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Letter From ĎDeepí Russia

By The  Saker

I recently spoke to a contact of mine in Russia and since he was living in a rather typical Russian town away from the huge Moscow megapolis or even one of the major Russian cities, I asked him to share with us his simple daily experience of Russia.  He kindly agreed and here is his letter below.  I hope that these impression of a 25 year old man from the West will be another useful illustration of the ďreal RussiaĒ which is rarely, if ever, shown to the people of the West.

The  Saker

April 07, 2015 "ICH" - Hello everyone!

Because the political situation relating to Russia is tense at the moment, please forgive me for writing anonymously. The Saker asked me to write about my experiences in Russia, to shed some light on a country that is still quite unknown in western Europe and North America, and this post is in response his requests.

About me: Iím from North America, 25 years old, nearly completed a Masters degree in Economic Geography, and Iím currently living and working as an English teacher in the Russian province, where Iím able to meet with and talk with a variety of Russian people: everyone from simple workers to skilled tradesmen, lawyers, and city administrators. Iím also a well-informed convert from Roman Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy, and some of my friends and acquaintances are clergy (and a bishop) in the Russian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church in America, and ROCOR (the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia).

Ever since the situation in Ukraine blew up, Iíve followed the news regularly and read everything I could about eastern Europe. Most, if not all sources are biased and incomplete to a degree, and thatís just a fact of life with information. Bias doesnít mean that you donít listen to other sources of information, just that everything is incomplete or in error to some extent. Get used to itÖ itís totally natural. The only criteria that I have for checking my sources is that 1. the information that they present is rich, complete, and ideally close to first hand; 2. the source thinks about information in rational, coherent ways; 3. their conclusions are spiritually healthy, and encourage people to get closer to God and peace, instead of to follow destructive passions (anger, lust, cold-heartedness, despair, etc.) away from God. This is how I keep my head out of my ass. Now, academic stuff asideÖ

Firstly, Russians are quite well-informed. Many of them are able to understand English to a basic level, so they can read western news sources. They are not impressed by western news sources, which are at best incomplete and one-sided. They are even less impressed by mainstream Ukrainian sources, that they consider to be completely insane. Yes, they can understand everything thatís published in Ukraine, since Ukrainian is quite similar to Russian. Many people also have relatives in Ukraine and, in the past, made regular trips to Ukraine. In my town, I know two such people personally. They are quite discouraged by Ukraineís self-destruction, but they are hopeful that peace will eventually return to the country.

Secondly, Russians are nationalistic, but less so than other countries (the North American and Poland, for exampleÖ I say this because Iíve traveled in both places). Some of them put Russian flags, St. Georgeís ribbons, and Orthodox prayer ropes from their car mirrors, but many do not. They have a strong, living connection to their history and country, something that I do not really see in the West. Some people are concerned because they understand that their country, and more importantly, their people, are under attack by western powers, but generally they are quite confident in Russiaís strength to pull through one way or another. No Russian I have ever met has any desire for anything but peace with Ukraine, Poland, or any other country. Russia has plenty enough land already, and no desire to police or control some unfriendly territory. The people Iíve spoken with prefer to build trade and investment, without relying on military power.

Finally, Russians are not a bunch of low-achieving drunks. If you have that stereotype in mind, get rid of it now! The people I know are much more addicted to tea and yummy desserts than alcohol. The Russian education system is, in my opinion, substantially better and more rigorous than in North America, and students have many reasons to believe that good, career employment awaits them when they finish school. I am not sure of the details, but in high school the students spend 8-9 hours at school every day, 6 days every week. On the other days and during evenings, most students have tutoring or extra curricular activities, and itís rare to see big groups of school-age kids sitting around drinking or wasting time. Drinking, smoking, and drugs are increasingly looked down on by teenagers as something done by unsuccessful people who lived in disastrous times during the 1990ís and early 2000ís. That said, there are some social problems and concerns remaining, for example: 1. porn and other unhealthy uses of computers and internet (not discussed within families, because of a conservative mindset that would rather not address such problems). This sometimes develops into promiscuity and pregnancies outside of marriage, both of which seem to be more tolerated here than in the western world; 2. Russiansí general love for driving really fast on the roads; 3. a cultural lack of concern for safety standards (religious icons in cars instead of air bags); 4. a cultural willingness to spend a lot of money (often borrowed on credit) for nice cars and clothes. This is mysteriously in contrast to Russiansí desire to save money wherever possible, using discount cards, homemade (and dacha-grown) food, etc. Russians always have a love for cute and beautiful things, to a degree not found in North America.

Regarding emigration, many westerners have the stereotype in mind that Russians all want to escape to the west. It is definitely false. Out of approximately 30 students that I teach, I know of 4 who are seriously considering leaving Russia permanently. Others are interested in studying, traveling or working abroad temporarily, while the majority have no plans to emigrate, since there are plenty of good opportunities here in Russia, and people donít want to live far from their families. Learning other languages is a good way to improve employability though.

The last stereotype: Russian girls are very beautiful. This one is obviously true, and I was somewhat shocked when I arrived. The girls here also have the impression that western men are *better* than Russian men, with fewer problems. No, I will not elaborate and provide more details from my own life on the topic of Russian girls.

Unfortunately, I donít have very much time at all to write a beautiful descriptive essay about Russia and experiences here. My work and life keep me very busy, and I can only write some raw and unedited thoughts.





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