Russia still seems to operate in an atmosphere relatively emancipated from the clock."' Fyodor hardly ever wore a watch unless Carol reminded him that he had a very important appointment. He canceled a promising job interview because his best friend from Russia, whom he had been seeing almost every day during the man's month-long visit to America, called up that morning and said he needed to talk. If a friend or family member needs something, appointments and business commitments go by the board. Such an attitude does not go over well in American offices. Fyodor's boss threatened to fire him because of his chronic tardiness, and only an alarm clock set forty-five minutes ahead forced him to change his behavior.
Americans naturally quantify time. They will meet a friend in ten minutes, finish a project in five months, and apologize if they are more than five minutes late." The Russian concept of time is porous. Joyce finally figured out that when Pyotr said "I'll be ready in an hour" he meant two hours; "in twenty minutes" translated into forty-five; "right away" or "immediately" meant in fifteen minutes. The vagueness of Russian time expressions can drive American spouses crazy. "He'll come during the second half of the day" means anytime between 1 P.M. and 6 P.M., while "around seven o'clock" covers the period from 6:10 to 7:50.
- During Soviet times "women terminated seven pregnancies on average during their lifetimes."
- Women have, on average, five abortions in their lifetime, two of which are illegal.
- Lifetime abortions per woman: Average number of abortions a Russian woman has during her reproductive years.
- 1990: 3.0,
- 2006: 1.2,
- 2010: 1.0.
- 10 percent of women who undergo [abortion] are left sterile. According to U.S. demographer Murray Feshbach, two of every three pregnancies in Russia end in abortion, and women, on average, have six to eight abortions during their lifetime; at least 80 percent of all women have a pathology (abnormality) during pregnancy; and only 30 percent of all children are born healthy.
- In 1920.... the Soviet Union became the first state in the world to legalize abortion... (it was banned once before — for a 20-year period beginning with Josef Stalin in 1936)...official figures show almost 930,000 women terminate a pregnancy each year. That number is half of what it was in 1995, and one seventh what it was for the Soviet Union in 1965, when abortions nearly tripled the number of births.
- Birth control and abortion in Russia
Russian in business
Russian and Israeli business cultures :
- both value flexible scheduling rather than organized scheduling (scale 8),
- both accept and appreciate open disagreement (scale 7), and
- both approach issues of trust through a relationship orientation rather than a task orientation (scale 6).
But there’s a big gap between the two cultures when it comes to leading (scale 4), with Russia favoring a hierarchical approach, while Israel prefers an egalitarian one.
The Evaluating scale provides a bird’s-eye view of just how direct people in different cultures are with negative criticism. You can see that most European countries fall to the direct side of the scale, with the Russians, Dutch, and Germans as particularly prone to offering frank criticism.
Thus, the French, Spanish, and Russians are generally stereotyped as being indirect communicators because of their high-context, implicit communication style, despite the fact that they give negative feedback more directly. Americans are stereotyped as direct by most of the world, yet when they give negative feedback they are less direct than many European cultures.
Russians, for example, often pass messages between the lines, but when it comes to criticism they have a directness that can startle their international colleagues. The first time I traveled to Russia a Russian friend gave me a short little book that she referred to as “The Russian Handbook.”2 Paging through the book during my flight, I was amused to read: If you are walking through the street without a jacket, little old Russian ladies may stop and chastise you for poor judgment. . . . In Russia there is no reticence about expressing your negative criticism openly. For instance, if you are displeased with the service in a shop or restaurant you can tell the shop assistant or waiter exactly what you think of him, his relatives, his in-laws, his habits, and his sexual bias.
