It’s a topic that has become rather trite– the stoic nature of the public Russian versus the generosity of the private– but I’m feeling rather sentimental today, with Justin Bieber’s new Christmas album playing in the background, so I am going to write about it anyway.
It can be true what they say about Russians: that they don’t smile in public, that they can be brusque and rude and that generally their countenance can match that of the aesthetic of their cities– gray. But having lived in NYC for a year, as well as visited numerous international cities, I can safely say that the same could be said about people in cities all over the world. Maybe 60+ years ago when a wrong look at a stranger or even your neighbor could send you packing to the Gulag, Russians had reasons to be reserved. But now, I can only report acts of kindness during chance meetings with strangers on the street.
The reason for my sentimentality today, are my recent reflections on the level of generosity of people here. Never have I been so welcomed into people’s lives, homes and yes, hearts. I try to explain it like this. In the US, I feel like everyone is very friendly to each other in public. We love meeting up with friends, volunteering, chatting in the aisle of the supermarket, but when it comes to our homes we are very protective. Despite having an average home size of 2700 square feet, we often don’t invite people we do not know well to share our home with us. This is the complete opposite of Russia. Here, you can meet someone on Monday, be invited to their house the next day, meet their mother, be fed more food than you can possibly imagine, be invited to go to the theater with them on Friday and have to promise to come over again for dinner next week. I have experienced this time and time again in Russia and I am becoming increasingly grateful to the people I have met as my time here continues.