Sunday, June 21, 2009

There is no more lovely, friendly, charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.

Martin Luther said that and he was soooooo right!

These days I am very sentimental. I have just returned from my friends' wedding where I could witness a dazzlingly young and beautiful couple joining their hearts and lives. It is always so touching to see sparkling eyes of the two loving people and happy tears of the parents and relatives. And how wonderful the tradition of weddings is because so lots of people can come to witness the happiness and the beginning of a new family.

However, at this wedding I targeted at two things:

First, and the most important, was to share my friends' happy and significant step of the life.

Second, secondary :-), but still important, was to attend an American wedding.

NB: I am sorry, but cultural exchange is present in each and evry moment of my life in the USA. :-)

I should say that the American wedding differs a lot from what we have in Russia.

First of all, it was fun to do everything on-line: to inform that you are attending the wedding and to choose, buy and send the present. Moreover, I will tell you a secret: I am still worried that I have neither seen nor touhced the present and hope that it is in a good condition and as good as it was described. Besides, I do not know if it have already reached the addressee or not. In general, I know that everything is allright with it, but as it is something new to me, it makes me nervous.

Second, it was surprising to me that newlyweds had to care about the clothing for bride's maids. But the most surprising was that they had to give presents to their maids, parents, grandparents, and those people who helped them to prepare the wedding. In Russia, the young couple are the only people who receive presents to have a good beginning in their family life. So, it was very interesting to learn about this good tradition.

In this wedding there was one moment which made me very anxious: I knit a shrug for bride's dress and till the last moment I was worried how it was going to be. It was nice. A beautiful woman makes any clothes look beautiful :-).

However different or surprising some moments were, I was charmed by the church ceremony with beautiful organ music, magnificent voice of the psalm singer, and the grandeur of the ceremony itself. In Russia people can get married only in the registry office (some definitely have church marriages as well, but they do not have legal importance and they have to go to the registry office) which are also beautiful but different events. I am wondering if in the USA a couple still has to have some civil procedure to finish all the formalities of the marriage or the church ceremony is enough. It is what I should make my inquiries about :-).

The reception after the wedding was very nice, with lots of people, nice food and dancing. This is what might be common to weddings all over the world.

I wish all the best to Michelle and Edward in their new step of life and hope to see their children soon :-).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Three Values in Russian Society

As I mentioned in one of my posts, I am taking an advanced writing course and one of the first trials for this course was writing about values in my country. I do love Russia and miss her very very much. I would love to introduce to you my view on our values. Maybe, this will help you understand Russian people. At least, a little bit...

