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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

All Russians Are Fat: Another Western Myth

One of the Western world's greatest myths about Russians is that they are all fat. "If it's so hard to get food over there," humorists turning their sights on the international scene will say, "Why are they all so fat?" Very funny, indeed. Once you have spent any time here, you know the truth is that most Russians are not fat at all. Many reach a middle-aged moment when that lifetime of butter and cheese catches up with them and their waistlines expand to the traditional babushka circumference. Until then, they are usually thin and even somewhat wiry, and after that they are nonetheless still able to perform staggering feats of strength and endurance on a daily basis. It would not be so necessary to battle the somewhat harmless misconception of Russian weightiness if certain parts of the Western world were not so full of truly overweight people. Russian and other visitors to the United States, for example, mention this as one of the first impressions of their trip. Even Americans have mentioned it as the most lasting impression of a trip home. The United States is a big place. Every nation likes to eat, but there's probably no place in the world that has made eating as easy and hassle-free an experience as the United States. Eating in a health-conscious, sparing way is easy, but eating anything that tastes good, in any location and at any hour of the day, is even easier. Food is everywhere, attractively packaged and only as difficult to prepare as you make it. Restaurants serve portions that are three times what you need and offer all-you-can-eat buffets as a business-booster. In short, eating isn't work. It's sheer entertainment. As my father -- who is slim and not nearly as world-weary as this quote will make him seem -- recently said, "Food is the only reinforcement I have left in my life." Wait until he comes to Russia. Getting something to eat here isn't easy. Kiosks are taking the edge off the drama, but preparing for a bona fide meal is still a matter of serious labor. Walking, haggling, carrying, cooking -- a Russian meal will keep you full for a week, and there's certainly nothing low-calorie about it, but look at the effort that goes into the preparation. And although Western-made convenience foods may eventually change all this, Russians are not big snackers. Between three meals a day and the work that goes into them, there's not much time left in between for extracurricular snack activity. The crux of the entire issue, though, according to Russians, is eating on the street, something Americans in fact like to do frequently. Doing so here is terribly nekulturno, unless the food involved is either ice cream or fruit. Eating bread on the street is bad news.