Know thy enemy. Sun Tzu’s words from The Art of War are a succinct reminder that the best way to defeat your opponent in any conflict is to know him inside and out, his tastes and tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. But Russians – about whom this article is being written – are no longer the enemy. Just the opposite. In the twenty years since the collapse of Communism, we have been joining forces with Russians, Ukrainians, and with people from all the other F.S.U. countries, forming new relationships of all types. And yet Americans remain mostly in the dark about their new comrades, ill informed about the Russians’ character and their customs.

Know thy business partner. Know thy fiance;. Know thy friend. The purpose of this article is to shed a bit of light on the vast unknown that is Russian culture.

There’s a lingering Russian mindset, a holdover from Soviet times, wherein The People’s comfort is irrelevant. This strikingly non-American attitude is especially prevalent in mass transit. Trains are inevitably too hot, even in winter, and yet opening a window in your compartment is impossible. Train toilets border on deplorable. Benches at bus stops are non-existent. The list goes on, but the details aren’t as important as what we can learn from this: Russians have lifelong experience with suffering. russian grocery store

Their living conditions might also be considered a form of suffering, though the word is a bit strong. Certainly, though, it’s a lower standard of living when the average dwelling is a two room apartment. And bear in mind that the word ‘average’ implies that nearly half the country is even worse off, getting by in a one-bedroom flat. An entire family living in 400 square feet. When you realize how they live, you can better understand their envy of us.

Russians also envy the fact that essentially every American owns or has access to a car. True, there are more cars than ever before in Russia, but the per capita figures tell the real story. In the United States, according to wikipedia, there are 765 cars per 1000 people, putting us at #1 on the list. Russia, meanwhile, is 50th, with a mere 195 cars per 1000 people. The result is that a majority of the population rides the bus. While this is no doubt good for the environment, and Russians certainly have smaller carbon footprints than most others in the industrialized world, this nevertheless means most people travel their whole lives by bus. They ride to work, to relax, to shop. Imagine always having to carry your groceries on the bus…and walk home with them from the bus stop.

Russians indeed walk far more than Americans do, and it’s immediately apparent in the average person’s body type. In a word, Russians are slender. Not that this is entirely due to walking. Russians are thin because they don’t live in an eating-oriented culture. While Americans are obsessed with food, Russians have a pragmatic approach: They eat when they’re hungry, and they eat sensibly. A few McDonalds aside, the country is nearly bereft of fast food establishments. And yet, come to a Russian’s home for dinner, and expect a feast fit for royalty.



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