What stereotypes do you know about Russia?
This is almost the first question I ask my new foreign friends after some classic small talk. As a buddy, I always meet a lot of foreigners. And it’s extremely interesting to know what people think about our country from the other side of the world.
When I was a little girl and only dreamt of being an ITMO student, I was interested in this question. I remember myself typing in google search something like "What do you think about Russia?". Of course, I found some forums telling me about bears and vodka but clearly it wasn’t enough.
Now I’m lucky to be a buddy for foreign students. I can’t imagine myself without this part of my life! Walking around with a bunch of Indian students? — Easy. Talking about literature and philosophy with a Slovenian student? — No problem. Listening to the specifics of German culture from a German student? — You're welcome.
So with all this experience of talking with foreigners, I wasn’t too shy to ask them what they had heard about Russia before they crossed the border.
First of all, obvious things. Everybody heard about vodka, balalaika, matryoshka and beautiful girls. And it’s not completely untrue (especially the last one) but that’s not it. That’s not the essence. Of course, Russian people drink a lot but not only vodka…
Secondly, less obvious but still an obvious thing. A lot of paperwork. Unfortunately, this stereotype is not only close to the truth, it’s completely true. Almost every foreign student was negatively surprised by the amount of papers he needed to fill out and take somewhere and then take somewhere else and then put a stamp on it. But what can we do, right?:)
But that’s not so bad! I was really happy to hear a lot of nice things my new friends had explored. Especially one thing which almost made me cry. My students told me about people. And not only about buddies (which was also very flattering) but about usual people on the streets. Taxi drivers or cashiers, drunks in bars or cleaners, even policemen — they’re all nice and kind. They were supportive and wanted to help even if they didn’t really speak English. That was touching.
After all, these "never been to Russia' people weren’t disappointed. They didn’t complain, they didn’t want to go back home. These students liked our city, our country. They liked our culture, people, even the architecture in Kupchino (just one crazy guy). And all of their feelings were passed along to me. I looked at familiar places in a new way. They inspired me to do something, to improve something, to enjoy my day a little bit more. That’s weird, you need to be told that you live in a great place by someone who just visited it.
Afterwards, I wanted to make a new stereotype about Russia, about its new generation. We’re young, passionate, smart, open-minded and open-hearted. And we just want it all!