What are they like: the British and the Russians?
Have you ever been to England? Or have you ever had a conversation with an Englishman? As for me, I’ve had a chance to visit that country and to speak with natives there. That’s why I know how important it is to understand the British and their attitude to Russians.
In the modern world everything is in interaction. All countries and nations communicate with each other. To make this communication productive, people should learn and understand the culture of the people they are talking to.
I have been to Great Britain twice. As written in the book by George Mikes How to Be a Brit in England everything is the other way round. On Sundays on the continent even the poorest person puts on his best suit, tries to look respectable, and at the same time the life of the country becomes gay and cheerful; in England even the richest peer dresses in some peculiar rags and the country becomes dreary. On the continent there is one topic which should be avoided – the weather; in England, if you don’t repeat the phrase “Lovely day, isn’t it?” at least two hundred times a day, you are considered a bit dull. On the continent people have good food; in England people have good table manners. Although the author refers to the continent, all this is perfectly true of Russia, as well.
In contrast to us, the British never wash themselves under the stream of water. They splash in a wash-stand. Also the English don’t usually rinse after the bath, but begin to dry themselves in the bath foam. This custom extends to washing the dishes.
At first sight the British seem very kind and sympathetic. They always help foreigners find the way to where they’re going; shopkeepers are always friendly too. But we should realize that their smiles are not always sincere. The English just pretend to be polite. They always say “Sorry”, but they don’t really mean it. In Russia we behave in another way: if we are in a bad mood, we don’t smile at everyone. Our feelings and emotions are often seen in our faces.
The British are keen on being polite. Asking them for something, you should remember such special words as “could you please”, “don’t you mind” and so on. Without those words it seems to them that you’re rude or are going to argue. It’s very important to say all those phrases. You can’t even say “Give me, please” instead of “Could you give me...”. Not knowing all that, lots of people don’t get a job, because their potential employers consider them to be rude.
During my first visit to London I remember seeing a man in the underground asking for information from a ticket seller. The latter didn’t reply and the man said “Thank you very much”, started walking off, and then turned around and said “stupid”. This situation shows that the English polite way of behaviour is probably a mask for all kinds of other feelings. They may partly be polite because they are afraid of drama and confrontation.
Everyone knows that the English are very restrained. But it doesn’t prevent them from joking. Humour is widely spread in Britain; however, it’s very dry and ironic. Russian humour may be more visual then verbal. I remember that when in Britain we studied British humour, we found it very interesting. Humour helps people relax and the British understand exactly how important that is. Humour, however, may conceal our feelings. I quite agree with Sigmund Freud who said: “Humour helps us express things in a roundabout way”. It’s a way of releasing repression and this is really important for the average British character.
Great Britain is a country of private life. An Englishman isn’t so looped on money and work as Russians are. The English value their personal life and their homes. That is why, as I can see it, they like gardening and pets.
A cat or a dog in England is a favourite member of the family. The English say: “If you are walking with a friend – you can keep silent, but if you are walking with the dog – you should talk.” This saying illustrates the relationships between the British and their pets.
Once, I was chatting with my English friend, whose name is Richard, and our conversation turned to a circus. He told me that in Britain animals never perform in circuses. To tell the truth, I was very surprised. I can’t imagine a circus without animals. I asked my friend why it is so. And the answer was: the English are afraid that animals may feel embarrassed in the circus arena. It sounds strange for us, but we shouldn’t forget the English love for pets and animals. Most Russians also have pets, we treat them kindly; but we love them realizing that they’re just animals.
Being in Great Britain, I was very interested in how the British see us, what they think about us. At first the information wasn’t very satisfactory. Russia seems a brutal country for the British. I consider that probably foreign television, which most of the time shows only our criminality, is guilty of that point of view. Also the English compare Russia to a bear, which has been sleeping for a long time and now it’s waking up. And no one knows how this bear is going to behave at the next moment. Of course such thoughts come straight from the history of our country. However, I hope that opinions like this one will soon fade from the minds of the English.
The thing that really made me glad was the information that the British consider us to be very stylish, especially as we know that English people are a little conservative in dress. One thing that surprised me a lot was that the British think that there is great shopping in Moscow, while the Russians, on the contrary, try to do their shopping abroad.
Chatting with Richard a few days ago, I told him that I was watching a TV program about a psychic. First he didn’t believe me, because, as he said, if in England they had such a program, no one would watch it, because they don’t believe in such things. He said that the Russians are very superstitious. I’ve never thought about it before. But after being told about that, I reflected on this theme. And honestly, I agreed with him, because we believe in lots of strange things. For example, if we leave something at home, we don’t like to return. And if we nevertheless have to return, we always look in the mirror, just because our parents told us about this superstition in the early childhood.
Everyone in England knows that Russians are well educated, especially that we are good at literature. As an example, I can remind you of our underground. In the Moscow metro lots of people read, which is not really popular in Great Britain. I was really pleased to hear that our classical education is so famous. Richard told me that the English consider Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to be as famous and important as Byron and Shakespeare.
“The Russians are very friendly” – most of the British think. What can I say? Yes, we are! We are very hospitable, we like enjoying our life, we like dancing, having fun, having strong drinks (which seems strange to people who always drink beer). And the Russians like foreigners. Maybe we like them because there haven’t been many of them in our country. We especially like the English. They are not really Europeans; they live their own lives as we do.
As we have seen, the British and the Russians are different, but I should say that we have some things in common. I found some common characteristics, such as the well-known “empire mentality”. Great Britain, as we know, was once geographically really great and many British people still think of their land as both great and strong. They still think that the British are “the best.” I can see such a similarity in the Russian attitude.
There is one more major similarity. The British are definitely romantic, suffice it to remember their Thomas Moore, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth. They seem much more romantic than Italians and this is the result of being shy and reserved. The Russians are also romantic, but the reason is different. It has more to do with latitude and the emptiness of the Russian landscape that, I believe, helped develop Russian philosophy and has something to do with the famous “Russian soul”.
When the British relax and let themselves go, they can be very talented actors – real actors, without pretence, with intense emotions. I found that theatre is very professional in Britain.
Also there are plenty of things that I like about the British, of course, besides their humour. I like the British breakfast, English tea, gardens, Romanticism and the English language. I think the British will like Russia and the Russians, if they visit us. Old and strange stereotypes about our country should be forgotten forever.
We live in a modern world, each of us communicates with different people; sometimes they’re from different countries. To understand a person, the motives of behaviour, emotions and feelings, we have to know the culture of the country where the person we’re talking to was born and lives now.
Stereotypes can be wrong sometimes. They don’t show the real situation. In this case it’s always better to know for yourself what’s going on, to look at things objectively.
And we, ourselves, can help foreigners not to see Russia in the way that stereotypes impose, to see our real way of life.
Supervisor Julia Kuznetsova