What cities or towns would you like to visit when travelling to Russia? If you have been to Russia, what cities have you visited?
While I am awaiting for your answers (feel free to post them in the comments), I’m going to venture a guess. I’d say that the vast majority of иностранные туристы (foreign tourists) to Russia split their visits between just two cities – Москва (Moscow) and Санкт-Петербург (St. Petersburg). Some might tour города Золотого Кольца (the towns of the Golden Ring) or sights near St. Petersburg.
Only a handful make it as far as Волгоград (Volgograd), Екатеринбург (Yekaterinburg), or Пермь (Perm’) even though these are all large cities and important административные центры (administrative centers). Still, they are провинция (the provinces). And провинция is frequently dismissed as backwater, boondocks.
People who live в провинции (in the provinces) are known as провинциалы (provincials). That’s strictly according to the dictionary. The way the terms провинциал (for men) and провинциалка (for women) are used much of the time, their closest English-language translation would be “a hick” or “a hillbilly”.
There are quite a few stereotypes about провинциалы in Russia. For example, these жители глубинки (residents of the backcountry) are usually viewed as недалёкие, но добрые (simple-minded, but kind), слегка наивные (slightly naive), but с хитрецой (with a measure of cunning), старомодные (quaint) when it comes to both мода (fashion) and нравы (mores), and, as long as they stay in their глухомань (middle-of-nowhere), безинициативные (lacking initiative or drive to succeed). Yet they are also considered самобытные люди (true originals), соль земли (salt of the earth), as opposed to the residents of corrupt, crime-ridden, dissolute big cities.
Yet many провинциалы don’t stay in their hometowns, but instead leave for огни большого города (lights of the big city). And don’t let the words большой город (big city) confuse you. The only two ultimate big cities in Russia are Moscow and St. Petersburg. Only these two are not considered глухая провинция by anyone.
Мы, провинциалы, устремляемся в Петербург как-то инстинктивно. (We, provincials, intuitively rush to St. Petersburg.) wrote Mikhail Saltikov-Shedrin in his “Diary of a Provincial in St. Petersburg” back in 1872.
Парадоксально (ironically), провинциалы, попавшие в большой город (provincials who moved to a large city), are viewed as энергичные (energetic), целеустремлённые (purposeful), амбициозные (ambitious). They might even be described as напористые как танки (lit. pushy like tanks).
The stories about провинциалки (female provincials) tend to be either about беспринципная авантюристка (unscrupulous gold digger) ready to do just about anything to stay in the city. Or they are about провинциальная золушка (a provincial cinderella), отзывчивая (compassionate), добрая (kind), и любящая (loving), trying to make it on her own in the cruel city. Третьего не дано (there is no middle ground).
So here’s my question to you – what town is considered the capital of Russian provinces, where is it located and what’s it claim to fame?