I thought about this observation a few weeks later when I received a call from a British colleague, Sandi Carlson. She explained to me that a young Russian woman named Anna Golov had recently joined her team and was upsetting a lot of people whose help she needed to get her job done. “I’m calling you, Erin,” she said, “because I wondered if the problem might be cultural. This is the fourth Russian coordinator we have had in the group, and with three of them there were similar types of complaints about harsh criticism or what has been perceived as speaking to others inconsiderately.” A few days later, I had the opportunity to witness the problem in action. While I prepared to teach one morning, Golov herself was in the room with me setting up the classroom. I was going through stacks of handouts, counting pages to make sure we had enough photocopies, while Golov was carefully checking the IT equipment, which, to our annoyance, was not working properly. I appreciated the fact that she was handling the problem with such tenacity and that I did not have to get involved. The fact that she was humming quietly while she worked gave me an extra sense of relaxed assurance. But then I heard Golov on the phone with someone in the IT department. “I’ve called IT three times this week, and every time you are slow to get here and the solution doesn’t last,” she complained. “The solutions you have given me are entirely unacceptable.” Golov went on scolding the IT manager, each sentence a bit harsher than the one before. I held my breath. Was she going to tell him how she felt about his sexual bias? Thankfully not at that moment. Later, Carlson asked me, as the resident cross-cultural specialist, whether I would accompany her when she spoke with Golov about the problem. I was not thrilled at the request. I certainly did not look forward to witnessing Golov learn what her new colleagues were saying about her behind her back. But at Carlson’s insistence, I agreed. We met in Carlson’s office, and she tried to explain the reputation that Golov had unknowingly developed across the campus, citing specific complaints not just from the IT department but also from the photocopying staff. Golov shifted uncomfortably in her chair while Carlson explained that she had wondered whether the problem was cultural. At first Anna did not really understand the feedback. She protested, “But we Russians are very subtle communicators. We use irony and subtext. You British and Americans speak so transparently.” “Yes,” I interjected. “But if a Russian has negative feedback to give, it seems that often that feedback is perceived to be harsh or direct to people from other cultures. Does that make sense?” “Yes, well . . . that depends who we are speaking with, of course. One point is that we tend to be a very hierarchical culture. If you are a boss speaking to your subordinate, you may be very frank. And if you are a subordinate speaking to your boss, you had better be very diplomatic with criticism.” Carlson smiled, perhaps realizing why she had never personally experienced any of Golov’s frankness. Golov went on:
If we are speaking with strangers, we often speak very forcefully. This is true. These IT guys, I don’t know them. They are the voices of strangers on the other end of the phone. Under Communism, the stranger was the enemy. We didn’t know who we could trust, who would turn us in to the authorities, who would betray us. So we kept strangers at a forceful distance. Maybe I brought a little too much of my Russian-ness into the job without realizing it.
I noticed that Golov was now beginning to laugh a little as she continued to consider the situation. “We are also very direct with people we are close to,” she conceded reflectively. “My British friends here complain that I voice my opinions so strongly, while I feel like I never know how they really feel about the situation. I am always saying: ‘But how do you feel about it?’ And they are always responding: ‘Why are you always judging everything?’!” “Now that I’m aware of this,” Golov concluded, “I’ll be more careful when I communicate dissatisfaction.” The French have a saying, “Quand on connait sa maladie, on est à moitié guéri”—“When you know your sickness, you are halfway cured.” It applies to most cross-cultural confusions. Just building your own awareness and the awareness of your team goes a long way to improving collaboration. Now that Carlson is aware of the cultural tendencies impacting the situation, she can talk to Golov and her team about it, and Golov can take steps to give less direct criticism and replace some of her upgraders with downgraders. When it comes to the Evaluating scale, a few simple words can make all the difference.
But the fifth promotion put Jepsen in charge of the company’s recently acquired Russian operation, his first international leadership position. Relocated to a small town outside of Saint Petersburg, Jepsen was surprised by the difficulties he encountered in managing his team. After four months in his new job, he e-mailed me this list of complaints about his Russian staff:
1. They call me Mr. President 2. They defer to my opinions 3. They are reluctant to take initiative 4. They ask for my constant approval 5. They treat me like I am king
When Jepsen and I met to discuss his cross-cultural challenges, he provided a concrete example: “Week two into the job, our IT director e-mailed me to outline in detail a problem we were having with the e-mail process and describing various solutions. He ended his e-mail, ‘Mr. President, kindly explain how you would like me to handle this.’ This was the first of many such e-mails from various directors to fill my inbox. All problems are pushed up, up, up, and I do my best to nudge them way back down.” After all, as Jepsen told the IT manager, “You know the situation better than I do. You are the expert, not me.” Meanwhile, the members of Jepsen’s Russian management team were equally annoyed at Jepsen’s apparent lack of competence as a leader. Here are some of the complaints they offered during focus group interviews:
1. He is a weak, ineffective leader 2. He doesn’t know how to manage 3. He gave up his corner office on the top floor, suggesting to the company that our team is of no importance 4. He is incompetent
PEACH VS. COCONUT: FRIENDLY DOES NOT EQUAL RELATIONSHIP BASED
Just as it is easy to misinterpret the reason for an icebreaker activity, it’s easy to mistake certain social customs of Americans that might suggest strong personal connections where none are intended. For example, Americans are more likely than those from many cultures to smile at strangers and to engage in personal discussions with people they hardly know. Others may interpret this “friendliness” as an offer of friendship. Later, when the Americans don’t follow through on their unintended offer, those other cultures often accuse them of being “fake” or “hypocritical.” Igor Agapova, a Russian colleague of mine, tells this story about his first trip to the United States:
I sat down next to a stranger on the airplane for a nine-hour flight to New York. This American began asking me very personal questions: did I have any children, was it my first trip to the U.S., what was I leaving behind in Russia? And he began to also share very personal information about himself. He showed me pictures of his children, told me he was a bass player, and talked about how difficult his frequent traveling was for his wife, who was with his newborn child right now in Florida.