Three Examples of Cultural Values in my Society

Russian people have always been unpredictable and difficult to understand to other nationalities. The reason for that lies in the national values and beliefs which shape people’s mentality. For centuries, Russian people have had a rich system of values and beliefs making them so different to from others. The most important values among them are relationships, spirituality and patriotism.
Relationships are highly valued among Russian people, especially family relationships, friendship and relationship with all people around. The most precious are relationships between the family members. Parents and children’s ties of affection are very special. Parents provide their children with emotional and financial support until children are able to provide their living themselves, or, as we say in Russia, to stand on their own feet. Children, in return, provide full care to their parents when they become old. Besides, Russian children have been taught since childhood to be not only brothers and sisters, but friends. It explains why relationships between friends are priceless for Russian people. They share happy and sad moments of their lives. Moreover, friends are considered family members, or, sometimes, they are even more important. In some countries, when people have problems, feel depressed, or do not know what to do in their lives, they go to psychiatrist. Russian people go to friends in such moments. Finally, relationships between people in general are very important. Sometimes, Russian people can sacrifice something important to them in order not to hurt or offend their classmates, colleagues, or any other kind of ‘team’. To summarize, relationships are more important to Russian people than their individual necessities or problems.
In addition to relationships, Russian people are characterized by strong spirituality. Spirituality is much more than religious beliefs for Russians. It combines both religious values and superstitious Russian soul, creating Russian spirit by this combination. On one hand, Russian people are true Orthodox. However, they do not consider themselves religious. They do not die FOR God, but they die WITH God in their souls. Russian people do not trust in God, but they consider themselves God’s children which means that God is a piece of them. Russian people do not convert other people into Orthodoxy because they believe that there is only one God for everyone and it does not matter how you call Him. However, we cannot call it religiosity because, on the other hand, Russian people are superstitious and believe in signs. For example, a Russian person will not continue his way if a black cat runs over his way. Or, if a cat washes its face by the door, people say that unexpected guests are coming. Besides, Russian people believe that while they are on their land – Mother Earth supports them and this belief creates wonders. With this strange combination of religiosity and superstition Russian people believe in a strong spirit inside each person. For Russian people it does not matter how strong your physical abilities or intellect are. The most important is to have a strong inner spirit, or, in other words, a strong inner core. This spirit helped us survive and win in many wars when other nations tried to invade our country and in difficult times for our country.
The last of the mentioned, but not the least, value which comes from and, at the same time, helps keep relationships and spirituality, is patriotism. Russian patriotism means love for and devotion to our Motherland. Motherland for Russians includes our land which we call ‘Mother Earth’ and our beautiful landscapes. Moreover, Motherland is a place where you and your parents, family and friends were born and live. Russian patriotism has nothing to do with political system or government. When a Russian person says ‘I love my Motherland’ or ‘I miss my Motherland’ he means the people, wide space, the wide Russian soul, the strong Russian spirit, and friendly support, but he does not think about political system of the country. It is Russian patriotism that helped to win a victory over all invaders to our country and to overcome all difficulties which led to victories because when Russian soldiers went to war they protected their land, but not the political system.
Looking at the history of Russia and spending time in Russia with Russian people shows that strong ties of affection, strong inner core of Russian people and their love for their land, place where they were born shaped the culture and life of this country. Care about the relationships and little thinking about the political system explain why Russian economy and political situation have always been unstable. However, as our famous poet Fyodor Tyutchev wrote in 1866 and F. Jude translated
Russia is a thing of which
the intellect cannot conceive.
Hers is no common yardstick.
You measure her uniquely:
in Russia you believe!

And it is still true…

I found this translation in

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Differences between my Culture and the US with Regard to Nonverbal Behavior

