Well this is embarrassing.
Even more so, because my entire childhood was spent in what I like to think of as a very welcoming, culturally stimulating, open-minded environment. I grew up on Asian food and hamburgers, I understood why Muslim women wore scarves on their heads, I looked at Westcoast Indian totem poles with a sense of awe and admiration. Didn’t matter. I still grew up thinking that Russians were terrrible, awful, very bad tempered and frowny people.
I admit it.
Probably the rudest people in the world, those Russians.
How embarrassing is it, exactly? So embarrassing that I literally thought everyone I met in Russia was going to steal something from me, flat-out refuse to talk to me, and, well… probably murder me. I wasn’t even sure it was genetically possible for a Russian to smile. You know?
So when I arrived in Russia to the kind, grinning faces of friendly, jolly laughing, smiley Russians, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. Literally. I didn’t know how to react. What is this nonsense, aren’t you supposed to be frowning?
It’s a real good thing I went to Russia. Because I don’t take well to being wrong about things. And I wouldn’t have believed anyone who tried to tell me otherwise. But it’s true. I was wrong. And Russians are nice, damnit. Real nice.
Every Russian we’ve met on this trip has been the epitome of the exact opposite of everything I once thought about this nation of permanent winters. From the father-like figure in our train cabin who brought us food and chocolate and copious amounts of vodka swathed in cyrillic newspaper, to the rotund and tooth-less cleaning lady in a horrendous floral-print gown at the hostel in Moscow who helped us with our laundry and made the contacts we needed to figure out if this was indeed the hostel we’d been booked into, despite knowing zero words of English. From the smiley vacuum cleaner man who graced our cabin on every single one of the 5 filthy days of train ride from Irkutsk to Moscow, to the well-dressed white-haired man in pressed trousers and a dark grey beret who picked us up at the train tracks at the god-awful hour of 4:00am and broke into jovial laughter when he passed me a napkin in which he intended for me to wipe the condensation off the windows with, but of which I of course had no idea and proceeded to vehemently blow my nose with instead.
Even the woman who walked around the Kremlin, Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Tomb with us couldn’t share a single anecdote or piece of history without her eyes lighting up and the corners of her mouth forming that strange facial feature which I’d thought was genetically impossible for a Russian to do. And of course there was the Russian who proposed to me.
Russians may actually be the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
Though I’ve still got to ask, as my feet turn to icicles and the negative 20 windchill blows into my ears, why they’re here. And how in the world do they manage to stay so… smiley?
Sal’s question is valid.
“When they discovered Russia… why didn’t they just…. keep going?”