Differences American and Russian cultures
Globalization process has involved every country in the world, and it is hard to find a place where people would lead such a different lifestyle as it was a couple of decades ago.
Nowadays, as we travel abroad, we are not surprised by subway maps, self-service supermarkets, ticket machines and so on. Life is subject to the same processes all around the world.
All people, no matter if they live in Russia or the USA, actually share the same values and principles: like everyone else, they search for love, want to be young, healthy, beautiful and successful, care for their children, follow their dreams. It is typical of every human being to be happy, sad, cheerful, outraged, and so on. Human nature is universal.
At the same time, society and culture have an impact on one’s way of thinking. It shows in difference between mentalities, which may cause misunderstanding in relations with foreigners. It is especially important to understand the mentality of a foreign wife or husband in order to maintain a happy and harmonious relationship.
This article will show the difference between Russian and American mentalities. Thus, what is normal to the former may cause misunderstanding or even irritation with the latter.
Here we start:
- Commitment to the law. Since they are born, Americans follow the principle: “Everyone is equal against the law, and the one who breaks it must face serious consequences”. In the USA, commitment to the laws is a must and concerns everyone regardless of their status. Therefore, Americans are mostly lawful, even in the little things. Consequences of breaking the law are substantially more serious than the benefits resulting from its violation. This is why US citizens prefer to follow rules established by the State in order to avoid the risk of being caught on unlawful actions.
A Russian considers it “boring” to follow rules. A big Russian soul, used to freedom on a grand scale, protests against limits and borders. Russians’ lack of trust to the state governmental system causes their willing to get around the law in order to protect their interests. Russian people are famous for being savvy and a creative attitude to solving any kind of problems. They cannot understand the requirement to stick to a plan when other options are possible.
- Politeness and smile. From the early years, American children are taught to respect others’ private space, privacy and the right to be different in appearance, language, religion and views. It is considered bad manners to openly express surprise, indignity and other such emotions towards other people. Americans realize that any matter will be solved easier when people have positive attitude to each other. Therefore, “fixed” smiles and courteous tone are taken as generally accepted standards of behavior of an educated person. Even in situations of conflict, Americans try to “hold onto their face” and never raise their voice when talking to an opponent.
Expressive speech, raising the voice, lack of smile or good-willed facial expression are taken as alarming and aggressive behavior by Americans. As for Russians, their smile is always associated with an expression of a sincere joy. A Russian often disagrees to keep a smile just out of being polite. When talking to strangers, Russians may be quite expressive, which is taken as normal, unlike Americans who consider raising their tone inappropriate.
- Privacy. Attitude to private life. Americans are very sensitive to their private life and don’t like to reveal it to strangers. Americans consider it too personal and intimate to ask: “Are you married?”, “Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?”, “What kind of car make do you own?”, “Where do you live?”, “How much do you earn?”, “Do you believe in God?”, “What is your occupation?”
Another rude thing is questions or comments on one’s appearance, style of clothing, age, etc. Americans care about their appearance and clothes less, since they believe the content to be more important than the look, so they often look messy, which is misunderstood by Russians. In Russian culture, one’s look reflects their personality and self-respect. Russian classical literature teaches us the idea that “a man must be beautiful from all aspects”!
Americans are quite sociable and contact strangers easily, they enjoy starting conversations about sports, politics, business or economics.
Conversely, a Russian values and seeks intimate talks. It is quite usual for them to share private life secrets or family issues with a person they barely know. Russians get involved in others’ problems with all their heart and show real compassion. As a rule, they don’t get offended with a harmless question on their marital status.
- Attitude to time. As for agreements and appointments, Americans are generally punctual and take it seriously. The rhythm of life in American big cities, such as New York, Boston and Chicago, set a business-like tone. People are busy and have their things scheduled, and Americans are aware of that and respect each other’s time. Therefore, lack of punctuality and reliability in business affairs is taken very negatively and may ruin a man’s business reputation.
As for written agreements, contracts and such documents, it is a foundation that Americans stick to and they do not allow others to violate agreements. This is why lawsuits are so popular in the USA.
Russians, in their turn, are relatively loyal to changes in previously made agreements or meetings at the last moment. Agreements are often changed in process. A major part of Russian business processes is built on trust rather than legal contracts. Punctuality and timeliness aren’t among Russians’ top priorities. This makes an essential difference in mentalities between these two nations that may cause misinterpretation.