In response, Agapova started to do something that was unnatural for him and unusual in Russian culture—he shared his personal story quite openly with this friendly stranger, thinking they had built an unusually deep friendship in a short period of time. The sequel was quite disappointing:
I thought that after this type of connection, we would be friends for a very long time. When the airplane landed, imagine my surprise when, as I reached for a piece of paper in order to write down my phone number, my new friend stood up and with a friendly wave of his hand said, “Nice to meet you! Have a great trip!” And that was it. I never saw him again. I felt he had purposely tricked me into opening up when he had no intention of following through on the relationship he had instigated. Kurt Lewin2 was one of the first social scientists to explain individual personality as being partially formed by the cultural system in which a person was raised. Authors Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner later expanded on Lewin’s model to explain how:
- Americans are Peaches and Russians are Coconuts
- Friendly does not equal relationship based
Different cultures have different layers of information that they divulge publicly or reserve for private relationships.
These models are frequently referred to as the peach and coconut models of personal interaction. In peach cultures like the United States or Brazil, to name a couple, people tend to be friendly (“soft”) with others they have just met. They smile frequently at strangers, move quickly to first-name usage, share information about themselves, and ask personal questions of those they hardly know. But after a little friendly interaction with a peach person, you may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit where the peach protects his real self. In these cultures, friendliness does not equal friendship.
While Jepsen was groaning that his team members took no initiative, they were wringing their hands about Jepsen’s lack of leadership: “We are just waiting for a little bit of direction!”
If you are a peach person traveling in a coconut culture, be aware of the Russian saying “If we pass a stranger on the street who is smiling, we know with certainty that that person is crazy . . . or else American.” If you enter a room in Moscow (or Belgrade, Prague, or even Munich or Stockholm) and find a group of solemn-looking managers who make no effort to chat, do not take this as a sign that the culture does not value relationship building. On the contrary, it is through building a warm personal connection over time that your coconut-culture counterparts will become trusting, loyal partners.
Russian's superiority complex
This is the quote from Yezhenedelny Zhurnal that interviewed Alexander Golts, a top-ranked Russian military specialist (in connection with a failed launch of two intercontinental missiles): "All Russians, have a superiority complex, that we're still equal to the United States".
|The biggest fear of a Russian girl is not to be married by the age of 30.|
- Excerpts from Elena Petrova, (2006) How To Find And Marry A Girl Like Me.
Russian people marry early -- by the age of 22 more than 50% of people are already married. By the age of 25 about 80% of people are married. Since there are less men than women in Russia (10 million more women of marriageable ages than men, according to the latest census), and even less men who are worthy, the competition for eligible men is extremely harsh. As a result, the men become spoiled and promiscuous.
Attractive women in Russia do get many dating offers from Russian men. But those men are seeking only casual sex. They are either already married, unwilling to commit, or they are not worthy of marriage because they cannot provide for a family. A normal man who has a stable job (being able to solely provide for his family), is career and health conscious, and willing to commit are rare. Guys like this are scarce in Russia and not available for long.
In contrast, good-looking women are in abundance in Russia, since the tough competition drives women to perfect their looks.
Historically, during the 20th century, Russia has had many wars, with World War II alone taking 20 million lives, along with another 20 million people dying in Stalin's concentration camps. Nearly 90% of those victims were men. After the war, simply having a man was a blessing. Then there was the 14-year Afghani conflict, in which hundreds of thousands of young Russian men died. Throughout the entire 20th century Russian women had to compete to ensure they had a husband. Now they've got Chechnya - since 1993, just a few years after Russian troops left Afghanistan.
Generally, most women prefer their husbands to be 5 to 10 years older than themselves, but the younger the woman is, the less of an issue a wider age difference will matter to her.
Many Russian women seeking marriage abroad have advanced careers and live well even according to western standards. The conditions of life in a major Russian city such as Moscow or St. Petersburg are comparable to any European capital. The pace of life in Moscow is similar to the one of New York City.
