By Alla Pavlovskaya · Moscow guide for businessmen (extracts). Published for foreign visitors by Moscow State University in 2003
The nature of Russians as any other nations has been greatly affected by time and place. The history of the country and its geographic location has put its indelible mark on Russian national character. The history explains and approves a lot, yet not many know it well.
The ages of constant military threat have fostered specific Russian patriotism and need for strong central governance. The severe climatic conditions caused the necessity to live and work collectively. The illimitable space of the country has moulded a specific Russian 'Spacious soul' or 'big nature'.
Even though the generalization is quite relative, the Russian national character has certain and consistent patterns and common features.
Russian fairy tales give a hint to what Russian national character is like. Since the fairy tales are the first step to understanding what the good and the evil is they form a notion what the world around is like and instill moral values.
It is interesting that the favourite fairytale character in Russia is Ivan the fool. He looks quite plain and acts seemingly stupid at first. Ivan has no aspiration for wealth and power, yet he gains a beautiful princess and sometimes half of the kingdom in the end. Whereas his brothers that are clever and down-to-earth fellows are made fools of themselves.
The main virtue and the strength of Ivan the fool is his sincerity and naivete. He lacks materialism and pragmatism, which symbolizes the national standard of true person's values.
Ivan the fool gives the last piece of bread to the hungry hare-Mom, which goes against the common sense. However this is the hare that later in a hard situation gets him the egg that contains the death of Koshchey the Deathless. Thus Ivan's mercy gets awarded.
No one is serious about Ivan the fool, which however is the source of his strength as well. His being naive, soft-hearted, having his head in the clouds and short on words makes smart guys treat him as a fool, but provides people's love and support.
Russian collectivism and communality is often called a peculiar feature of Russian national character. Peasants in Russian were the significant part of population for centuries, up to the 20th century. The peasants lived in communities. The community united peasants and could defend them from the foreign invaders, bandits, landlords (Russian pomeshchik), state officials, etc.
All the common questions like taxes payment, land division, punishment and help to a particular family or person were discussed and solved all together on public meetings. Even family conflicts were discussed in public by the community members.
Such system supported the weak members of the community and did not offer much power for the strong ones. Therefore collective lifestyle was widespread in Russia far before the Soviet times. The principles of social equality and levelling were a part of Russian character. The brotherhood and mutual support dominated the life instinct.
The outside foreigners have always admired brotherhood so natural for Russian national character. American senator in the beginning of the 20th century wrote: "Individualism is incurable feature of Anglo-Saxon national character. Russians have a national tendency to arrange their work around the community needs. A similar way of work started by the English, Germans or Americans would be interrupted by quarrels in the beginning and finally break up as the members would find it impossible to agree with each other. However in similar conditions the Russians work efficiently together and do not express antagonism."
Russian collectivism makes it possible for them to interfere with their friends, neighbours and just passers by freely. Foreigners living with their families in Moscow are always surprised by one and the same situation: if a parent takes a child for a walk bare-headed in cool whether, he is showered with advice and reprimands for the irresponsibility towards own child. Giving advice to unknown people right in the street is habitual behaviour for Russians.
Patriotism is very natural for Russian people. A Russian man can be quiet and shy. Russians like self-condemnation and auto-criticism. However one should not fall for claims like "This country (Russia) is impossible to live in!" Russians often complain about their lives, but they will hardly support foreigner's criticism about their country.
Russian people are generally interested in politics and current situation in the world. They are mainly men of course, however Russian women often react on important events, can read both domestic and foreign news and analysis. Provided they have enough time, women in Russia are frequently well informed on what is going on in the world. Western media often speculates on the idea that the majority of Russian society is still far away from having a say in politics and generally do not care about it. Numerous polls offer the data that a considerable part of Russians does not believe that they can influence policies in their country and thus have no interest in it. And thus the awareness of Russians of the current state of affairs is underestimated in the west.
This is not that true as Ru.net (Russian Internet) has a number of popular platforms where anyone can post the translation of interesting or controversial article published in the global media and add copyright notice. The articles cause disputes, opinions exchange and further search of information. Free access to various information sources lets Russians realize that Western media is the same instrument of the political power and government propaganda as Russian one. It is obvious that every country defends its own interests and Russians are convinced that Russian Federation has to do the same as well as implement their right to strengthen its defense capacity. Analysis of western media and actual political awareness does not let Russians largely support western-oriented opposition. In general the attitude to the west poking their nose into nation's business is quite negative. On the contrary Russian society supports independent of western influence political leaders and parties that attempt at solving the national problems from the inside.
The Russians show quite strange attitude to law compliance, various rules, orders and instructions. Walking in one of Moscow parks in the heavily populated district I paid attention to the abundance of signs prohibiting walking the dog in this area. However the park was full of people walking their dogs and none was paying attention to the signs. This was natural as the park was the only green zone in the district. The whole situation made bans absolutely senseless and impossible to follow. Looking at the children, waking at the same park, I realized that the situation taught them the first lesson of national attitude to rules and orders: not all of them are necessary to obey.
Knowing such feature of Russians no one would be surprised seeing smoking people under the ban sign "No smoking" or Russians checking for vodka a kiosk with the sign "No alcohol".
One has to bear in mind such attitude to rules while visiting Moscow. Beware, it is not habitual for Moscow drivers to stop at zebra crossing to let the foot-passengers go.
Collectivism and brotherhood of Russians generated some other features of Russian national character. The relationships among people are usually informal. Friendship is highly valued. Be ready to get detailed report on your formal "How are you". The western formality is something that Russians can be hurt by.
Russians are very open when it comes to their personal life. This is what westerners are usually amazed at. Small formal talks are alien and unpleasant to Russians. Thus don't be surprised if you have to listen to a detailed life story of the unknown person sharing the same compartment with you when you travel by train from Moscow to St-Petersburg.
The American traveller wrote in the 19th century that "travelling Russians become extremely talkative. Being as inquisitive and the Scottish, Russians demonstrate the incredible desire to openly speak about their lives". Page 2>
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