Russian Mail-Order Brides (Part II)

Posted on 30. Jul, 2014 by in Culture, General reference article

If you missed the beginning of the story, here it is .

The challenges faced by couples that get together on these mail-order bride sites are many. Too often, the woman does not speak English very well, or at all. It is hard enough to effectively communicate with one another if you speak the same language. Just imagine the difficulty faced by these couples. Russian women coming to America are usually giving up quite a bit. Unfortunately, this simple fact is frequently overlooked by their husbands-to-be. Often the woman has a job to quit or she drops out of college, she says goodbye to family and friends, perhaps for a very long time. She really is putting all of her eggs into one basket. She is diving into a completely different culture to which she has to adapt.

On the other hand, the American man is faced with the possibility that he is simply her “meal ticket” and that once she gets her US citizenship, she will leave him. Bringing her to America will cost him thousands of dollars in fees, tickets, time off work, and so on. He may be putting his reputation on the line with his friends and family – this could be a big deal to him. Likely, his friends and family may think he is going to make a big mistake by marrying in this fashion. Some couples won’t even admit to meeting their wives this way. At the end of the day, he still has his job, his home, his family and friends close by. 

A member of my immediate family married a man she had met online. He soon came over to stay with her in Belarus for several months. They had a pretty decent time while he was visiting. The American dollar went a long way. They went out to dinners, visited museums, and did other things that were planned /offered by the Russian party. They seemed to be getting along fairly well, though as with any relationship, things weren’t always perfect. The gentleman was retired, so he was able to stay for quite a while. He came over twice spending an average of three to five months each time (due to the fact that the paperwork that would allow the lady to go to America was taking an unusually long time, even with a lawyer).

After finally coming to America,  the things quickly deteriorated. It turned out that the husband-to-be wanted to watch TV 24/7 and had very little concern about how his new wife is adapting to her new life. When arguments began, they were often accompanied by the phrase, “I’ll have you deported so fast it’ll make your head spin,” or something like that. My family member was given a car by her spouse, which was a nice thing to do; however, when the relationship ran into problems, the air would be let out of the tires. The phone cords would all be taken out of the wall, the money would be taken away, etc. With no money, no real ability to speak the language, no phone, what could she do? Would anybody put up with this for long? 

An American woman would likely divorce a man if the relationship became bad enough; a Russian woman - who is in a new country with few friends, connections, financial resources, and very limited knowledge about how things work in America - might be more likely to stay in an abusive or loveless marriage because of her fear of not being able to make it on her own. 

When these women come to the US, they often are completely dependent upon their spouse in the same way an infant depends on her parents for everything. In many cases, the male spouses do not educate their wives about how the household finances work and what it means to live on credit (not cash, like most people still do in Russia). A typical American lifestyle is very very different from a typical Russian lifestyle; many things seem strange and require explanation. I have witnessed stories where the husband would give the wife a small amount of money believing that this was all they needed to know about finances. Lack of trust, as justified as it may be, is the seed from which a lot of other issues end up sprouting over time. 

Now, in all fairness, I understand that ulterior motives is what concerns most men marrying these women. Sure, she may be using the man to get a green card. She may want to marry a man so he can buy things, bring her family to USA, and so on but if you start the relationship treating someone like they are on probation, you will probably not get very far. I believe, there are ways to protect your assets without making one feel like a second class citizen J .

In closing, if you have decided to take this course of action, know what you are getting yourself into: prepare to be a teacher and a student, realize that this “subject” takes a while to master, and under no circumstances take it lightly. If you do, you are just wasting everybody’s time. In a lot of cases the marriage deteriorates simply because one or both spouses do not fathom the depth of cultural differences and the need to learn and adapt to them . Multicultural marriages require a lot of work and if you want to make one last, you better be ready to roll up your sleeves and put in the time. Too many of the Russian-bride situations I know have ended badly or are ongoing and ought to end. As many of you already know, a successful marriage is something you have to work at – it doesn’t just happen. It is filled with more challenges than one can imagine. When both spouses are from the same country, speak the same language, and share the same culture, the divorce rate is close to one out of every two. With that in mind, you can easily imagine the struggles these couple face when they are from very different cultures, speak vastly different languages, and do not equally share in the risks associated with getting married. If after reading the material you are still planning to find someone special in Russia, here are some words that you might find helpful :-) .

жена (wife)

У него очень красивая жена. (He has a very beautiful wife.)

муж (husband)

Мой бывший муж очень много работал. (My ex-husband worked a lot.)

Давай поженимся!(Let’s get married!)

Выходи за меня замуж. (Marry me. – when a man proposes)

Катя, выходи за меня замуж! (Katya, marry me!)

Женись на мне. (Marry me. – when a woman offers herself as a wife)

Она его на себе женила. (She made him marry her).

молодожены (newlyweds)

Молодожены возвращаются завтра. (The newlyweds are coming back tomorrow.)

развод (divorce)

понимание (understanding)

гармония (harmony)

любовь (love)

 

 

 

Russian Mail-Order Brides (Part One)

Posted on 29. Jul, 2014 by in Culture, General reference article


It seems, unfairly so, that when I tell somebody that I came to America from Russia, they  often assume that I was a mail-order bride. Through the internet, mail-order bride websites have flourished in recent years. I do have  many friends who first met their current or ex-spouses on these websites. Some of these friends seem happily married and some have had very difficult times. As I was writing this, I tried to combine  knowledge gained from some of my friends, as well as some research on the subject.