A man must always bring gifts when visiting your girlfriend for the first time, and not just for her but for her family as well. Gifts are very important in Russian courting etiquette. Gifts show that the man is "generous". It is not only about spending money on a girl. Gift giving shows the quality of the soul. It shows a person who is not selfish, a man who enjoys giving and receiving.
Giving generously, without expecting anything in return, was the traditional quality that was the pride of Russian character. Historically, Russians were always proud of their non-materialistic nature, and this included giving generously (if you had something to share). Since you are financially secure, it would be perceived as stinginess, if you did not make occasional gifts when dating a woman. It would mean that you are not generous. That you have something to share and do not share it. She would think that you want everything only for yourself. In the end, she would consider you selfish.
Talking about money
The biggest turn off for Russian women is when men talk about money. Money talks are a big "no-no" in Russian courting etiquette!
Talking about money in the Russian courting stage is as bad as chewing with your mouth open. She just cannot help feeling disgusted.
Being frugal when you are dating equals being cheap. You might accidentally say, "Wow, that's expensive!", and "bam", you may have just blown your chances. Russians call it being greedy, which translates to mean stingy.
According to Russian courting etiquette, men should pay for everything on a date - and do it with a smile. Even if this means he must spend to his last ruble.
If you say that something is expensive, what your woman hears is that you don't think she is worth this money! For example, if you say, "Wow, $5 for a glass of Coke, that's expensive!"; what she hears is that you don't consider her worthy of those $5!
In Russian, the meaning of the word expensive is rather absolute, it means "I cannot afford to buy this item", as opposed to the relative meaning, "this item is overpriced".
Sometimes, men erroneously start explaining the details of their travel arrangements to their woman. An example would be that they need to book tickets at least two months in advance because it is 10% less. For Russian women, this sounds cheap. Of course, one would assume that if she is making $100 a month, for her saving 10% from $1,000 ticket would be equivalent to her monthly salary, which is a lot of money. But women don't think that way. They consider it relative to the size of your salary. Let us say that you make $3,000 a month and move your meeting with her off for another two months just so you can save $100 (3% of your monthly salary). This will sound completely out of sync to her. She would not care about 3% of her monthly salary to meet you sooner. And since you can afford to spend that extra $100, you just don't really want to see her, or you just don't like her that much.
Put it simpler, remember as the rule of thumb: mentioning money matters is taboo in the Russian courting etiquette. You pay or you don't pay, and that's it. If you don't want to pay, just tell the woman, "No, we are not buying it", or "No, I don't want to buy it", but NEVER tell her you are not buying something because it is "expensive". If you have the money in your pocket to buy it, then it is NOT expensive. Otherwise, your remark is just disrespectful, nothing more, nothing less. If you just say, "No, we are not buying it", you show you are the man, and since it is your money you can spend it the way you want. This is perfectly acceptable.
If there is any problem at all in your relationship, and you tell your woman how much money you spent on her, you are signing your own death warrant in her eyes. This action is an unforgivable offence. There is now no possibility of recovery, you have lost her forever.
Never, EVER tell the woman how much money you have spent on her. You would not tell such things to a western woman you have been courting, so don't do it with a Russian woman either, or it sounds as you were trying to buy her. No matter how much money you spent on her, she does not owe you a thing.
Refusing an offer the first time
From time to time, you need to ask her if she is hungry or thirsty. If she says she is not but you are hungry or thirsty, most likely she is just being shy. Russian custom insists that a person should refuse a kind offer the first time. It is also considered polite to refuse a second time, so offer it at least 3 times. This means, that even if she is dying of hunger and you ask her if she is hungry, she will answer, "No, I'm fine". She will then be offended that you did not offer it again, and consider you stingy. Why? Because you just jumped on the opportunity not to buy her something, since you did not offer it again. Therefore, your offer was not genuine. If your offer was genuine, you would insist.
So, even if she says she is not hungry or thirsty, but you are, go and buy some food and/or drink, and ask her what she wants. Most likely she will also choose something. If she does not choose anything, suggest to buy her the same thing as you are buying for yourself.
If you allowed a woman to buy something with her own money, you MUST
reimburse her for what she bought. The woman might not accept your
reimbursement, but you must offer it (at least 3 times!). It is a disgrace when a
woman pays for a man. You lose your "manly" image in her eyes. This is why most
women will starve, but won't ask you to stop and eat something. You, as a man, are
supposed to offer it yourself.
The man is in charge
The man may ask her suggestions, but only in the way, "I know there is this attraction, would you like to see it? Or would you like to go somewhere else?"
The man should be the leader. Once you accept this assertive position, your personal communications will go much more smoothly with her. This might be not the style you are accustomed to, but this is the style that works with Russian women.
