In the middle of the winter, a group of young foreigners travels across Russia searching for Russian women, Russian vodka and Russian bears. Nope, this is not a sequel to Особенности национальной охоты (Peculiarities of the National Hunt) movie. Instead, it is this year’s Cinetrain documentary project.
The twenty four filmmakers participating in it are filming movies based on стереотипы (stereotypes) about Russia, including “snow, ice, vodka, colossal landscapes, Russian women and Lada cars”.
After reading about this project on Russia Beyond the Headlines, I got to think about a different kind of Russian stereotypes, the ones Russians have about themselves and Russia.
1. Умом Россию не понять – Russia cannot be understood by mind alone…
This opening line from a четверостишие (four-line poem) by Fyodor Tyutchev might be the most often-quoted phrase from the entire corpus of Russian classical literature. Russians use it when they don’t want to explain why something is done the way it’s done. Instead, they chalk it up to особенности менталитета (peculiarities of the mindset).
Почему в России до сих пор отмечают Новый год и по новому и по старому стилю? Потому, что умом Россию не понять.
(Why do Russians still celebrate the New Year according to both the new and the old calendars? That’s because Russia cannot be understood by mind alone.)
2. Что русскому хорошо, то немцу смерть – What’s good for a Russian, is death for a German
Keep in mind that “German” here is собирательный образ (a generalized character) applied to any foreigner. Russians believe that particular Russian experiences are incomprehensible to or unendurable by foreigners, including баня (Russian sauna), рыбалка (fishing), and driving in Moscow.
3. Русский язык – самый богатый в мире – Russian language is the richest of world languages
There is no doubt, the good ol’ великий могучий (great and mighty) Russian language packs some serious descriptive power. Just think of the infinite variety of diminutives, a bewildering array of meaning-altering suffixes and prefixes, and the multi-storied poetry of русский мат (Russian obscenities).
Examples are the classic and highly cryptic answer of “да нет, наверное” and stories such as this one “Подходит один хрен, берёт эту хрень и начинает этой хренью хреначить, только вот нахрен? И хреново и всем похрену.” If you understand the gist of it, demand an A+ in your Russian class.
4. Россияне – самый читающий народ в мире – Russians are the most well-read people in the world
I’ve always had my doubts about this one. In the times of повальный дефицит (epidemic shortages) of everything, Russian readers’ hunger for books was never satisfied. But that was probably because of the said shortages as well as the readers’ appetites. Now there’s изобилие (an abundance) of books of all sorts. The above stereotype does not clarify whether качество (quality) matters as much as количество (quantity).
5. Русские женщины – самые красивые в мире – Russian women are the most beautiful in the world
Whether you believe it or not depends on your personal definition of beauty. After all, as we say, на вкус и цвет товарища нет (the beauty is in the eye of the beholder). Some циники (cynics) might even say нет некрасивых женщин, есть мало водки (there are no unattractive women, there is not enough vodka). What’s undeniable is that Russian women always try to look their hottest, keeping in mind the old adage встречают по одёжке, провожают по уму (you are judged on your appearance first and on your mind last).
What other stereotypes about Russia and the Russians can you think of?