Today I got the bright idea that I will forever regret it if I don't take advantage of "Cash for Clunkers" and redeem Craig's idle car for $4,500 before my van dies, leaving me in a world of misery.
So, ignorance in hand, I took myself to a Ford dealership. The gentlemen there were kind, with a civilized demeanor, and absolutely did not try to pressure me....but to my dismay - Ford no longer makes vans. Bad news. So, off I went two doors down to the Chevy dealership. Different! So full of "buzz" - they were actually shooting a commercial (the usual sort with the fast-talking owner) at the time. "Shawn" appeared and shook my hand "warmly" (I'm sure he thought). He asked my name and then used it once or twice every sentence for the next two hours...... Whenever he left me alone I entertained myself by imagining his face if the next time he called me "Annie" I crisply asked him to please call me Mrs. Kitching! It was icky. So was his false grin....and the false grin on the face of every other salesperson in the place. Ick. Ick. Ick. When I got tired of imagining being rude (assertive? whatever) my mind wandered into other territory.... I began to imagine what it might be like to buy a car in Russia.
This brought to mind a recent post from a new ex pat in Moscow in which she compares many of the differences between Russia and the US. It was fun to hear her perspective. All told, I've probably spent about nine weeks in Russia. Not nearly enough! Not enough to please me, and undoubtedly not enough to really know what it is like to live there.....but enough to understand even more of the culture that influences my children than I was able to glean from all that Russian literature I took in over the years. These are some responses that came to me on reading Katbats' post.
Language and lack thereof - I was very glad that I have experienced the time I did in Russia...and especially feeling first-hand what it is like to know something of a language...but not enough! It is one of the most exhausting things imaginable. I expect not knowing ANY Russian would have been much easier than understanding just enough that I had to keep working at understanding all the time. This is why I can have so much compassion for the fear Ilya experiences in relationship to school. It is bad enough going to school in your own language when you are 14. Imagine doing it when you are so very apt to make a stupid mistake that will cause everyone to laugh at you every other moment...it really must be nearly untenable. And then there's that other phenomenon, that I would experience again and again...... Someone would be talking to me - fast and furious, and I'd be understanding some of it; but, I'd have to decide - do I keep listening in hopes that all these words and phrases fall into place and I finally understand what is being said? Or, do I stop them now and ask for the meaning of this word or that? You know if you stop them, there will be at least a little flash of frustration on their face....so you hesitate. And there is always the possibility that - YES! - you understand! and when they stop talking and look expectantly at you, you can reply intelligently. But - it is really awful when they have talked and talked and you've nodded and given them intelligent expressions, but when they stop talking.........you still have no idea what they have been saying. Though, perhaps it is worse yet, when you think you know - and you reply. And see their face look at you blankly, confusedly. And, you know. You just said something completely stupid.
GOOD CHILDREN - Katbat notices that Russian children are well-behaved. Ilya notices this too, and it is another reason he doesn't want to go to school. He cannot believe the disrespect that the children display and the chaos in the classroom...and this is a Catholic school that has SIGNIFICANTLY more structure than the public school. He'd probably self-combust if I sent him there!
GARBAGE - Katbat thinks Moscow is dirty? She should try Ivanovo. I will never get over the piles of garbage EVERYWHERE....a beautiful river walk, with a picturesque array of people strolling, chatting, groups of young people singing a a friend plays a guitar.... Ah! What an idyllic scene! Except that they are all gathered around a bench that has garbage surrounding it as high or higher than the bench, itself. I say I will never get used to it, but actually this last trip I sat on one of those benches watching Ilya play in the river, while idly analyzing the garbage surrounding me (including a few interesting pill bottles) without being judgmental about it at all.....
SIMPLICITY - Katbat notices that her life has become simpler, particularly her shopping. She says she has lost weight. One reason I long to live in Russia are some of the ways she described in which things become less complicated.... Less food in the house, simpler meals, eating less, buying less. I love that....I actually envy my Russian friends their tiny apartment with no decor to speak of. There's a lot of freedom in that! But somehow can't put it into practice here.
SMOKING - On the down side, there is the smoking....no; I can't blame my older boys for thinking they should smoke. It must be one of their clear images of growing up and becoming a man. When we first got here Sergei would occasionally sigh, longingly.... "It smells like Russia!" And we would always have just walked past some doorway where some employee was hunkered down smoking...
STYLE - Russian style is so different. Katbat amusingly describes some of the usual "types". In her recent post another ex pat, Tamara, addresses footwear. Women do dress up. Everyone dresses up. You rarely see people running around in t-shirts and athletic shoes - unless they actually appear to be exercising. A casually-dressed man might wear a t-shirt, but with dress shoes. I like this; I really do...though I would probably much rather dress like these babushkas in my illustration photo than like the fashionable ladies.
But probably the most noticable difference, to my mind, between Russia and the US is that false smile. Russia - a glorious land where no one grins like an idiot. Granted, they may frown. They may snap at you. They may be brusque. Yes; even sales people! I believe a Russian would rather be right than make a sale. They will criticize what you are wearing, frown and shake their head at your choice of what to buy, even refuse to give you what you have chosen.....but somehow all of that is a breath of fresh air compared to "smarmy".