Russian Assertiveness

Hannah Johnson ‘21

Losing it?

Forgive poor English, Greg said I need to write with English letters in this article. Hmph. Well, is fine. Writing is not terrible, but you can perhaps notice accent. It has been entire semester in Russia, I have changed in many ways.

I want to talk about biggest change, big cultural difference I have noticed. It is why these final exams are most stressful I have ever seen. It is why I breathe small prayer before I face my babushka hostess each morning and evening. And it is why I am…a different man now. It is Russian assertiveness.

I thought, maybe, it was stereotype. “Russians are not so mean,” I thought. “They are not so hard.” Well? Stereotype carries a little truth. What struck me first was Russian friendliness, generosity. “Please, sit; please, eat; please, take more.” Now, I understand: da, it is niceness, but is assertive niceness. Babushka *insists* I eat more, *insists* that I carry a hat, a scarf, a heavy coat, mittens, and umbrella when it is a little cold or rainy. And all guests, too—I feel, in American home, one does not come into other’s home and question them. Here? Guest *will* criticize my pants if they think they are too cold, not correct, etc. No consideration for my own taste, preferences, interests. There is no safe space, in this regard. But it is expected. Is considered polite.

People are honest, speak their minds. It sort of carries over to school—have not experienced very structured curriculums, but nonetheless teachers have high expectation. I currently worry about exam tomorrow, next day—random topic is picked for me, and I must speak about it, and recite poetry by memory. This is stressful way to do exams! And proper Russian students face, maybe, 20 or more possible random topics, which they must study, commit to memory beforehand. Russian teacher here has told me: yes, they are *aware* it doesn’t work like that. They don’t care. Russians must work hard, always work hard.

And how have I survived? How have I dealt with tough hostess, tough Russians, tough teachers? I believe, in first Eggplant article, I stated how I do not enjoy stressful situations. But I believe I am learning to suffer in silence, perhaps how Russians do. I take criticism less personally. I do not let myself be walked over, and I hold true to my values. My friends, I pray, that if I return carrying some of this Russian assertiveness, you will not be put off. But I am walking this long and lonely road, and after being forced to speak and defend for myself, I intend to hold onto this.

Categories: Eggplant

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