Us and the Russians: realising our similarities!

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Us and the Russians: realising our similarities!

‘Culture is the thing we only notice when it is different’. This is one of the reasons we love to travel – we love to see different places and to experience something of another culture. Journeying to and spending time in another country provides us with an escape and a fresh view on life, giving us an insight into things from another point of view. So when we travel abroad, whether we know it or not, we are in a constant mind-set of comparing things. We love to identify the differences between cultures and when we are in another country for any length of time, we can get to know the people, delve a little deeper and understand different culture’s mentality. It seems this identification of cultural differences is something of a comfort zone for us; we are comforted that, although they do it like that, there is a place where they do it like this and sooner or later we’ll go back there and be at home, in more than one sense of the word.

My half term break from school in February took me to Russia. I hadn’t been for over a year and it felt like it was high time to be getting and to remind myself just why I love going there. I was going for a holiday, although admittedly, at the tail end of the Russian winter, not for the sun! I went to Moscow and St Petersburg, spent time with friends, brushed up on my Russian, soaked up the Russian culture and simply enjoyed being there.

The many hours I spent waiting in airport departure lounges gave me plenty of opportunity to contemplate. Airports are one of the very few places where people become as one. Apart from, of course, joining different queues at border control, we have few clues as to where someone is from and so for a few intermittent hours in this life of difference we all become nationality neutral.

Russians are, too often, assumed to be unusual, different or foreigners that we should be afraid of. But, Russians are just people – they have a rich cultural history but behind all of that, they are just human. I love the process I have described above – that of comparison, identifying why I am different from Russian people. But, waiting in airports and spending time in Russia last month, I surmised that there are some moments in a world of different cultures where the fact is, we are all very similar, which is far too obvious to ignore.

Did you know that Russians have trouble getting up some mornings? Russians also, believe it or not, have bad days at work and need to come home and vent to their friends and family about difficult colleagues. Russians get that Friday feeling. Russians also play ‘Angry Birds!’ Not all of them, but some do. Sometimes, Russians accidentally let milk go off in their fridge. Some Russians get nervous meeting new people and feel awkward in social situations. Russians are also late for work on some days and sometimes Russians even have to tell off their children in public places. It is not uncommon for a Russian’s mobile phone to run out of battery, or for them to forget to reply to an email. Russians like watching films and spending time with friends at the weekend and when it gets to the summer they also need to ‘get away from it all’, have a change of scenery and forget the craziness of life for a week or two. Russians burn their toast, go for runs, do the washing up, go to parents’ evenings, watch daytime TV, get bored on long train journeys, have a list of jobs they never quite get round to doing, brush their teeth, change light bulbs, regret the way they spoke to a person yesterday, skip breakfast, sing in the shower, meet friends for coffee and need a hug every now and again.

See how much we really have in common? Russians, of course, do all of this in a different language and travel on a different passport. There are also lots of differences between us and I am not for one moment suggesting that we ignore the very cultures which give us our identity – far from it; I believe culture is something to celebrate and embrace. However, let’s also remember that, behind the history, the customs, the politics, the language and the passports, we have a lot more in common than we realise. Certainly, compare your culture to Russia’s and enjoy the differences, but also enjoy those airport moments when we are all just people and when our nationalities don’t even come into the equation. 

Text by Esther Harper