In this summer semester I am enjoying the writing class taught by Sheena Macpherson. It is a good challenge to brain because we need to read, reflect on the reading, compare to what we know or to our culture and to do other brain activities. This time I would love to share with you my essay about the differences in nonverbal communication in Russain and US culture.
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said”, said Peter F. Drucker. In understanding what is said during communication, words play a very little role. Verbal communication is strongly supported by nonverbal communication which helps us understand the implied meaning of the speaker, his emotions, attitudes, and values. However, only knowledge of the culture can help us interpret most of the forms of the nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication in each culture differs in three ways: repertoire of behaviors, display rules and interpretations. Repertoire of behaviors includes body positions, movements, gestures, spatial requirements and postures specific to a particular culture. In their turn, display rules define what forms of nonverbal behavior are required, permitted or preferred in different situations. Interpretations of the same nonverbal behavior also vary from culture to culture. Being in the USA and watching people showed me that Russian and the US nonverbal communication have many differences and a few similarities among which especially noticeable are space, time and touch.
Spatial requirements for Russians and Americans are very similar but still different. I remember in the Intercultural Communication class consisting of international and American students having an assignment to converse for 2 minutes at the distance of one small step. By the end of the two endless minutes all American students were very far from their conversation partner. Those who kept one step distance were bent like gymnasts to have more distance at least between faces. It was no wonder because in the US culture it is typical to have personal space of about 4 feet and it is noticeable even in friendly conversations. When friends meet they shake hands or give a short hug and immediately step aside to have some distance for conversation. No one can invade American’s personal space.
Russian people, on the contrary, do not require that much personal space. They like to speak sitting or walking quite close to each other. When they converse facing each other, at the beginning of the conversation people usually keep some distance of about four feet, like Americans do. But, as the conversation proceeds, they tend to come closer and closer. However, they will still keep at least two feet distance. It is considered rude and unfriendly to keep large distance during the conversation. At the same time, people should leave some space between them for both partners feel comfortable. Remarkably, Russians like to converse with people opposite to them. For example, if the conversation is happening at the dinner table, they will more likely speak with that person who sits across the table rather than next to them.
Perception of time is a big issue for some cultures because of the differences in their time orientations and in the time systems they use. In the United States, time is money. The daily routine is scheduled and properly organized. Even meeting with friends is planned. Most of the European Americans always come on time whether for an appointment or a party. Americans speak in time measures and for each activity they assign a particular amount of time. When you need to meet with someone, you have to discuss the time a few days in advance. Each American has some kind of planner, organizer, or calendar where they look periodically. Time orientation in the US culture is for the future. Americans believe that tomorrow is the most important and that they create their future themselves. Looking at the US time-orientation and time system they use, they seem to be slaves of efficiency.
Russians, in contrast are present oriented. Russian proverbs say, ‘new time, new songs’, or ‘new time, new burden’. Russian people value their past, are proud of their rich history, and show respect to their past and history. However, they do not live by their past. Every new time brings something new and this newness is the most important. At the same time, they do not necessarily rely on something that will be good for the future. Russians often say, ‘I want everything and now’. For that reason, long-term projects are not much appreciated in Russia. Spontaneity and impulsivity are typical of Russians in any field: business or daily life. They can put aside a decision, prolong doing an important activity, but finally it will be done very fast and unexpected even to them themselves. The time system is also different to Russians. Being 15-20 minutes late or coming earlier is quite normal for Russians and is not considered impolite or disrespectful. Being not concerned about time themselves, Russians expect foreigners to respect the time of others.
With regard to the last concept under discussion, physical contact, the United States is considered a non-touching culture. Both men and women greet each other with a handshake or it can be a slight hug with stroking or patting. Hugging and kissing are not common for the US culture. Very often an attempt to hug, pat, or any kind of touch can be considered sexual harassment, depending on the people involved. If people walk touching each other in any way such as hugging or hand in hand, it can be viewed as a sexual relationship, especially between the same sex people. Touching your conversation partner can be considered aggressive and pushy. The necessity for personal space explains the lack of physical contact between conversation partners in the US culture.
Touch in Russia plays a role of energy exchange. When men meet, they shake hands. When women meet, they hug. Touching between opposite sex friends is not common, although close friends can sometimes hug. Shaking hands between a man and woman is considered rude and non-feminine. The attitude towards the same sex touching varies. On one hand, it is extremely undesirable when two men touch each other. Shaking hands is the only possible way of physical contact and any other contact will be socially unacceptable causing discomfort in other people. On the other hand, it is common when two women walk to hold each other’s elbows, or sit speaking and leaning toward or on each other or hugging one another. It is especially common between a mother and a child, sisters or good friends, and good friends of parents and their daughters. While speaking, especially explaining something, speakers can grab each other’s elbows or touch partner’s arm. A teacher can pat a pupil when he did a good job or as a way of encouragement. Touch in Russian culture shows affection, friendliness and give energy and strength to people.
Nonverbal communication varies from culture to culture. Russian and the US cultures have big differences in nonverbal behavior in terms of time, space and touch. Being more efficiency oriented, Americans differ from the spontaneous, relying-on-today Russians. Russians seem pushy and aggressive with their necessity for physical contact and view European Americans as cold, distant people. Only in spatial requirements they have some similarities which are still easily broken by Russians in a longer friendly conversation. All these differences tell that people should learn more about other cultures and try to be tolerant to others.
Thank you for reading such a long post!
Have a good start in the week!