First let’s examine why a Russian woman would want to find a husband in another country. According to World Bank, in 2012 almost 54 percent of the total Russian population were female. This means fewer men are available to choose from. Life can be very difficult for a woman in Russia; alcoholism permeates many families with the female often being the bond that holds the household together. It is very difficult for women to find well-paying jobs even though they are equally qualified – females typically earn much less money than their male counterparts performing the same duties. According to the United Nations, this gender wage gap is between 30 and 40 percent. If the woman is pregnant or has children, things become even more difficult. In a recent survey conducted by Superjob.ru only 5 percent of Russian women find life as a female in Russia to be gratifying. Another reason women leave is simply that sometimes you just don’t like where you’ve always lived and want to get out and see the world. I was determined to leave that part of the world and fortunately, I was able to come to America without finding a spouse online. Bottom line, life in Russia is pretty hard for a lot of people. A lot of men and women would really like to leave Russia but while women have the marriage card to play, men have to rely on education, talent, or relatives to get them out.

Not let’s try to examine why an American male, for example, would like to find a bride from Russia? Traditional values? Maybe. Beauty? Maybe. Excitement? Sure. Fed up with how feminism has changed American society? It’s possible. Feeling more secure in approaching a poor Russian foreigner as opposed to an all-American woman? Certainly true in many cases. From what I have seen, many men who try their luck with foreign women, seem to believe that it is easier to satisfy a woman from a poorer country than an American woman – most Russians live with far fewer amenities than Americans. It is almost if the men feel a sense of superiority toward these women for some reason or other, and this is why they have the courage to begin a relationship. Typically, you will see an average-looking guy with a beautiful Russian wife. She gets to leave behind a difficult life in Russia for a more promising one in America, and he gets  a woman that is usually out of his league – as far as looks are concerned. Both parties are definitely after something that for one reason or another is out of their reach in their homeland, both parties always have valid reasons for taking this path. The true question is: do you, as the future husband or wife, know these true reasons or are you being given some other phony, cover-up explanations? The other equally important question is: do you have enough patience and trust to go through with it? Answering yes to both of these questions is a great place to start. Tomorrow we will take a deeper look at what challenges you can expect to encounter. Until then, всего хорошего!

I welcome all your comments and questions! Спасибо!

 

 

Take Your Pronunciation to the Next Level – Part II

Posted on 28. Jul, 2014 by in Russian phonetics

You will need this sound to say "cheese" in Russian Image by Rob Campbell on flickr.com

You will need this sound to say “cheese” in Russian
Image by Rob Campbell on flickr.com

This post is continued from last week. We were talking about the top areas you should concentrate on to drastically improve your Russian pronunciation.

4. ы

Ы is a funny sound. It is not considered very pretty-sounding in Russian, and few native words have it. At the same time, it is widely used to form plurals and appears in such common words as ты (you sing.), вы (you pl. or formal), and мы (we). Ы only appears after hard consonants in Russian (soft consonants will be followed by и). Does that make и and ы allophones — two ways of saying the same phoneme, or meaning-distinguishing sound, depending on where it occurs in the word? Scholars aren’t sure, but perhaps it doesn’t matter for our purposes.

This sound has already come up in comments a couple of times. I remember one of my students saying muy, as in the Spanish for “very,” instead of мы. The funny thing is she wasn’t that far off. Just like у and и, it is articulated with your tongue lifted towards the roof of your mouth. However, the tongue is half way between the front of your mouth as in the case of и and the back of your mouth as in the case of у. You lips are pretty much where they would be for an “ee” sound, which is why “Say cheese” in Russian is скажи “сыр” (literally, “say cheese”). The ы gets your lips into a proper, if somewhat strained, smile.

Basically, you need to pretend like you’re going to say и and pull your tongue back. This may be awkward to try to do just from reading the explanation, so let’s listen to some examples.

мыломило (soap vs nice; incidentally the name Mila, Мила, is pronounced just like the latter)

былбил – (was vs beat; the name Bill, Билл, is pronounced like the second word)

5. Vowel reduction

Image by Robert Agthe on flickr.com

Image by Robert Agthe on flickr.com

Most Russian learners, even complete beginners, are usually aware that unstressed о and е are not pronounced the same way as they would under stress. For those who aren’t that far into their Russian studies, they pretty much sound like а and и, respectively, or that’s what you’r told. That is an important thing to keep in mind, but what often slips through the cracks is that all unstressed vowels lose their quality compared to the stressed ones.

That means that, yes, not pronouncing корова (cow) as [к о р о в а] is a step in the right direction, but you shouldn’t really be saying an open а in that first syllable, either [к а р о в а]. Unless you have a pronounced Moscow accent, of course. The а gets reduced either uh or a schwa, depending on where that unstressed syllable appears in the word. People can even drop unstressed vowels altogether when speaking fast.

Try to listen for the difference between the stressed and unstressed vowels in these examples.

борода – beard

человек – person

колесо – wheel

On a side note, there is normally only one stressed syllable in Russian words, so instead of stressing every other syllable, try putting all your oomph on that stressed syllable. This way, the rest will naturally get slurred and reduced.

I hope this was helpful. As always, let me know if there are any other areas of Russian pronunciation that give you a hard time.