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Thread: Cultural Differences Between Americans and Russians

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    Властелин Deborski's Avatar
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    Cultural Differences Between Americans and Russians

    Someone wanted to see a post about cultural differences between these two "superpowers"...

    From my own experience, cultural differences should never be underestimated in their importance. You can learn to speak a language, even fluently, but if you do not understand the culture that the language grew out of, you will never really be "fluent" in that language.

    I have lived in both countries and here are some of the cultural differences I have noticed (and some I have learned the "hard" way):

    Personal space. Americans prefer a lot more personal space than Russians do. In Russia, people are comfortable talking with maybe a foot of personal space between them, whereas Americans prefer closer to three feet. Americans are very uncomfortable with "close talkers" so if they start to back away when you are talking, don't close in on them.

    Repeating "I'm sorry" or "thank you" or pretty much anything will make you look like you can't be trusted in Russian culture. So, apologize once or say thank you once, and then let your actions show that you mean it. Repeating the same words to emphasize them will hurt your credibility.

    Trust and openness. Americans may seem very open at first, but in reality it can take a very long time to earn an American's trust. Americans can even become close friends, and then disappear suddenly from your life. This is hard for Russians to understand because they value their connections and friendships a great deal, perhaps more than Americans who are used to moving away from family and friends as a part of our lifestyle.

    Dating. In Russia, men are expected to pay for all of a woman's expenses when they are on a date. If you offer to "dutch treat" this can be very offensive, like saying that you don't think he can afford it. Times are a-changing, so this may not be as big of a deal as it once was. But "feminism" is still frowned on by a majority of people in Russia. Russians prefer women to dress attractively and men are expected to open doors, carry your bags or luggage, and give up seats for women on public transportation. They are not doing this to "control" you - they are doing it out of respect. So just go with it and enjoy!

    In America, it's quite common for men and women to share the bill on a first date. Also, dressing standards in America seem "poor" to many Russians who do not understand "Wal*Mart People".

    If you are in Russia, it is extremely unwise to call someone "comrade" or "commie" or even "russki" (even though that is the Russian word for Russian).

    That's all I can come up with on one cup of coffee. Please feel free to add your own observations!!! I know there is a LOT I have left out and it would help me to learn more as well.
    Вот потому, что вы говорите то, что не думаете, и думаете то, что не думаете, вот в клетках и сидите. И вообще, весь этот горький катаклизм, который я здесь наблюдаю, и Владимир Николаевич тоже…

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    Thank you - I did observe the lack of smiling on my two visits to Brighton Beach. Will add other observations after my trip. Thank you about the say thank you once advise as I do say thank you a lot


    Scott



    Quote Originally Posted by Deborski View Post
    Someone wanted to see a post about cultural differences between these two "superpowers"...

    From my own experience, cultural differences should never be underestimated in their importance. You can learn to speak a language, even fluently, but if you do not understand the culture that the language grew out of, you will never really be "fluent" in that language.

    I have lived in both countries and here are some of the cultural differences I have noticed (and some I have learned the "hard" way):

    Personal space. Americans prefer a lot more personal space than Russians do. In Russia, people are comfortable talking with maybe a foot of personal space between them, whereas Americans prefer closer to three feet. Americans are very uncomfortable with "close talkers" so if they start to back away when you are talking, don't close in on them.

    Repeating "I'm sorry" or "thank you" or pretty much anything will make you look like you can't be trusted in Russian culture. So, apologize once or say thank you once, and then let your actions show that you mean it. Repeating the same words to emphasize them will hurt your credibility.

    Trust and openness. Americans may seem very open at first, but in reality it can take a very long time to earn an American's trust. Americans can even become close friends, and then disappear suddenly from your life. This is hard for Russians to understand because they value their connections and friendships a great deal, perhaps more than Americans who are used to moving away from family and friends as a part of our lifestyle.

    Dating. In Russia, men are expected to pay for all of a woman's expenses when they are on a date. If you offer to "dutch treat" this can be very offensive, like saying that you don't think he can afford it. Times are a-changing, so this may not be as big of a deal as it once was. But "feminism" is still frowned on by a majority of people in Russia. Russians prefer women to dress attractively.

    In America, it's quite common for men and women to share the bill on a first date. Also, dressing standards in America seem "poor" to many Russians who do not understand "Wal*Mart People".

    If you are in Russia, it is extremely unwise to call someone "comrade" or "commie" or even "russki" (even though that is the Russian word for Russian).

