You will not grasp her with your mind
Or cover with a common label,
For Russia is one of a kind –
Believe in her, if you are able...
So far I haven’t found a more accurate description than this one. If you really want to get a picture of what being Russian means, better leave all the rational tools you have at your disposal behind. A brain, however great it may be, won't ever be enough to figure out what drives our actions.
To dive into the depths of the Russian mind, you will need some imagination and creativity – both an absolute must-have. Being born and raised in Russia, I understand this more than perfectly.
We Russians, rossiyane, have never been prone to pure rationality. This doesn’t mean nobody here knows what logical skills are and how one is supposed to use them – just look at all the great math geniuses like Lobachevsky (the one who invented an alternative version of geometry) or Perelman (solved the Poincare theorem, considered one of the most challenging in mathematics history) and others – all of them stemming from Russia. Yet these examples belong to pure science. Not everyday life.
The way the majority of Russians see the world just goes beyond anything logical. “If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed” if that weren’t enough, declared Leo Tolstoy, a literary legend from Russia who gained worldwide fame for “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina”.
It's not for a Russian to analyze things - we like to feel them with our heart.
Whatever happens – regardless of whether it's a singing contest, a football game or currency fluctuations - we don't research the situation. We imagine ourselves being a part of it. We live it. That's the reason why Russian people are so emotional, and a little bit out of their minds even when they're not supposed to be. Our emotions are our main analyzing tools and guides through the labyrinth of life.
As if that weren’t enough, we are chaotic. I mean, Russians belong to a reckless group of people who change their minds every now and then, make surprise visits to one another, and suddenly turn in a different direction while heading for a certain destination – just because it has suddenly dawned on them to act this way.
You cannot imagine how popular it is among Russians to travel somewhere without first booking a place to stay. When I was a kid my parents used to take me to the Black Sea, and I still vividly remember us running about the sunlit city searching for accommodation. Was it quicker or more comfortable than having a hotel suite booked? Of course not. But this was how we traveled. And we saw nothing wrong in it. We just had fun!
Following any kind of plan should be left to businesspeople and politicians. It's doesn’t suit ordinary people. It’s not for everyday life. Life would be too boring this way.
“First you do something, only then you’re supposed to think it over” – try to follow this principle and feel like a Russian. You’ll be absolutely excited, I assure you of that.
Occasionally things go wrong because of such an unordinary and unorderly approach – it would be strange if they didn’t. In such circumstances there’s always a final resolution, “Keep calm, it’s Russia”. Something that would trigger alarm somewhere else is a matter-of-fact thing in Russia.
What makes Russians Russian is, among other things, their unbreakable will.
I guess the main reason this power to resist and bite (not literally, of course) developed is our turbulent history. Too often the existence of Russia itself was at risk. Too often Russians had to protect their Motherland.
Through the ages Russia has been grasped by numerous conflicts. Yet it's so remarkable just how our ancestors managed to brace themselves to carry on fighting.
For example, in 1612 Russian forces, commanded by Prince (the Russian name for the title is “knyaz”) Dmitri Pozharsky and merchant Kuzma Minin turned the tide of a presumably ill-fated confrontation with Poland. Those fighters were volunteers. Just imagine - peasants and medieval city-dwellers standing up to a formidable enemy! By their own free will. How strong their hope was!
The same power of spirit crushed Napoleon in 1812. Napoleon was a uniquely talented general. Before entering Russia he made thorough calculations. At least he thought so. Yet there was something he failed to take into account. Namely, the will of Russians to save their country from ruin. For that purpose they were ready to do everything at hand. Driven by an ardent desire to protect their native land, every single man fought for even the tiniest piece of earth beneath his feet.
No superior force could crush this fighting spirit.
A mere flicker of hope, the faintest chance of victory was enough to make Russians stand up and fight. And Russians never lost hope. “Hope dies last”, and in Russia you can hear this repeated over and over again.
Why would Russians fight so fiercely for their Motherland? The answer is simple and yet deeply meaningful - Russian people love their country. Russians stay in Russia not because of lack of money or whatever might limit their ability to travel. We do travel and enjoy discovering the world. The thing is, Russia is our home. With all its controversies, Russia is the Motherland, the only one until our very last breath, just like a mother.
Feeling a kind of special bond with it, I just cannot imagine myself residing somewhere else. Such a thing wouldn’t work. Ever. You know, we Russians have this nice expression toska po rodine, which means something like “longing to see Motherland again”. This toska is an authentic Russian word with barely any equivalents in foreign languages. I always feel toska when separated from Russia even for a little while.
It's not about dependence, really. It's about spiritual closeness. Devotion to the country, pure and sincere. Devotion that nothing and no one will ever take from me.
Most Russians share this patriotic feeling.
Speaking of feelings, people from other countries often have a hard time figuring out whether some Russian in question is happy or sad. Those who do (or think they do), find the answer come to pretty much the same conclusion: Russians are people “who are depressed all the time”. My dear friends, with all due respect, you are completely mistaken. We don't smile too much, that's true. We don't laugh every moment possible. Yet sadness is not to blame for this. It's more about seriousness and thoughtfulness. An average Russian is prone to self-analysis and a critical observation of the outside world. That's where the great masterpieces of Russian art and literature come from. If not for self-analysis, the world would have never heard of Leo Tolstoy, with his existential ruminations featured in “War and Peace”.
But you should know that Russians ain't always serious. More specifically, their approach towards life isn't.
You've probably heard Russians say avos. This word is hard to translate exactly, because its meaning is lost somewhere between maybe and let's hope so. It's like saying “maybe it will turn out this way, maybe the other way, let's just go on and see what happens.” Sounds strange, right? Yet Russians like unpredictability. Unpredictable means attractive. Avos makes life sound more exciting. And the glorious history of this principle dates back to really ancient times. Even in Russian fairytales can you often come across the main character, mostly called Ivan Doorak (that is, Ivan the Stupid), who goes somewhere, a location he is himself unsure of, in search of god knows what. Yes, just like that. The destination is unknown, the goal is undefined. And, by the way, in every case he ends up becoming rich and happy with a cute princess by his side. For the record: in all cases he finds the god knows what, and this thing turns out to be the right one. Ridiculous? No. Typically Russian. And it works, so remember it.
In addition to all of this, Russians are conservative. Don't mistake our conservatism for a negative attitude towards anything new. We just value tradition. It’s of the highest importance to us not to lose ourselves, and not to forget who we are. For example, that is why so many Russians take part in Easter celebrations regardless of their religious views. It’s very easily explained: they were brought up that way. Their parents and grandparents used to do it. And you know what? The children will follow in their footsteps.
You probably think all things mentioned above don't really mesh with one another. Maybe they don't.
The whole picture might look illogical. It is hard to imagine all of these features combined in a single person, let alone any group of people. Still, these people do exist – Russians. Less logic, more feelings, love for the country – and everything will be all right.
We are strange. And know what? It feels perfect. You’ll never get bored with a Russian.
Come to Russia and see for yourself.