‘Pretty’ Women and ‘Unfriendly’ People: What Do Foreigners Think About Moscow?
1,424 views   /  5 Jun 2015
It is always interesting to know what people from other countries think about your home city. Here I would like to tell you opinion of foreigners who visited the Russian capital and agreed to share their thoughts.
By Anastasia Fistashka
1. Lack of English Speakers
The lack of people who speak English seems to be a surprise for many foreign visitors. Indeed, the city, located at the heart of the world’s largest country, is expected to have at least a modest level of interlanguage communication. But the reality is totally different. Many Russians have a very primitive command of foreign languages or do not speak them at all.
“The lack of English was a surprise,” said Rebecca from Canada, adding, however, that in her case is was a rather positive moment. “[It was] a nice feeling. We were in a very different place, which is what we wanted. As well, it was not too touristy, which was a real plus,” she explained.
In most cases, however, inability to communicate with other people and be understood is a rather serious obstacle. I was a witness of a number of curious situations myself, when people struggled to order in a café or buy medicine in a drugstore, but in vain.
Reasons for such linguistic ignorance could be different. Maybe, it is Russia’s Soviet past when Russian was the most commonly spoken language for all countries of the Soviet bloc. Another factor could be a relative isolation and conservatism of Russian society, the lack of tourism and surprisingly widespread disinterest (or negative attitude) towards the West.
“Why should I speak English when I am not going to communicate with foreigners or leave my country?”, “Why should I learn the language which was imposed on us by Western countries?” an ordinary Russian may ask.
Of course, the situation improves as time goes by. The young generation, especially in big cities, starts to appreciate better career prospects that come from the knowledge of English and other foreign languages. However, the process is still at the beginning and it will take some time until the situation improves.
2. The City’s Beauty: Modern, Vast and Clean
What is always pleasant to know, is that travel may help people to overcome stereotypes and clichés they previously had in their minds. Though it may sound ridiculous, some still have the stereotypical image of Russia as a remote, cold country, where people wear ushanka (a fur hat with ear flaps) and valenki (traditional felt boots), drink vodka and walk down the streets alongside with bears from the forest.
The statement, of course, is a little bit exaggerated. But in fact, many visitors are often surprised to see that Moscow is literally a leading world metropolis. The city has super-modern business districts, well-developed entertainment infrastructure, beautiful buildings and stylish people.
“I think I still had old Cold War images of Russia in my head. The metro, the grand buildings — they were incredible,” Rebecca said.
It may be important to mention that such “vastness” of the city – its monumental buildings, wide streets and high metro ceilings – was definitely inherited from the times of Cold War. But all in all Rebecca is right. Over the past few decades, Moscow turned into the incredibly modern capital city, which has nothing in common with its stereotypical images.
“Actually I think Moscow is an extremely welcoming city where you feel very fast at home. The metro is great, the streets are clean, there are nice restaurants, high security, Russians are lovely and great hosts,” said Marion from France. “Often, capital cities tend to become greyer and to be dirty. It was not the case in Moscow,” she added.
Positive impressions of the city alternate with admiring comments about Russian women. The fact of their beauty seems to be recognized not only by male, but also by female visitors.
“I was surprised by all these pretty girls. Russian women are extremely beautiful,” Marion said.
Indeed, Moscow is full of good-looking, fashionable women. With beautiful make-up, well-dressed and stylish, they walk down the streets attracting attention of the opposite sex and newcomers.
4. ‘Never Smiling’ People
The sad thing is, however, that the beauty of Russian women is sometimes the only positive impression foreigners have about Russians. Many of them think Russians are gloomy and unfriendly people, who may snarl at strangers for no apparent reason.
Many times I’ve heard an opinion that Russians never smile and seem to look unhappy.
“People were generally fairly stern, more so than most places I’ve visited,” said Nik from the United States, who lived in Moscow for several months.
Comments about Russian people’s ‘unfriendliness’ touch me on the raw. Hundreds of times in my life – while traveling or living abroad – I was asked the same question: “Why are you so serious? Why don’t you smile?”
The explanation for my seriousness was quite simple: it was just the fact that I was deep in thought. But a person asking, apparently, did not make much effort to consider such an option.
Even worse, however, was the following attempt of such people to teach me “how to do it right.” They broke into a terrible grin and, apparently, wanted a similar response from me. Eventually, I was forced to follow the drill to get rid of annoying individuals as fast as possible. But by that time my mood was already spoiled.
The reason for such misunderstanding may also lie in different models of social behavior. Russians don’t tend to hide their emotions, regardless of how negative or positive they might feel. Usually, one would not make much effort to hide the fact that he or she has personal problems or troubles at work. But, at the same time, one would also openly express one’s joy when receiving good news. Russian people tend to always openly express their feelings – be it annoyance or happiness. They can make it in words (though of course it does not justify cases of open rudeness in public places) or, unconsciously, by the look on their faces.
For many, especially Western, visitors, it might seem unusual. They got used to another pattern of personal contact when people try to smile and be kind to each other all the time. However, I would not prefer this one. While living in Europe for nearly two years, I could never get rid of the impression that such kindness was ‘fake’ and superficial. I saw how the polite smile of a medical worker turned into the strained grimace once he felt that you wanted a more careful medical inspection. I also saw how a courteous shop assistant became annoyed when you found out some defects in his product.
All I want to say is that first impressions are often misleading. ‘Friendliness’ of some people can turn out to be a false mask, while those who seem stern and unfriendly at first sight may turn out to be more helpful in a difficult situation.
The views and opinions contained in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Russian Accent.
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