Beyond the Russian Border – Creative Writing Course
Being born in Russia has given me the strength of my forefathers; the strength to survive against all odds. It has given me the genetic makeup that allows me to be strong, fast, smart and sometimes ruthless to my enemies. It has given me the ability to hold a lot of hard liquor, and stay worm in cold climates due to a great amount of body hair. Those are the most common
generalizations made by people from western countries, but they don’t do justice to the real beliefs and values behind the Russian culture. If I could pick out one thing that truly represents my people as a whole, it would be their hospitality.
*Russian hospitality has to be the one quality of people living in Russian Federation, that best describes their values of friendship, companionship and family ties.* To understand hospitality as a whole, it has to be broken up into separate parts.
*Interaction between family members is a very important part of hospitality. Historically, Russian people lived in big families. Family members of three generations lived together in a big house. It was usually grand parents, parents, children, and sometimes even children’s children. This tradition has carried over to some extent to the twenty-first century. Living in Moscow, I remember our three-bedroom apartment. It belonged to my grandfather on my mother’s side, and we all stayed there together – my grandparents, my parents, my sister and I. Buying an apartment was really expensive and receiving one from the government was even harder, so staying with grandparents saved money and in return they received the physical care they needed. Parents in the Russian culture often encourage their kids to live with them as long as possible, opposed to America where young adults are pushed to move out when they are
eighteen. This standard of family life gives an essence of stability in Russian culture. It accomplishes to restrain people from living far away from relatives, making the community safer and tighter.
*Hospitality can not exist without generosity. One meaning of generosity is liberty in giving or willingness to give. My parents have been valued among their friends for their desire to help and they raised me the same way. I remember when my friend’s sister got in a car accident. The first person his parents called was I. I remember driving to New Hope where Sofia lived, and seeing her car from a distance. It was an old Maxima with rusted fenders and turn leather interior. The sight was frightening; the whole side was caved in, just passed the front door. Glass and broken plastic were everywhere. The lingering smell of deployed airbags filled the air around the scene. When I came, she was standing on the curb, covering her eyes. I helped her take out the groceries from her car, and put it into mine. I drove her home; stayed for a while to calm her down and wait for her husband. Later thanking me, her parents called me their angel, but for me it was just the way I was raised. My parents, my sister and I, as a family, never expect anything in return. Helping people in need is as relative to us as waking up every mourning. I can only hope to pass on this great value, to the next generation of people.
Russian homes are always ready for guests. It is a tradition to feed everyone that comes into the house. Even if it is a plumber who is doing work on the water heater, the woman of the house will not let him leave without a meal. My mother is a great cook, due to constant flow of invited and unexpected guests. There was an instance where a far relative was in Moscow for business and had no place to stay. My parents have never seen the man, but it wouldn’t have mattered even if he were not a relative. He was a cousin of my aunt who married into the family. When he arrived fifteen minutes after the phone call, his room was ready, dinner was being prepared, and there was a fresh towel in the bathroom. My mom baked salmon with mayonnaise on top, and mashed potatoes. My parents gave him the softest bad and the softest pillows. He stayed that night, and left the next mourning never to bee seen again. Later he mailed a postcard for New Year, but that was all appreciation we received. It is not that he was ungrateful, but it was expected that my parents would treat him that way.
*Because Russian people portray hospitality, they are very sociable. They enjoy gathering together for holidays, or for no reason at all. I remember the going away get togethers at my parent’s apartment. If I only new then, that we will be gone for nine years instead of the projected two. The eardrum tearing racket engulfing every corner of every room. Kids scrambling around, playing games, falling and crying. Adults lounging behind a long table, raising goblets with champagne and glasses with vodka. The table is full of dishes for every taste. I can still smell the crab salad, roasted pig, salami and different cheeses. I can still hear my dad’s voice singing; the sounds of vibrating guitar strings. The sound of a braking glass as little pieces trickle down to the hardwood floor. The popping of every new open bottle, and announcing of every new toast. Watching the bright lights of the living room reflecting of the silverware made me feel warm, fuzzy and welcome. Our shepherd Vesta would get under the table, bagging for something to eat. At times the only thing to be seen was her wiggling silver-black tail. She had to always be in the middle of the biggest group; I guess it was the shepherd instinct to keep people tightly around her. Kids were at a separate little table, but it didn’t matter then. We were all just one huge mass of people, all brought together for one last time to say goodbye.
Through all of my travels, I have never encountered such hospitality. I have traveled to many countries: France, China, Canada, Turkey, Qatar, India, Mexico, and U.S. to name a few. Those are all great places with their own great cultures, but no place on earth is as warm and welcoming as my motherland. Americans are very patriotic people, but even Americans have a hard time leaving Russia. Some stay and some don’t, but they all know that they will always have a place to go to and feel welcomed.
I regret being far away from my culture. Most of my friends in Minnesota are Russian, but as the place of living changes so do the cultural values. For me it is the difference between giving and taking, helping others and helping oneself, living life and existing. Hospitality is a taste of a forbidden fruit that makes one yearning for more and makes it difficult to live without. It is an important aspect of culture; to someone it maybe be the most important one of all. The world is changing, and so is the Russian culture. I hope that this is one value that is here to stay, but it seems that independence and selfishness is slowly working its way into every country on every continent. If I could wish for one thing to change in my new found homeland, I would wish for more warmth and hospitality in daily interactions.