    That's all I can come up with on one cup of coffee. Please feel free to add your own observations!!! I know there is a LOT I have left out and it would help me to learn more as well.

  3. #3
    Властелин Deborski's Avatar
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    I think the biggest piece of advice I would give to any American traveling to Russia - is *never* second-guess the Russians. Never try to guess what they are going to say or do next, because if there is anything I've learned about Russians, they are unpredictable. You can never guess how they are going to respond to anything, so just be yourself, try to be respectful, and open to learning from them. But know that as soon as you think you "understand" the Russians, they will do something to confuse you again )
    fortheether likes this.
    Вот потому, что вы говорите то, что не думаете, и думаете то, что не думаете, вот в клетках и сидите. И вообще, весь этот горький катаклизм, который я здесь наблюдаю, и Владимир Николаевич тоже…

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    Quote Originally Posted by Deborski View Post
    Dating. In Russia, men are expected to pay for all of a woman's expenses when they are on a date. If you offer to "dutch treat" this can be very offensive, like saying that you don't think he can afford it.
    No! It is very much desired by any man, but Russian women are very greedy. If a woman refuses that you pay for her, it may indicate that she does not like you or may be even fears you and thinks about how to depart. But if she somehow indicates that she likes you, but wants to pay, it is VERY appreciated. Why? Because there are many "dynamo" women in Russia who knows how to make men to spend money on them and disappear. That's why many modern men are afraid of spending money on women the same way as it was practiced before, when women were more honest. If you as a girl spend money yourself, it will make your partner less restricted.

    Quote Originally Posted by Deborski View Post
    If you are in Russia, it is extremely unwise to call someone "comrade" or "commie" or even "russki" (even though that is the Russian word for Russian).
    Calling someone "comrade" is very much OK.

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    Властелин Deborski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anixx View Post
    No! It is very much desired by any man, but Russian women are very greedy. If a woman refuses that you pay for her, it may indicate that she does not like you or may be even fears you and thinks about how to depart. But if she somehow indicates that she likes you, but wants to pay, it is VERY appreciated. Why? Because there are many "dynamo" women in Russia who knows how to make men to spend money on them and disappear. That's why many modern men are afraid of spending money on women the same way as it was practiced before, when women were more honest. If you as a girl spend money yourself, it will make your partner less restricted.


    Calling someone "comrade" is very much OK.
    See what I mean about "second guessing" the Russians?
    Вот потому, что вы говорите то, что не думаете, и думаете то, что не думаете, вот в клетках и сидите. И вообще, весь этот горький катаклизм, который я здесь наблюдаю, и Владимир Николаевич тоже…

  6. #6
    Paul G.
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    I think you mean different meanings of the word 'comrade'. It's ok to call a friend 'my old comrade', for example. Or sometimes 'comrade' means just 'a person' (but with little satiric connotation). But when you mean an address to someone, like 'sir' or 'mister', it's not a good idea.
    I hope it was helpful for your collection of Russian bizarre stuff, Deborah.
    Deborski likes this.

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    Some general comparison of the two cultures.

    Americans value individualism a lot. A typical American would prefer relying on his/her own force to solve his/her problems. They do not like unasked advice. For example, if it is cold outside and you are not dressed appropriately, others are not expected to comment it. Even if you are walking with a child who is unsufficiently dressed. Americans respect the freedom of choice. Americans do not like to be bothered with other people's problems as well. This is a generalization, of course.

    The Russian culture is different. Traditionally Russians are collectivists. This is because of our history. The only way to survive in difficult life conditions (e.g. poor harvest, unsufficient food, hard physical job, poverty, external threats etc.) was to rely on each other's help. The peasants' community was a natural base of the rural old Russian society.
    The times have changed greatly. But we clearly see the "traces" of our history. Unlike in the US, Russians often refer to some help from their relatives or friends when being faced to some life difficulties. They can just ask for some advice, or for some physical assistance, or for money which are normally lended for free. Many problems are easily solved by means of "social connections": if you know a right person, you can easily find a way around. Or if your friend knows a right person, that may help as well. Many Russians appreciate unasked advice: being advised by a friend means your friend really cares about your life, and thus he/she is a good friend.