If you are in her home city, the woman will be looking after you, after all, you are her guest. She will look after you, even if she does not like you, just because you are a guest. In Russia, every guest is precious and will be treated with the utmost respect. From your side, you will be expected to agree to her suggestions, even if you are not very excited about them. For example, if a woman takes you to a theme park, and you don't really enjoy rides, you still should go on some of the rides. You will hurt her feelings if you say, "I hate all those things". If you don't enjoy something, you should offer a different activity, but do not reject the activity she offered. After all, she is making the offer with an open heart. For example, instead of rides you could suggest to stop at a café and sit down and talk. If she suggests going on the rides again, you could just smile and say that you enjoy talking to her more than going on the rides.
Marriages are registered at the local Citizen's records and Licensing Bureau. No marriage ceremony is required. Couples today marry much later than they did in the Communist era. Many wait until they have good jobs, are relatively financially secure and have a decent place to live. Urban couples tend to get married later than rural couples.
90% of women are married by the time they are 30, and few had children after that age.
With Russians suddenly free to emigrate after the fall of the Soviet Union, foreign men offered another route to prosperity. Love was optional. An American who taught English in Moscow tells me that during a class presentation a young woman recounted how her friend Maria married an American man, had a child with him, then turned around and divorced him. In the class discussion that followed, the storyteller’s classmates praised Maria for her “cleverness” and castigated the American husband for allowing himself to be duped.
Since it is a part of Russian culture, all Russian women want children in their marriages. So, Russian women seek men who will be able to support their family while they are unable to work during the child caring years. Most women in Russia will take full care of their children through age three. This tradition was inherited from the Soviet times when their work position was preserved for 3 years after childbirth, with fully paid maternity leave for 18 months and unpaid leave for an additional 18 months. Nowadays, maternity leave is not paid, but women believe it is proper to stay home with their baby while it is small, and seek men who are able to provide for their families.
Because of the economic collapse, the institution of marriage is in a deep crisis. In 1992, there were 20 percent to 30 percent fewer new marriages concluded in Russia than in 1990. In the same period, the number of divorces has risen by 15 percent.
In the 1990s, approximately one marriage in three ended in divorce, with the rate increasing 20 percent in the early 1990s after the break up of the Soviet Union. About 60 percent of Russian marriages now end in divorce.
- The men who go to Ukraine looking for a wife then fly home alone and broke, (2014). Guardian
- BLOG/FORUM: Russian Women Discussion Forum, - related to serious long-term relationships and marriage to a partner from the Former Soviet Union countries!
Other issues and topics
- Michael Bohm - American, fluent in Russian. Journalist.
- David Filipov - This is what it’s like to be the token American journalist on Russian state TV
- The Storyteller (1987– ) The Soldier and Death
- FRONTLINE PBS Published on Oct 25, 2017: The Putin Files: Masha Gessen
- Fast Food in the USSR: The History
- Why I Hate Russian TV
- Top 10 Russian blogs
Russia’s Long Road Toward Resurgence
Vladimir Pozner: How the United States Created Vladimir Putin
- Excerpts from Wedded Strangers: The Challenges of Russian-American Marriages
- Marriage in Russia, Facts and Details
- Druckerman, Pamela, (2008). Lust in Translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee. Penguin Books
- Druckerman, Pamela, (2008). Lust in Translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee. Penguin Books Found in Lust in Translation: Which Country Has the Highest Rates of Infidelity? Infidelity is universal. But which country boasts the most cheaters? (2008). Alternet.
- Masha Gessen, (2017). [The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia]
- Julia Ioffe, The Cheating Cheaters of Moscow How infidelity has become accepted and even expected in Russia., (2010), Slate.
- Abortion Remains Top Birth-Control Option In Russia, Radio Free Europe, (June 28, 2008).
- The Sociocultural and Political Aspects of Abortion: Global Perspectives
- Russian Survey Highlights-Results of the 2011 Russian, CDC, (2011).
- Yale Richmond, (2003) From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia.
Source: Feshbach, in a talk at the Kennan Institute, Washington, DC, November 1, 1994, and in a conversation with the author.
- Putin’s Next Target Is Russia’s Abortion Culture, Foreign Policy, (October 3, 2017).
- The Culture Map - Erin Meyer
- Elena Petrova, (2006) How To Find And Marry A Girl Like Me.
- See David M. Buss, "The Evolution Of Desire: Strategies Of Human Mating", where a research was run across 37 cultures.
- Masha Gessen, (2017). [The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia]