I was expecting many differences between Russian and American homes, but was pleasantly surprised to find only a few differences. Each nation wants the same in family dynamics—comfort and safety. Parents urge their children to study so they can get into good universities to get a good paying job to live a stable life. Families are close too. Many couples and groups are walking the streets of Petrozavodsk, spending time together running errands and living in the moment. I see this as different in America, as most Americans do not just walk around a city with their family. Most Americans are in a hurry or have a schedule rather than taking the time for a stroll just to be. I have seen Americans spend time together, but not via leisurely stroll. So this was a nice sight in Russia.
Spending time at a family dacha also showed a different aspect to family life in Russia compared to America. While most families in America only have one home, Russians have a second get-away cabin outside the bustling, noisy city. The dacha I had the opportunity to visit was inhabited by the student’s grandparents for the majority of each summer. And most families spend long weekends at their dachas during summertime, while in America, getting away from the city takes a lot of planning and coordination of schedules to get a family together. In Russia, the dacha is available to the family on an as-needed basis. This was enjoyable to see a family come together and we only sat and talked, enjoying conversation over tea rather than the distractions of studies, work, or technology. In America, family camping trips get frustrating to coordinate. And when a family does get away, children are distracted by gaming systems and adults tinker with cooling vents rather than being in the moment to enjoy their natural surroundings.
Also regarding social interactions Russians beat Americans again. I have seen and heard many Russians talking on the phone to relatives, not just in the polite “Oh, I should call grandma this month” phone call, but a genuine courtesy call. Even if the phone call only lasts a few minutes, the students I have seen do this have a happy grin and twinkle in their eye because they have such a deep relationship with their relatives. In America, people (and yes, me included) get so wrapped up in themselves that we dread the monthly, or yearly, phone call to what should be a close relative.
These close relationships are also seen within the friendship of the students. The students are constantly jostling each other in play, assisting each other in translations and explanations, as well as actively listening to each other. I have enjoyed seeing the students handshake or hug in greeting or departing the others’ company. This shows true friendship. I was really touched when I saw one Russian girl jump from her seat in glee and run to a friend for a tackling hug.
My expectations of the Russians was for them to be reserved and even a little cold in conversation. Yet these two friends embracing each other, and our Russian hosts, have displayed a variety of emotions. Albeit with their friends and relatives, but these emotions are just that much more genuine when in close company versus the façade that Americans tend to have.
This does not extend just to friendships, but is also seen in the Russian home. My host family is very close and their relationship is almost palpable in the atmosphere when I am around them, from small touches to get attention or emphasize a point, to leaning on another while watching a movie to parting hugs and kisses. Although I am going to tangent on this topic—Russians touch a lot more than Americans. Russians have a very small personal space concept versus Americans. During my dacha stay I was randomly touched by people during the day, which would not have happened in America. Even walking the hallways of the university people tend to pass right next to you versus arm’s length-ish as per American standards. I could handle the closeness in a crowded bus and metro, but the dacha and university halls was quite unnerving since my American personal space expectation was completely ignored. Back to family touching—it’s adorable to see my host’s mom and her so close. In America, I do see close families—as indicated by constant teasing and comfortable relationship—but Russians take it to the next level with less words and more actions. I have woken up twice to the breakfast already set and coffee ready to brew, their effort to make a complete stranger to them feel appreciated and thought about. And my host is constantly cuddling with her mom and sister, physically showing her appreciation of their relationship.
|Russian kitchen table, still the center of great conversations|
It’s also nice to see Russians actually talking to each other. In America, when people get together for a dinner, phones and/or earphones get more attention than the people. Our Russian hosts, when together, are in the moment and actually talking with each other. While phones may be looked at, they are not in front of a Russians’ face as seen in America. This again reiterates the genuine relationship a Russian has to his/her friends or family. The fact that a Russian is actually talking to you versus an American mumbling to you while thumbing through Facebook. It’s the little things that make a difference.
I believe that close relationships also come from the physical layout of a Russian flat. They are small, usually with one or two bedrooms, a kitchen, toilet and bathroom, but a family is able to communicate that much better because of the limited space. While in America, houses are spacious and each member has his/her own room.
This causes physical separation and a lack of communication, causing a relationship to not really form. In Russia, and in my host flat, the sisters share a room. More than likely this was a factor that led in to their close relationship. Also, due to the limited space, Russians do not get so caught up in material possessions as Americans do. Russians would rather have a small table and mismatched dinnerware for family and friends versus Americans with a grandiose table and expensive matching dinnerware when entertaining guests. Though the flats I have seen have an amazing amount of storage space, I have not seen as many mundane knickknacks as I have seen in America. Russians seem to be more about the people and emotions versus showing off. It’s quite endearing. All in all I have seen a different level of emotions in Russia versus America. At a Russian home, families talk and gather and actively listen to one another, creating a fantastic bond. Russian friends go out often, either to a restaurant or another’s house, on a constant basis to spend time with their friends. America has these interactions too, but with Americans having a fast-paced mindset, relationships do not seem as vivid as compared to Russia (in this author’s opinion). Every person, Russian and American, wants good by their family and friends. But Russians show genuine emotions allowing their relationships to be more concrete and wholesome.
by Kendra Sanford