INSIDE RUSSIA: Travelers Find Western Ways Hard to Shake
- By Leonid Bershidsky
- Jun. 29 1999 00:00
The best way to exorcise your demons is to classify them.
Internal emigr?s, obviously, have a lot of demons to chase away. After all, so-called Westernized Russians, or WRs, try to live in this country by rules they learned elsewhere.
In the Russian segment of the Internet, several servers recently offered visitors a chance to help compile the ultimate list of signs that you have lived in the United States too long. First, dozens of the afflicted submitted their lists of symptoms and then the public was allowed to vote for the ones they thought best reflected their condition. I found the final lists at www.anekdot.ru and www.reklama.ru.
Some of these symptoms are real gems. I only lived in the States for a year and now, years later, I still see some of the signs in my reactions to Russian reality. Others on the list are somewhat wild, showing strictly individual reactions to the infectiousness of the American way of life. But judge for yourself.
Here is a subtle one, for example: "When asked how to find your house, instead of giving your address you start by asking, 'Where will you be driving from?'" Don't know why, but I still do it. I suppose that is one of the faster-acquired American habits.
Another thing you quickly stop doing in the West is trying to clink paper cups with your friends. I stopped for some time after my sojourn in California, but now my Russian reflex is back causing me no end of embarrassment in the company of more recently returned WRs.
Or take this symptom: "You stop reacting to the signs that say 'Sale' or 'Special price.'" I tend not to notice these signs, but my wife, who has only been to the West as a tourist, jumps at each of them both in Moscow and outside Russia.
Many respondents to this admittedly humorous poll pointed out Americanized Russians' willingness to drive to the bakery round the corner, just like "real" Americans do. Laziness generally agrees with us, and if we have seen other people climb into cars for a one-minute drive, we will do it again and again, whether at home or abroad.
Something else a WR will do, unlike a Russian Russian, is wear a suit to work and a T-shirt and jeans when visiting friends. My wife keeps telling me to put on a dress shirt when we are about to go to one of her friends' birthday party, and I have learned to force myself to dress conservatively for work, at least when I have meetings planned. Soon I will never be able to dress casually. I guess that is how old age creeps up on us.
Obviously, you have lived in the United States too long if you understand the rules of baseball f and, as one contributor to the list of symptoms points out, if you keep explaining the advantages of baseball over cricket to your British acquaintances. That one certainly struck home. I distinctly remember having that argument with a Russian friend who had spent a lot of time in England.
But of course it is your culinary tastes that give you away immediately, even to strangers. You have spent too much time in the States if you have learned to drink coffee at McDonalds f and if you know the difference between Thai and Vietnamese food, but feed mostly on hamburgers.