    E.g. if it is cold outside and you are not dressed appropriately, at least your acquaintances or friends would inevitably comment it: "you are in risk of getting cold! you'd better put on something warmer!". It is especially inevitable if they see your child unsufficiently dressed. This is not because they do not respect your choice. This is because they feel their personal responsibility for your health (especially for your child!) And you may consider them "heartless" if they pretend not noticing it.

    That is normal that relatives and friends are involved into your problems. "Your problems are my problems, and mine are yours" is still a common way of thinking.

    In the US culture money is something very personal and it is a taboo to discuss your incomes with others.
    In the Russian culture, that is not a big deal to discuss money. If you think you are under-paid at you job, that is nothing to be ashamed of if telling it to your friends: low salary is not considered as your own fault, that is your boss who is unfair and underestimates your skills.

    In Russia, children are expected to help their parents after their parents retire (including financial help since social pension is usually low).
    In their turn, elderly parents are expected to help their children to look after their grandchildren.

    There are some very popular Russian sayings and proverbs which illustrate what is written above:

    Один в поле не воин. - One is not a warrior in a battlefield. (Meaning that a single person is not a force to do something great).
    Один за всех и все за одного. - One for all and all for one. (One is responsible for everybody, and everybody is responsible for the one).
    Не имей сто рублей, а имей сто друзей. - Do not have 100 roubles, but have 100 friends. (The basic meaning is friends are more important than money).
    Я - последняя буква алфавита. - "Я" is the last letter of the alphabet. This saying was very popular during my school education in Soviet times. It is a sort of a play of words: "я" is the last (33rd) letter of the Russian alphabet, and "я" (yah) is also a separate word meaning "I". The meaning of this saying is: don't put your own "I" to high! Do not consider your personal interests as more important than the interests of the society you belong to.

    Compare: in English, the pronoun "I" is always capitalized: "You know what I want", and "you" is not.
    In Russian it is the other way around: "я" is never capitalized unless it starts a new sentence: "Ты знаешь, что я хочу". But "Вы" can be capitalized to show respect (when used as a formal address to a single person): "Что Вы желаете?" (What would you like?)

    This is a generalization, again. But it shows that we often see the same things differently.
    Deborski likes this.

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    Почтенный гражданин LXNDR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anixx View Post
    Calling someone "comrade" is very much OK.
    if in addressing i'd perceive it as mocking, but if it's somehow genuine it sounds very unnatural, i recall a scene from "Moscow on the Hudson" where all dialogues in Russian happening in the US sound super ridiculous and corny

    the thing that irks me about Russian is that we don't use humane terms for address such as Sir, Mister, Miss, Missis, Ma'am, so another thing to remember for foreigners is how to address people when you're trying to draw their attention, according to gender and age
    a young lady - девушка!
    a women over thirty y.o. - женщина!
    a young man - молодой человек! мужчина!
    a man over thirty y.o. - мужчина!

    if even being over 30 or older a person looks younger people may use address for a young person, or just because they don't give much thought about that person's age

    the same terms are used when speaking about a (wo)man in 3d person in their presence

    these all are neutral addresses, there're of course more informal slang terms equivalent to buddy, mate, dude etc.

    in trying to be cold when addressing someone уважаемый/ая! can be used, it's not offensive though

    i strive to use господин/госпожа (sir/miss, missis) where possible, but so far have never tried to use it in direct address, but i neither will use the abovelisted ones, cause they sound dorky to me

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    And
    гражданин! (citizen, to a man)
    гражданка! (citizen, to a woman)
    are used mainly by the police.

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    Почтенный гражданин LXNDR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Боб Уайтман View Post
    And
    гражданин! (citizen, to a man)
    гражданка! (citizen, to a woman)
    are used mainly by the police.
    i agree with Bob only would add that a person may feel offended if you address him/her that way just because its customary for the laws, since just like in the USA in Russia and former USSR in general lots of people aren't very fond of law enforcement bodies

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul G. View Post
    I hope it was helpful for your collection of Russian bizarre stuff, Deborah.
    Sometimes, to my American mind, some things do seem a bit bizarre at first. But when I had lived in Russia for a while, they seemed quite ordinary, and in fact when I returned to the States, there were many American customs which struck me as bizarre, even though at one time in my life I experienced them as "ordinary."

