I am Russian by birth and upbringing, but my family had a chance to move to America when I was in my teens. Though it happened almost thirteen years ago, some of the impressions and experiences of my first days in the new country are still fresh in my mind. The American perception of privacy and propriety were, and still remain, the most different part of my inter-cultural social experience. Let me explain this with a set of examples.
Smiling in public. Polite smiles are among the most confusing experiences a Russian person has in America. I don't mean to say we are a sullen nation. However, friendly smiles are usually shared by people who know each other in Russia. It is not common for strangers to smile at each other, the way people often do in America. In fact, there is a saying in Russia "Smiling without a reason makes one a fool". To come from this culture to the American "grin to say hi" tradition was very confusing. In fact, during my first few months in America I subconsciously checked the way I looked every time a stranger smiled at me, because I thought something made me look funny!
Neighbors. In Russia, people usually live in the same area for a long time. As a result, neighbors become "relatives by proximity". They know what goes on in your life, you know what's happening in theirs. They can come over to borrow some salt or share cookies -- uninvited, unannounced... simply because they are a part of your life. Neighbors are, essentially, an integral part of a Russian's life. This is not something I've seen much in America. People who grew up in the neighboring houses can be friends, but when they move, no similarly intimate relationships seem to form. In Russia, I lived in a thirty-apartment building as a kid -- I knew the families on my floor pretty well, and was more or less aware of what the rest were like. I would be hard-pressed to describe one of my neighbors in the twelve-apartment building I live in now... or in any other place where I've rented an apartment over the years.
Being yourself. People are a lot less judgmental in America. For example, most people in Russia would have something negative to say about a gay person, someone with developmental disorders, or someone dressed too casually. Such judgments are usually a knee-jerk reaction. In Russia, the perception is that you are supposed to look proper and act "normal" -- and it's not wrong to chastise someone who does not fit the pattern. This was the change I welcomed most in America. To go from being "the weird one" -- someone who classmates pick on because they're different -- to being "just someone else" felt liberating. Thirteen years later, it still does!
I am certain these and other cultural differences gave me a strong background as a writer. I hope you enjoyed this peek into the mind of a Russian immigrant, and I hope you will enjoy the book that grew out of these experiences.
And I certainly welcome your questions, to help me refresh my mind and share more of the Russian-American comparisons you may be interested in!
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Ekaterina Yuvasheva was born in Rostov, Russia a few years before the fall of the Soviet Union. A bookish kid, she let her imagination run wild, which became an important part of understanding the world around her. At fifteen, her family moved to America where she graduated college, then Temple University Pharmacy school and become a Pharmacist.
She recently published a 470 page novel titled: "I Am Angelo: Sense of Direction." Many aspects of the story -- from her character's loneliness and opportunities at the School to his choice of a Healer career -- are drawn from experience.