The other day I was talking with my daughter about Russians. She was recalling stories about her Russian friends in Canada. It got me thinking about my life in the USSR, which wasn’t Russia but what Russian culture based itself on. The republics of the USSR were all impregnated with Russian language, Russian literature, the Russian lifestyle, complete with Russian style communist clothing. My daughter, wife and I tried to put our finger on the ten main hobbies of Homo Sovieticus. Although I’m sure that many Russians will say we are russophobic sell-outs to Western society. You must understand this is only my opinion on Russian quirks. Should you wish to argue, please do: I love to receive dissenting views.
Russian quirks may be divided into two categories, geography and political culture. I begin with my top five quirks relating to Russian geography.
1 Авосъ, or Avos. I have no clue how to translate this word into English. One possibility would be something that might never happen unless by a miracle. You see, the Russian climate is as capricious as a Parisian woman. At one moment the sun is shining warmly, the next thing you know it’s cold and snowing. Let’s say you are going somewhere. Your wife tells you to dress warmly. You answer sure sure, I suppose I should harness up a team of horses while I’m at it. She says you could freeze on the road. You say yeah, maybe yes, maybe no. It’s simply not predictable. Other peoples can use their heads, the Russian feels it in his ass. You could call this Russian intuition.
2 Аврал, or Avral. All hands on deck. It’s when the harvest fails and you bear down for a long long winter. It really sucks. Russia used to be the bread-basket of Europe but now with the sanctions, the short agricultural season, 5 months at most, drives the Russian farmer into a tizzy. This explains the Russian’s tendency to do a rush job at the critical moment while all the rest of the time he relies on luck or avos.
3 The poker face. A Russian doesn’t smile at strangers. At school I was taught that the whole history of Russia is war. My teacher taught me every nation was always trying to enslave Russia. Every foreigner was a potential enemy. This enemy wanted to turn you into his personal slave.
In those days, I drank vodka, fought, cheated, stole – who needed a slave of my ilk? It also taught my grandparents, my father and mother. Genetics – ideology is a serious matter – even today I think before smiling a stranger man. Putin – fear – continues. I never understood who needed Russia. The climate was terrible.
4 Lying down and waiting for a miracle.
If you open any book of Russian folk tales you will see that the hero gets it all, happiness, wealth, a beautiful wife. It never depends on hard work, it just falls from the sky. It’s a little like Cinderella every time.
I like this myself. I wanted to emigrate but I didn’t actually do anything to make it happen. I just waited. And it actually did fall from the sky. I met a Jewish woman. I told you already a Jew in the Soviet Union wasn’t a nationality. A Jew was a way to emigrate. Dear friends, I don’t recommend you stay in bed. No, I urge you to rely on miracles. Miracle are always taking place in our lives. All Russian history is a miracle.
5 Crouch before you trip. Westerners have great difficulty understanding this particular Russian habit. I don’t understand it either but I always make sure I’m sitting down, even when I go shopping. I know it’s silly thing but I do it nevertheless. It’s not a mental decision, it’s in my genes. The UK police force report around 327,000 missing person per year. 250,000 children are reported missing every year in the EU – that’s one child every two minutes. Unaccompanied migrant children, criminal abductions, etc. Excuse my cynical question, but are these thousands of people missing only because they failed to sit down for a moment before they left their homes? No, I doubt it. But in Russia, people do sit down before leaving their homes.
And do you know how many never returned to their homes in the days of Stalin’s terror? 24.8 million! How many people have disappeared during Putin’s reign? We still don’t know, but I suspect a lot more than in the days of Ivan the Terrible. My dear readers, I do not suggest you sit down before you leave home, but I do ask you to think about this: why do we need the state if the government can’t protect us?
Vlad* Savich was born in the USSR, where he was educated, married and fathered his daughter. As soon as the chance appeared to leave, he did. At present he lives in Montreal, where he writes, directs for the theatre and breathes the air of freedom. He can be found online at savich.lit.com.ua.
*He prefers not to be called Vladimir, so as not to be associated with the disreputable activity of a certain barnardine Russian leader.