- Environment consciousness. Americans pay special attention to environmental protection, and they all realize their personal responsibility for careful attitude to natural resources and conscious waste management. Nearly every American is okay with sorting waste in their households and they know where to recycle the used batteries. Such a responsible attitude to environment is also explained by their health awareness and special attention to anything that may have a negative impact on their physical health. Since the kindergarten, children are taught conscious treatment of natural resources, such as potable water, illustrating it with an example of dry African regions. They explain the importance of correct handling of chemical and technical waste with toxic or radioactive emissions. In Russia, waste management culture is not that much spread. In their opinion, there are many more important tasks than recycling and waste handling. In their view of the world, this matter is not a top priority among other things. Therefore, a notable difference arises from the attitude to this issue in Russia and the USA.
- Attitude to money and wealth. Americans and Russians show a significant difference in this matter. The USA, and New York in particular, is known for numerous billionaires living there. A notable peculiarity of American people is that they prefer not to demonstrate their wealth, not to stand out. This peculiarity may be explained by their education and culture, it goes back to the times of English and European noble colonizers who conquered the American continent when discovering the New World. The owners of the so-called “old” money keep to behavior formed in their families for centuries. Moreover, in the USA there are many emigrants from third-world countries who earned their so-called “new” money in America with their innovative ideas and intelligence. As those new billionaires once came from poor families, they do not parade their wealth around; instead, they try to level themselves with common specialists by all means and highlight that they belong to common people. Furthermore, US citizens possessing enormous wealth adopt a very rational attitude to their expenses. This has to do with a principle respected by Americans: “Money is a gift from Heaven, so it must be spent wisely. Money likes silence.”
In contrary, when Russians owe big money, they need to underline their social status. It is typical of Russians to be generous and waste money around on a large scale, sometimes even without concern for their tomorrow. In general, such an approach is implicitly approved and appreciated in the society.
Such core differences between Russian and American people often originate from ancient history and cultural peculiarities. Russia was largely influenced by Oriental Asian culture. Its close proximity to Middle Asia explains the Russian love for luxury and generous attitude to money.
And it is often misunderstanding in financial matters that causes grudges and disputes between spouses.
- Liberality of American views often causes confusion and shock with Russians, who were brought up on traditional values. Indeed, the difference between American and Russian mentalities concerning attitude to social phenomena is colossal. For example, Americans educate children in a very informal manner, they will often let them sit on the floor in public places, not wear a hat in winter, experiment with their look, and so on. Americans explain this liberality with their belief that a child must distinguish between right and wrong in their own experience and make a choice that they believe to be right.
Nowadays, the American society is used to anything, including homosexual relationships, national or religious beliefs, untypical appearances and such. By showing their tolerance and acceptance of such peculiarities, unusual personal features, Americans express their good will and acceptance of everybody’s right to take their own path in life. It is worth mentioning that a certain share of the American society still neglect “normality” of some things, but the US policy of political correctness does not let such people show open loathe towards certain social phenomena. Since childhood, Americans are persuaded that every word you say may upset or insult another person. Insult may have legal consequences, since the USA have initially declared themselves as a free country open to any nationalities, religions and beliefs.
It is hard for a Russian to accept many principles of American life, because of the strong fundamental orthodox values in Russia. Ancient traditional culture with its principles and canons is transmitted from one generation to another. A Russian learns what is right and wrong from classical literature, which is a core and essential part in the life of Russian society.
One can say for sure that both Russians and Americans tend to enhance the value of respect and freedom in their society. Yet, the approaches in these two countries are fundamentally different.
- Charity and donation. The phenomenon of a charity fundraiser is widely spread in the USA. It doesn’t even have to be operated by special foundations. Fundraising campaigns may be based on local social or religious foundations or public schools. Even private persons can start a campaign to support someone or something, attracting sponsors’ help for that purpose. Surprising as it may seem, American citizens trust and actively support such events on regular basis. Americans regularly donate a share of their income for various purposes. It may be medical assistance, support of homeless animals, fundraisers for the needs of schools and kindergartens or religious foundations around the world.
It is a common practice for Americans to donate one-tenth of their income for church needs. Church donations reduce the share of taxable income. Active participation in fundraising activity may be called one of the distinctive features of the American mentality. High level of trust to the governmental and financial systems explains such high involvement into this process within Americans (unlike Russians).
Russian charity foundations are often mistrusted by Russian citizens; people are rather used to provide targeted assistance when they are 100% sure that their contribution will reach the one in need. The orthodox tradition does not insist on monthly donation of 10% on church maintenance, since Russian orthodox church is under protection of the government – unlike the USA, where religious organizations must fully cover their expenses on their own.
This article is based on the author’s observations and might not coincide with others’ opinions. The purpose of the article is to help newly made international families to understand, accept and respect the partner’s views. The author has respect both to Russian and American nation.
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