Tuesday, January 19, 2010

There'll Always Be A Russia


Okay, I think I've figured it out.  Anybody who's spent any time at all in Russia is obsessed with figuring out the Russians and why they are the way they are.  That includes me.  All told, I've spent less than a month total in Russia, and yet a great deal of the time I was engaged in a futile attempt to understand their different-ness.

Let's be honest, though.  The British are every bit as strange as the Russians are.  I was in London when the news broke that Prince Charles was cheating on Diana.  My landlady was in tears.  "Don't get me wrong, I dearly love the Royal Family," she said to me.  "But they are all dreadfully spoiled."  Which, in terms of comprehensibility to this particular American, might as well have been a message from another planet.  But we take this sort of thing in stride, because . . . well, that's the British for you.

I'm thinking now that there's no underlying explanation for why the Russians act like, well, Russians.  They're just very intensely themselves.  They eat ice cream in the winter.  They buy lots more flowers than we do.  (My Russian friend Alexei told me, "If you want to get rich in Moscow, open a flower shop.")  They don't see anything wrong with drinking a beer on the Metro.  (Well, the men don't, anyway.)  And they like dogs a lot.

Even stray dogs.  Which Moscow has in profusion.  You can read the whole fascinating story, including the explanation of the statue above, here.

And a quick question for any Francophones out there . . .

As was diplomatically pointed out by Pat J recently, my command of the French language is essentially nonexistent.  Nevertheless, and for reasons I cannot explain, I persist in including the occasional French sentence in my novels.  Here's my latest:

Sergeant Wojtek grinned, revealing more teeth than Kyril would have thought could possibly fit in a single mouth.  “Yes.  We tricked you.  Quel dommage, hein, mon petit vaurien?”

Could those of you who know the language tell me if I need to make corrections?



Unknown said...

I'm pretty sure the Brits and the Russians think Americans are strange too. My roommate is Bulgarian, and she doesn't understand why North American women ever go dutch on dates or could not want men to open doors for them.

By 'vaurien' does your character mean 'pirate'? Because it's a particularly nautical term if I understand it correctly (I'm anglo, but Montrealais).

Michael Swanwick said...

Huh. No, rascal I mean, or scamp. Good-for-nothing. Kyril is a bandit in the Russian sense, a petty hoodlum. But underage, so the sergeant would feel comfortable talking to him in a condescending way.

Heck, I think Americans are strange and I was born here.

Curio Theatre said...

I have always dreamed of going to Russia -- there's part of me that thinks I would learn the meaning of life if I ever went for a prolonged stay.

And yes, my Russian friend in college, Katya, said she thought American women were crazy for sitting on the grassy ground because "in Russia, having children is very important!" I never quite understood the connection; I could only assume that in Russia, sitting on the ground is (or was) believed to make one infertile.

And how Russian of you to find a way to sneak in a French phrase here and there! Bravo!

Unknown said...

Hi, Michael. Let me bring some Russian spirit here :) (although I'm citizen of Ukraine, I'm Russian). Grown on the "rupture" of the epochs (from Soviet to Chaotic) I faced street gang life as well as National Polytechnic University education. Later working with western guys on PC's games I realized that Russian criminal spirit is close to Chicano's (Latino) one (at least as it described by white American guys, I never visited America).

David Stone said...

I think maybe the link is between cold and infertility. For instance: my mother-in-law who is Chinese told my wife that if I did not take care to wear thick woolen long underwear during the winter, I might "ruin myself as a man". In her defense, it really is damn cold where they live, so regardless of the threat to my fecundity it was good advice.

Ariwch said...

To trillian and David Stone
I think that Katya ment exactly what David said. I cannot say "it really is damn cold" where I live (Saint Petersburg, Russia) but it's definitly not healthy to sit on the ground in the most of a year here.

Michael Swanwick said...

The very thought of a Russian street gang during the rupture terrifies me, Eugene. You have my admiration for having survived it.

Unknown said...

I was youngster :) so, no firearms, but it was really a hard time. I can't imagine the case like "Soviet" one in modern world (I mean process like "Rotten Communism->Wild Capitalism"). In Western literature (and movies, games as result) Russians appears to be gloomy (and dumb) killers, alway dangerous and cruel. For example Gibson's "Pattern Recognition" talks about Russian in grotesque way (trully saying). Surely, it isn't real picture. Just imagine yourself that one day most of wrestlers, boxers (all sponsored before by gov), veterans of war, liberated prisoners literally faced a problem of food. So there were many different people struggling, varicoloured company. Well, I'll be proud to help you, Michael, if you need any "consulting" about Russian style.