Friday, December 08, 2006

Our Russians

Now that a Russian-language pro-Putin newspaper appeared in Finland in one blog's guestbook some people were asking about the integration of Russians abroad. I figured I'd better write about it here, rather than fill up other people's guestbooks with my ramblings. I am obviously writing from personal experience, which is mostly limited to the USA and Finland.

One word of warning: the ex-Russians who like Russia and those who don't are two different crowds and don't mix much, or well. My experience with the other half is limited mostly to either the people who were nice enough that I felt like hanging out with them, or the ones obnoxious enough as to be quite memorable.

Anyway, us (the community I have spent a good portion of my teenage years in, the Soviet refugees that came to the US in the 1970-1990):

Pretty much everybody works, except for the old people. The environment I grew up in is typical for the educated classes of such refugees, but pretty much all the blue-collar people work too.

My parents are engineers. Most of their friends are engineers too, but some are university researchers, doctors or businesspeople. They mostly hang out with others like themselves: Russian Jews who came in the 70s, 80s or 90s while being in their thirties or forties, work in professional jobs and don't like Russia much. Most of the people who came back then are Jewish and don't like Russia much. Sometimes they also hang out with gentiles, native-born Americans, or immigrants from other countries. Patriotic Russians are mostly avoided like a plague.

They don't read Russian newspapers or watch Russian TV, but they do buy Russian books and CDs, and they do shop in Russian food stores regularly. The food that they buy there is usually made in New York - or sometimes in Finland. They mostly only buy the Russian music and movies that they used to like back in Russia, but sometimes somebody finds something new, and then it spreads through the community.

They all speak English, with variable success. Some are almost accent-free, some make the kind of grammatical mistakes that would make language teachers commit group suicide.

They travel a lot, mostly in Europe. Some have been to Russia since leaving it. Some make fun of them for that.

Sometimes they meet Russians who live in Russia and talk about it. They listen and yawn politely. Sometimes they run into the kind of Russians who live in the US but hate it and say that in Russia everything was better. They usually suggest that the fucking morons could bugger off back to Russia.

Some of them don't care whether or not their children learn Russian; some hire teachers to teach them to read and write Russian; neither want their children to participate in bilingual programs in school.

They startle native-born Americans by an unusual selection of political views. The native-born folk are not accustommed to hearing, say, support for same-sex marriage and support for the war in Iraq from the same person.

The children are more or less American. Some of them remember Russia and don't want to have anything to do with it. Some don't, and are curious, and go for a visit.

The old people watch Russian TV (made in NYC) and read Russian newspapers (also made in NYC). Some of them care about Russia, some don't. All of them shop in the Russian food stores. Sometimes they call dollars rubles, and the other way around. Sometimes they watch hockey and scream "we won from us 4-2!", and then you have to ask them which we won from which us. There are English classes for the elderly, but few of them learn the language well enough to communicate. Hospitals have Russian interpreters available and a lor of Russian staff anyway; some services are available in Russian, for some, you need to come with your own interpreter. In this case they just grab the nearest Russian kid.

The "proud to be Russian" crowd exists but is not numerous, and I have had no contact with them lately. My parents have seen a couple of them last year, and they are still talking about it like about a visit to the zoo.

The favorite hobby of the Russians is getting together and talking about how they don't like Russians. It lasts for a while and then they get distracted by other topics.

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