Image of America

Nothing too terribly exciting to report this time around: I’ve been very busy, but not with any mind-blowingly blog-worthy material. Suffice it to say that classes are going well, English Club is going splendidly (lately, lots of non-student guests have been attending, so we’re branching out), and I’m having lots of fun adventures with my friends. Also, I’ve got some exciting trips in the works: on May 1, I will begin a 10-day journey to Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, and Irkutsk; then, at the end of May, I’m making a return-visit to my beloved St. Petersburg! So I’ll be seeing Russia from sea to shining sea.

For the record, I did not get to see Mr. Putin when he was in town, but I did see a traffic jam that he supposedly caused.

I’m happy to report that we had our first rain last Thursday! People can complain all they want about how cold and awful this spring is and bah-humbug to their hearts’ content about how the weather was nice until this horrid rain started, but I could tell they were secretly pleased. There was an extra spring in my elderly neighbor’s step as he commented on our first “дождик.” Of course, no one’s happiness surpassed my own. After six whole months of snow on the ground, after a winter so cold that snow meant it was a warm day, after a lifetime of Michigan and Ohio rainy seasons and being preconditioned to believe that April showers bring May flowers, I’d been waiting for this day—dreaming of it, even. Whoever thought that rain could make me so happy? There may even have been some tears of joy.

Anyway, to take up space, I thought I’d share with you some American stereotypes I’ve encountered here. In Russia’s eyes, what does it mean to be American? You might be surprised.

First off, all Americans are vegetarians.

But they eat hamburgers every day. All fast food all the time. Also, all our food is genetically modified and therefore uber-unhealthy.

It’s warm there.

All Americans are Catholics. Except the Mormons, of course.

All Americans have guns and carry them around everywhere.

We’re all supposed to be pretty wealthy for the most part. We live a sort of fairy-tale life.

And then, of course, there’s the Hollywood effect. Life in America must be exactly as it is portrayed in the movies.

It’s all a matter of relativity, I guess. Obviously, not all Americans are vegetarians—not even a majority. But there are more vegetarians in the US than in Russia, and Americans do eat more vegetables. We also eat more hamburgers than Russians do, even if we don’t all eat them every day. As for temperature, there are warm parts of America, and there are cold parts as well—just not quite as cold as Siberia. Having survived a winter here, I will concede that most of America is indeed quite warm—yes, even Michigan. There are more Catholics in the US than in Russia—and besides, Christianity is basically divided into Orthodoxy and Catholicism without all the mess of Protestantism. We also have laxer gun laws and more high-profile mass-shootings. And a higher per capita income. And the Hollywood image is more based on America than on life in Russia. Therefore, I guess I can understand that the stereotypes are at least sometimes relatively true.

Maybe this is just the result of being a political science nerd at an agricultural college, but I was surprised at how un-politicized the image of America is. I was expecting to have to answer to my country’s foreign policy and war-mongering imperialism. But, far from asking me about wars and NATO and adoption and Pussy Riot and the Magnitsky List, the most political question most people ask is, “Do you like Obama?” As someone fascinated by the concept of perceptions and images in international relations, this adds a whole new dimension for me to ponder. It’s heart-warming to know that, while our politicians seem stuck in the Cold War and are engaged in a war of lists and sanctions and increasing tension, most people just want to know how much Pringles and IPhones cost in the US and what everyday life is like for regular Americans.

About Arielle

I am a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Ulan-Ude at the Buryat State Agricultural Academy.
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