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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Intense Patriotism Of the Russian Traveler

It's easy to develop a patriotic streak when you are far away from home. The further away you fly from the things you always took for granted -- bagels, bookstores, toll-free numbers -- the more clearly and desirably they seem to come into focus. Not all U.S. citizens are the rabid patriots they are assumed to be by the rest of the world. Yes, there are those American tourists who travel the world checking their street maps for the next McDonald's and occasionally yelling out "U.S.A.!" when they start to worry they are losing their identity. But there are many others who arrive at their desired port of call ready to play Citizen of the World. The ones who ate brioche in high-school French classes and tasted the buttery call of distant shores. The ones who are willing, for a time, to nod complacently rather than defend their land from the scorn of outsiders, because they are probably a little scornful themselves. How long this phase lasts depends on the individual and the particular country he or she has chosen to visit. Many foreigners in Moscow seem to reach their threshold relatively quickly. And I do admit I find myself making combative statements like, "The United States has far fewer potholes than Russia does" a lot more often than I used to. Leaping to the defense of the U.S. highway system is nothing compared to what a Russian will do for his country Russians, even the worn-out, cynical ones, are tremendously patriotic. And the worn-out, cynical ones enjoying a brief and well-financed vacation in the States are even more so, as I recently had the opportunity to witness first-hand: Why are American ambulances so noisy? Ours are much quieter. Why do I have to show my passport every time I want a beer? I can buy whatever I want at home. Why do I have to wear my seat belt? Can't I just drape it over my shoulder like I do in Moscow? What's so great about this store? There's one exactly like it in GUM. Our White House is bigger than your White House, and so on. Not a word about the potholes! My only triumph. To tell you the truth, I didn't expect a lot of red-white-and-blue rapture from this person, especially after watching him run the visa gauntlet at the U.S. Embassy. His slight bout of homesickness was understandable. Russians and Americans have grown up believing, more or less, that their country was "it." When an American goes abroad, there's always something to remind him that, in some ways, this is true, even if it is just a McDonald's. But when a Russian goes abroad, it is a little harder. No Cyrillic billboards. No Russian music. No kefir. The familiar cultural thing they stand the best chance of seeing over there, in fact, is Lenin -- and who needs that on a vacation?