Every country has a stereotype surrounding it and its people, right? I mean, this is why I feel obliged to drink tea whenever I am surrounded by people born outside of the UK. I actually don’t like tea. Tea isn’t exactly a stimulant for me. I don’t start my day with it and I certainly don’t solve my problems with it. Yes, I know… I should be stripped of my British citizenship.
What I find endlessly amusing is that I learn more of the stereotypes surrounding my birth country, the more that I travel. Which is why it’s no surprise that the vast majority of Russian people I meet ask me what stereotypes the UK has about Russia. And then I have to awkwardly answer that the only conversations I’ve ever had about Russia in the UK are about Russian women or Putin.
Neither of which am I particularly educated in, and so the conversations tend to fall flat on their arses.
So I googled “most common stereotypes Russia” and this is what I found (and think) about them, after existing for four months in a Siberian city:
“Siberia is deserted and no one lives there, except for polar bears.”
Unless I’ve been walking around with my eyes closed I can fully attest that Siberia is not made up of polar bears, neither is it completely empty. Sure, when trundling through the Siberian countryside on a train it might seem that there is an immense lack of houses but you’re in the countryside… and that’s what countryside is. However, you’re never that far from civilisation and most cities are better connected to each other than some back at home. Your train certainly won’t be delayed because of ‘the wrong kind of sunlight,’ anyway. That’s a fact.
In regards to bears, polar or otherwise, it’s alarming how many times I’ve been told (without prompt) not to worry because,
“No bears here. People *nod*. Trees *nod*. No bears.”
“Everybody drinks vodka. All day. Everyday.”
WRONG. I just can’t even express how wrong this is. Of all the adulting Russians that I have asked (slyly of course) what their favourite drink is, only one has said vodka. Vodka is grossly cheap here, so I’d totally understand if it was the tipple of choice, but the harsh reality is that I drank more Russian vodka as a British student than I have as a temporary resident in Russia.
Tea, however, is like the nectar of the gods to Russians. I would absolutely love to see one of my Russian friends destroy any of my fellow Brits in a Tea Off. Though I’ve yet to see a traditional samovar, I can tell you that I have been asked around ‘for tea’ more times than I can count…and tea is not just a cup of tea in Russia. You had better take at least two full sized cakes with you and expect a three to four hour chat.
“It’s always cold and always snowing in Siberia.”
GOD, I remember when I first announced to everybody that I was moving to Siberia… for the winter no less. Each and every person visibly shivered and then uttered the words, ‘are you crazy? It’s like minus 20 there!’ Well, actually it reached -33C, so you’re not completely wrong. But Western Siberia is not deathly cold, every single day, as I was led to believe. Tyumen isn’t forever shrouded in a swirling snow storm of doom either. Now that winter appears to be drawing to a (somewhat premature) close, I’m seeing more sun, less snow and waaaaay more slush.
Fortunately, I will be lucky enough to experience summer here… which should be both unbearably hot AND riddled with mosquitoes.
“Every Russian woman is conventionally beautiful.”
Before anybody gets upset, I’m a firm believer that everybody is beautiful in their own way. But let’s be honest… there is a certain blueprint that both men and women are judged against or compared to in terms of conventional attractiveness. I’m here to tell you that not all Russian women are tall, thin, flawless or symmetrical in the face. Every person is a snowflake and they are ALL different.
What people do like doing here, is spending time and effort on their image which can often times not be said for some of us English folk. Especially me.
“Russians are closed people and never smile.”
It’s a lie. Kind of. I’ve never been met with a closed attitude to a topic, nor have I smiled at someone and not received one back. I’ve experienced more kindness from strangers here than I have ever witnessed anywhere else in the world. However, I am reveling in the fact that at 9AM on a Wednesday, when I have to catch a bus to a different office, it’s perfectly acceptable not to say, “hello,” to the bus conductor. OR apologetically smile at the ladies sitting at the bus stop just for breathing the same air.
In fact, when I’m in someone’s way at the supermarket… I don’t even bat an eyelid, anymore. Once upon a time, I would dramatically hop from one foot to another, just to display in typical British fashion that I was sorry for being inconveniently located in front of the coconuts that they wanted to fondle. Now, I just carry on my business like a normal person.
And it’s refreshing. I actually really like it. My social anxiety in Russia is nonexistent because no one expects me to be obscenely (and insincerely) pleasant to them.
In short, Siberian Russia is truly awesome… and I haven’t even made it to the best parts yet.