    Living in another culture, breathing it in and continually trying to wrap your mind around different values and ways of thinking has a permanent impact on a person. I was never the same American after living in Russia for two years. My perspective of the world was altered forever. And that is really not a bad thing!
    Вот потому, что вы говорите то, что не думаете, и думаете то, что не думаете, вот в клетках и сидите. И вообще, весь этот горький катаклизм, который я здесь наблюдаю, и Владимир Николаевич тоже…

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    Russians don't know how to relax/spend weekends, mostly because there are not a lot of places to go out in Russia and most of them are expensive. At the same time Americans(I'm going to say generally not to start racial discrimination) tend to work more, compared to Russians, but I can't say that Russians are lazy
    Russians much more bond to their parents and other relatives then typical Americans
    Russians are less mobile then Americans mostly because of transportation problem but it affects personality

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    I think there is far too much emphasis on WORK and PRODUCTION in America, and not nearly enough emphasis on family. Just my two cents. But from what I hear, it is becoming more like that in Russia, too.
    Вот потому, что вы говорите то, что не думаете, и думаете то, что не думаете, вот в клетках и сидите. И вообще, весь этот горький катаклизм, который я здесь наблюдаю, и Владимир Николаевич тоже…

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    i'm gonna add what i heard from an American, which is i think one of the profound differences in mentality between the Westerners and Russians

    Americans, in particular, are generally apt to change or improve things they don't like, Russian's are apt to get accustomed to and live with them

    i can't attest to the accuracy of this observation regarding Americans, although i feel the same way, but regarding Russians it's true

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    Quote Originally Posted by LXNDR View Post
    i'm gonna add what i heard from an American, which is i think one of the profound differences in mentality between the Westerners and Russians

    Americans, in particular, are generally apt to change or improve things they don't like, Russian's are apt to get accustomed to and live with them

    i can't attest to the accuracy of this observation regarding Americans, although i feel the same way, but regarding Russians it's true
    I think it is a fair observation. Could it have something to do with the way Russians and Americans think about "fate"?

    Americans think "no fate but what we make" and Russians think "you can't fight fate"... and who is really right, or are we both right in the end?
    Вот потому, что вы говорите то, что не думаете, и думаете то, что не думаете, вот в клетках и сидите. И вообще, весь этот горький катаклизм, который я здесь наблюдаю, и Владимир Николаевич тоже…

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    Quote Originally Posted by Deborski View Post
    I think there is far too much emphasis on WORK and PRODUCTION in America, and not nearly enough emphasis on family. Just my two cents. But from what I hear, it is becoming more like that in Russia, too.
    This is wrong. From my perspective there is much more emphasis on family in the West, especially in America.

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    Почтенный гражданин LXNDR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Deborski View Post
    I think it is a fair observation. Could it have something to do with the way Russians and Americans think about "fate"?

    Americans think "no fate but what we make" and Russians think "you can't fight fate"... and who is really right, or are we both right in the end?
    probably, that also has something to do with traditionally little appreciation and reward for personal initiative in the Soviet society, unless it's approved by authority, which in turn discourages people to take initiative and so they become pretty passive

    there's even a saying - инициатива наказуема


    in the end everybody's equal, but the itinerary to the destination can vary

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    Quote Originally Posted by LXNDR View Post
    probably, that also has something to do with traditionally little appreciation and reward for personal initiative in the Soviet society, unless it's approved by authority, which in turn discourages people to take initiative and so they become pretty passive

    there's even a saying - инициатива наказуема


    in the end everybody's equal, but the itinerary to the destination can vary
    Like "Everybody is equal, but some are more equal than others"...? Maybe George Orwell had it right.
    Вот потому, что вы говорите то, что не думаете, и думаете то, что не думаете, вот в клетках и сидите. И вообще, весь этот горький катаклизм, который я здесь наблюдаю, и Владимир Николаевич тоже…

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    Quote Originally Posted by Anixx View Post
    This is wrong. From my perspective there is much more emphasis on family in the West, especially in America.
    Interesting. What makes you think this?
    Вот потому, что вы говорите то, что не думаете, и думаете то, что не думаете, вот в клетках и сидите. И вообще, весь этот горький катаклизм, который я здесь наблюдаю, и Владимир Николаевич тоже…

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    the politicians especially the Republicans, who claim to be Christians, constantly in their election campaigns stress family values
    and a presidential candidate absolutely has to be an exemplary family man

    but me, i don't see it the way Anixx does, it's more of a propaganda than reflection of the real state of affairs


    at the same time if Americans had to vote in a woman to the office, i feel they'd vote for a single mother without hesitation, so there go family values
    but they probably wouldn't vote for a childless woman either married or not

    what do you think, Deb?

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