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Mind the culture gap: the ‘Russian soul’ meets ‘Big Mac’ culture

In the 1980s, Sting sung the lyrics: “I hope the Russians love their children too!”, while in Russia, popular group Lube lovingly joked: “Don’t be silly, America, we are all the same!” And yes, for a few years we lived learning our similarities. But why was this Russian-American romance so short lived? Why did we turn to hate again?

Geopolitics and  financial issues aside, it is worth to ask a question: Are Russians and Americans culturally complimentary or do our cultural differences get in the way of our ability to understand each other?

Samuel Huntington observed in his 1996 The Clash of Civilizations that “…cultural commonalities and differences shape the interests, antagonisms, and associations of states,” accordingly, countries with cultural similarities are more likely to cooperate economically and politically and “the major differences in political and economic development among civilizations are clearly rooted in their different cultures.”

mamaAre Russians more aggressive by nature?

According to Washington and all of the Western mainstream media, this is not up for debate– Russians are bad!

How many movies have you seen with Russians being portrayed as the good guys?  I cannot recall a single one. Russians are the quintessential bad-ass guys, according to Hollywood or any political thriller. Don’t even bother with the portrayal of the politicians! According to Hollywood and most of Washington, Russia has been always up to no good.

What do you get by reading Russian history from Western textbooks? According to some, the Russian state is expanding left and right like crazy to amass 1/5 of the Earth. Just keep in mind this simple fact – most of the Russian wars were defensive wars! The acquisition of the large territory of Siberia and the Far East was not done by wars but rather ,by including the native populations with acceptance of their cultural traditions into the Russian Empire.

Villains became humans for a while

In the early 1990s, there was certainly excitement on the both sides of the Atlantic to discover that we are all humans – “reds” and “Yankees” alike!

A peaceful dissolution of the “evil empire” took everyone by surprise. Unlike previous Soviet leaders, Gorbachev charmed the West with his smile and promising words of “glasnost” and “perestroika”. In doing so he dissipated the fears of “Reds” for some time.

Later, the perpetually drunk Boris Yeltsin added more humanity to the face of the Russians: “hey, they are just like us, except that they prefer vodka, while we prefer beer!” At this point one can almost imagine the archetypal American hugging the bad-ass Russian in mutual understanding.

Yes, we were more similar than different.


Have you observed on the Russian subway that you can spot Americans right away? Just listen up for their loud speaking. It is not that they don’t mind revealing the most intimate details of their lives to the public because people around might not understand English – they do it on American public transportation as well. Russians whisper –  God forbid people might hear!


If any Russian dates an American or vice versa, you can expect a long list of surprises ranging from believing that opening the door for a woman might degrade her as a human being (some American young men seem brainwashed by feminism) to Russian girls’ entrenched belief that men should always pay the bill at the restaurant (even if you are just friends) just because Russian men would never let Russian woman pay for them.


Don’t expect Russians to show a full row of front teeth just because you were conditioned in the land of Hollywood to do it for every stranger you meet face to face. Russians consider American smiles to be fake and insincere. If a Russian smiles at you, it means: “I like you and it is a pleasure to be near you.”

There is one major difference between Americans and Russians –  it has to do with keeping your word!

Russians do not waste words and they are direct in their language, something that is often misunderstood by foreigners as rudeness, but the truth is, there is little tolerance in Russia for hypocrisy. If you don’t like a person –  you do not give them a full-front teeth smile. Duplicity is looked down upon.

Russians value each other by how much they can trust each other and any sign of insincerity is enough to break a relationship. For Russians, a man is not a man if he cannot keep his word. You are either a man of your word or a little, unreliable, and worthless weasel;  a chatter box. Men keep their promises; weasels throw away words without meaning or consideration. You learn it early as a child in Russia.

When Bush Sr. made promise a to Gorbachev not to expand NATO, Gorbachev treated him and the US as a trustworthy partner. So, when every Russian leader after Gorbachev told the world that they have a problem with NATO expansion and took a break of the promise as an offense – you have to understand that they mean it!

What Washington is failing to grasp is that Russians mean what they say. American leaders have to learn to understand that we are not the same. Perhaps, the Pentagon and State Department ought to have positions for cultural advisers? It would be much cheaper than military advisers, and in the end, might prevent unnecessary wars.

Let’s admit it: from rituals of courting, conducting yourself in public, raising children, to high diplomacy — Russians and Americans are not the same and it helps to understand our differences to avoid foreign policy and diplomatic blunders.

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