Diary of a Russian
Nowadays many people say that they are the “citizens of the world,” and they feel at home in any country on earth. I do not think that such statements are hundred percent true. Another culture is always a new experience, and even if it does not cause any problems, it offers plenty of knowledge and impressions that are incomparable with those one has at home. To me, another country would never become “home”, but it may be a truly wonderful place where I may have a great time learning, working, and exploring the new culture. Here I give a brief account of my first five days in America, a country that seems so different from my homeland, but at the same time so exciting and interesting.
The first day was a nightmare. I was so tired after the flight that I hardly managed to see where I was going, to say nothing about the surroundings. However, no matter how exhausted I was, the meeting with a customs officer was obligatory for anyone coming to the USA by an international flight. When the officer asked me to open my bag, I felt a bit nervous. In Russia, people are slightly suspicious of the police and similar services as they are sometimes corrupted. It would be a mistake to say that there are no good and just policemen in Russia, but the system is not perfect. People often prefer to handle their problems by themselves avoiding any contacts with the police. It can be partially explained by low salaries in this sphere that makes some individuals take bribes, etc. However, it turned out that the projection of my attitude towards Russian police to the American customs officers was wrong. The man who inspected my bag was very friendly and smiling. When he noticed my nervousness, he explained that all US airports had introduced complex antiterrorist security measures, so such a thorough examination of luggage was a common thing. After he finished and told me that everything was OK, he wished me to have a good time in the USA. This episode at the airport told me much both about the police and customs in America and also was the evidence of a very high level of antiterrorism systems in the country. It was different from Russia where, despite several terrorist attacks, people feel more relaxed about this threat, especially in small towns.
On the second day in America, I went to the supermarket for the first time. I needed to buy some food and, moreover, I was in a good mood to start exploring the territory near the place where I lived. There are no problems with food in Russia, and in large cities the supermarkets are so huge that a person can easily get lost. By the way, I hate them, preferring small family-run shops where the assortment is much smaller but the atmosphere is friendly and warm. Nevertheless, when I came to the American supermarket, I was shocked because I understood that it would be rather difficult to get used to absolutely different products and manufacturers. I did not know what companies make better yogurts and what mineral water is less salty. Buying even a bottle of oil was a real quest. The problem was not only in unknown food makers but also in the difference between traditional Russian and American cuisines. For example, I prefer rye bread that is called “black” in Russia. I think that it is healthier than “white” bread as it has lower glycemic index. However, I did not manage to find this kind of bread at the supermarket. There were a couple of similar loaves, so I understood that I had to find some substitutes to my traditional choices. Very many products were labeled as “organic” that is very rare in Russia. Products simply have a small line saying that they are not genetically modified, and they are not as expensive as good organic brands in the USA. Therefore, the second day in America was a certain introduction to the American food culture.
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On the third day, I managed to find time for a really long walk around the city. I like watching people and sometimes even making up stories about their lives. I think it is a very good exercise that helps me to understand other people better and also boost my imagination and creativity. Probably I will even write a novel inspired by such walks.
The main difference between people walking along the streets in Russia and America is obvious from the first minute. American streets are flooded with different people – men and women dress differently ranging from something really awful and extremely colorful to black suits worn probably by some businessmen. People belong to different ethnic groups. Big cities in Russia are more “international” than smaller ones, mostly due to a great number of African, Arab, and Indian students coming to study at famous universities, but even Moscow cannot be compared with the USA. The American society is really multicultural, and it can be seen in different aspects. For example, I saw some women wearing traditional Indian sari. It is very difficult to imagine a woman even in Moscow wearing sari in the subway. She can do it, but she will stand out too much and likely to refuse to do it in the future. On that day, I talked with my Russian relatives and told them that one simple walk told me more about America than all the articles I read on the web.
Another significant difference between America and Russia was a general level of welfare in these countries. Even a small walk down the street or a visit to the supermarket was a good proof of the fact that the USA economy is about six times larger than the Russian one. People buy more, they have more cars, and often these cars are much larger than in Russia. However, I do not approve this American tendency to have a very big automobile as a symbol of high economic status. I believe that such vehicles significantly damage the environment, and there is no use in having them in the city, especially if you never drive on bad country roads. By the way, the roads in America are also much better than in Russia. It means that the local authorities have more funds on maintaining the city’s good looks, and they care more about the citizens’ comfort. In addition, despite some exceptions, the streets of American cities are also much cleaner. In other words, the practical aspects of living in America seemed to me better and more favorable than in Russia.
This day brought the first unpleasant shock to me. When I was entering a shop, I saw a lady also going to enter this place. I stopped and opened a door for her letting her go first. Her reaction puzzled me a lot. She stopped and in a very irritated manner told me that she could easily do that herself without my help. I was really shocked and could not understand what was wrong in my behavior. I asked her to excuse me and quickly went inside the shop. Women in Russia expect men to open doors for them, help them to carry bags, etc. It is also absolutely normal when a man pays for a woman at the restaurant even if she is not his girlfriend or a wife. However, this episode and some other that happened with me in the USA told me that American women are more feministic and independent than Russian. Moreover, the behavior that is considered quite normal in my home country can be treated as a form of sexual aggression in America. In Russia people touch one another more frequently than in America; embrace a colleague, with whom you are on friendly terms with, is a common thing. In America, as I understood, independence and personal space meant much more than in Russia.
These were my impressions written during the first five days in America. In general, they were rather positive than negative. I was impressed by the clean cities, friendly police, and high standards of life. I think that it was only the beginning of my journey into American culture, but I have already noticed many differences in lifestyle and norms. However, I believe that these differences are not obstacles in understanding a new culture but rather an interesting challenge. I hope I will find more time not only to study here but also to explore the nature and history of the USA. I would like to visit some national parks and learn more about the culture of Native Americans that has been fascinating me since my childhood. I think it would also be an interesting idea to start a blog on the web telling people about the impressions of a Russian who came to America for the first time. It could be both funny and exciting, but also, it may help many people to avoid the cultural shock after the arrival. The Russians often say, “If I knew where to fall, I would put some straw underneath.” America is a wonderful place, but it is better to know about the main cultural differences before going here.