Socializing With Russians: 'Don't Try to Understand -- Just Feel It'

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Fyodor Tyutchev, a beloved Russian poet, was the one who gave this wise advice as early as in the mid-1900s. It was addressed to all those who might often feel just a little lost over here. Well, not a lot has really changed today.

Living here, this slightly fatalistic wisdom proves to be valid and valuable every single day. But this is exactly the point -- it's interesting, stimulating and thrilling all the time anytime. Let's put it this way: every day you'll see or hear something that you never saw or heard before -- however well travelled you might be.

So why did you come here anyway? If you haven't been sent eastwards by your company, I'd guess, you decided to come here yourself. And nobody can claim getting a Russian work permit is easy for anybody. So, you better live with your choice and get acquainted with your human environment, and just remember: try to be open-minded; you're a guest here, and you will stay a guest even if you spend the rest of your life in Russia. And just remember: the more you travel the corners of the globe the more you realize that in every population wherever they might live and whatever their history, cultural and educational levels might be, there are a lot of the 'bad and ugly' but also a lot of the 'good and honest' -- and it's not at all that different in Russia.

When the young, affluent, urban breed or the older, ultra-rich, loud, 'mini' and 'maxi' oligarchs sometimes might appear to you to be unbearably arrogant and ostentatious: have you ever thought that they just might have copied it from certain Western 'turbo-capitalist' lifestyles -- and in a very short time frame? Just understand and respect some differences in mentality like the ones highlighted in this little story: An American, a Frenchman, a German and a Russian are asked to write a piece about elephants. The American chooses as the title 'The Elephant and How to Make Him Bigger', the Frenchman writes 'The Elephant and Love', the German quickly has a full specialist series ready which he calls 'Short Introduction into the History of the Elephant' - and the Russian proudly titles his 'The Elephant -- a Russian Invention'.


An old Russian proverb says "100 kilometers is no distance, 100 rubles is no money and 100 grams is no vodka." And indeed -- in Russia everything is a little bigger, a little further, a little more limitless. This is true for the pure geography and for the Russian people and their demands. Russia simply is the largest territory in the world (as big as the whole of Latin America), from Kaliningrad in the West all the way to Cape Provideniya in the very Far East on the shores of the Bering Sea, spanning over 11 time zones and offering the world's biggest natural reserves, from oil to gas, and wood to gold, you name it.

You might be locked into a plane easily for more than 10 hours on a domestic flight like the one from Moscow to Vladivostok or for a full seven days in a railway wagon on the famous Trans-Siberian, covering the same distance on the ground, the only way, as there's still not a through road from West to East which deserves the name 'road,' never mind a motorway. No less than 50,000 settlements somewhere out there have no paved road connections at all -- it's not really easy to socialize with your new compatriots out there. But what's fascinating is that when you arrive how far you ever might have gone nationwide, everybody still addresses you in the Russian language -- and welcomes you with a toast and a shot of vodka. If you earn your rubles in dealing with bizniz (Russian for business) partners all over the place, you will hardly be able to close your eyes for a rest: when your guys start working in the Far East, your buddies in the Far West are just shutting down their laptops.

Other than the sheer distances, the weather conditions significantly contribute to the experience of dealing with Russians. In general they're influenced by a severe continental climate, meaning quite hot summers changing the guard with long, very cold winters. This harsh contrast seems also to be responsible for the Russian character: if necessary, a typical Russian is able to reach for the stars, but at the same time he may simply be able to lie on a bearskin to use a genuine Russian picture, just doing nothing. In these dark, frosty months the relationship with your Russian friends may appear to be marked by deep melancholy and even tearful self-pity.

However, the average Russian takes a more fatalistic view to what happens around them and what they know they individually can't change at all. Even in times of economic crisis- and they have survived quite a number of them in even recent history. On the contrary, a typical German, having to trade down from a Mercedes S class to a Mercedes C class, might think his whole world is going down the drain.

Even if it might take some time, look forward to finally being invited to your Russian friends' home. Now I'm not talking about being invited to one of your millionaire/billionaire friends living in their Tudor- or Versailles-imitations (you can buy a lot for your money but not necessarily taste, as is well-known) out of town with a $20 million yacht on the lake which never goes anywhere, it's just there for partying. No, I'm talking about being invited to decent, well-educated, career-minded, hardworking people from the evolving Russian middle class.

They might live with at least three generations (a grandma and a young couple with their two kids) in the average Moscow apartment, sized 60 square meters, nestled in a "living machine" together with a couple of hundred or even thousands of neighbors under one roof. Best to close your eyes and nose before entering the block and the elevator: you may stumble over a lot of rubbish; smell a lot of bad odors in a gloomy staircase; sometimes even be frightened by the atmosphere. Public areas nobody really takes too much care of, the pleasant surprise often comes only when you enter the people's private environment.