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honest; truthful; frank; straightforward; genuine; earnest
sincere
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ESL Article: An American-Russian Dialogue (3)

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What follows below is James K.'s answer to Lena's earlier response.

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Quote Lena:
"...Wow, Jameses' message is quite interesting. However, it seems stereotyped..."

James K's response:
It's hard to bring up general principles without stereotyping. I never said that all people think or do these things all the time. However, sometimes the exceptions prove the rule.

Quote Lena:
"...Also when I say bad things about my country it's OK, but when a foreigner especially an American does it, I don't like it ;-)..."

James K's response:
I was in a museum in London that had a horrifying painting by a German artist about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The Chinese friend who was with me got angry about the painting, and later told me that it depicted the truth, but that, "It's just like when your child does something bad. You can complain about it yourself, but you don't want to hear about it from your neighbor." Elena should also know that I have never been to Russia or Ukraine, so I am only judging by a lot of reading and by the behavior of Russians and Ukrainians who have immigrated to the US. They strike me as the turbo version of Slovaks, to some degree.

Quote Lena:
"...Still this country brings up strong spirit, high morales, Russians are inventive, creative, tenacious, especially if their heart is into something..."

James K's response:
There was once a good article in the Wall Street Journal called "What the West Can Learn from Leninism". It explained how (a) the Soviets were able to achieve many of the same high-tech feats the Americans could, but with more ingenious, lower technology that often resulted in tougher, more durable equipment, and (b) how American companies think of only five years as "the long term" for technological development, while the Soviets worked on a technology until they got something out of it. Some Soviet innovations were actually begun in the US, but the American corporations abandoned them after a few years, letting the Russians pick them up. The Russians had the tenacity to work on them for 20 years or more until they got something out of them.

Quote Lena:
"...people are caring, generous, hospitable, proud well I'd better put all this together! Also there is very strong sense of family ties which has long been absent in the west..."

James K's response:
Well, not always true about the family ties, but in countries with a history of hardship and oppression, it's very visible that friendships and family ties are closer and more meaningful. When freedom comes, this good thing brings, among other bad results, the sad development that interpersonal bonds can weaken. The more you can trust the outside world, the less tightly you have to cling to your family or clique for support and protection. So, something sad and something happy come hand in hand. Some people try to blame it on "Americanization", but it's really just a byproduct of freedom.

Quote Lena:
"...Come on I've never seen or heard someone wishing bad things seeing a wedding ceremony:-). It may happen once in 100 years at one place -- now making a tradition of this -- I think it's going way too far..."

James K's response:
I didn't mean to imply that cursing a bride and groom is a Slavic tradition. It was just one episode I used to illustrate how often you see the "you're happier than me, so I wish evil on you" attitude that is prevalent in the East but rather rare in the West. Do you know how to say "Schadenfreude" in English? We say "schadenfreude" -- and most people have never heard the word. Pretty much every language from Germany eastward has a word for getting pleasure from the misfortunes of others, but English has none, so we have to use yours. And here I don't see many people who get pleasure from seeing others suffer, at least not nearly as many as I did in the Czech Republic.

Quote Lena:
"...There's also one catch, when inside the country someone openly discusses or implies such an arrogant attitude to Russians, you can forget about any business, people tend to get insulted and may even turn down lucrative business offers..."

James K's response:
Yes, this is clear. But I wasn't actually trying to be arrogant. I was just pointing out what I've seen. Easterners can be equally arrogant, with their stupid "cowboy" and "hamburger" remarks, or the arrogant rationalizations they make when they screw something up in front of an American.
A good example: In the US it's a sort of national sport to do studies that reveal the ignorance of American school kids. These come out every couple of years, and the findings are spectacularly funny, but infuriating at the same time. In the early 1990s, the Czechs had never done this sort of study of their own school children. All they did was read the reports about our kids. One day, another American study of stupid American school children was published in the Czech newspapers, and all my colleagues were congratulating themselves over the fact that Czechs gave a far superior education to their kids. Immediately after that, I gave an ESL test to 14- and 15-year-old kids in that Czech school that required only very basic knowledge of geography. They didn't know where most of the world's major cities were, and they didn't even know the ones nearby. My favorite answer was, "Munich is on the northern coast of Germany, across the Danube from Hamburg." The girl even drew a little map to show it. Another time, right before graduation, a girl gave me a paper that claimed that the United States consists of 19 sovereign nations and numerous colonies of Britain, France, Holland and Portugal. I have never figured out where she got this. So, the Czech kids were more or less like our kids.

Quote Lena:
"...True, many habits need to change here, but when such rather arrogant well-wishing and a ready-made imposed solution of all the problems is brought into Russia from outside it's usually misconstrued and perceived as a kind of unwanted intrusion and maybe even brings xenophobia in certain people. People feel they are being treated without any respect like a bunch of illiterate Indians just found in the middle of Amazon river and in want of enlightenment. I know this is not the case, but there is such an attitude sometimes..."

James K's response:
But sometimes they just cook up this belief that they are being treated as ignorant. Sometimes it's real, and sometimes it's not. There's a good parallel to be made here: The French tend to be very arrogant about their cultural superiority, and if anyone questions it, they point to the monuments and works of great art present in Paris. However, the arrogant Frenchman making such an assertion had no part in creating these things, nor did any Frenchman alive today. In fact, French culture today is rather decadent, and it's safe to say that the French nation we know in 2004 is not the same one that created what people think of as France's magnificent culture.

Americans -- even those who are not religious -- are the heirs to an evangelical Protestant tradition that makes people think that they have seen the light and have to spread the Good News to all nations. This is a benevolent impulse, not an imperialistic one. The United States is better at certain things than any other country in the world. However, just like the arrogant Frenchman pointing to the monuments, some individual Americans don't realize that they personally are stupider than their nation is collectively, and that they are not personally the ones who have and still do create all those marvelous things.

There's another problem, and this one is common to Western and Eastern Europe. The people in Europe typically pick up on some American trend in management, education or government very late. They read all the books and studies that promote it, but they don't seem to check to see whether it is working well in the US or not. The result is that they will often adopt bad trends at the very time that the Americans -- knowing that the ideas are no good -- have decided to reform away from them. I am hearing that in Switzerland they have begun to reform education in a way that has dismally failed in the US, and at the very same time that we Americans are reforming away from it. It's predictable that in 10 years or so, when the Swiss see what a failure the ideas are, they will blame us Americans, instead of blaming themselves for adopting an experiment that we already knew was faulty.

Even more trouble: I noticed that in Eastern Europe it's frequent that an American book that promotes some crazy set of ideas will be translated, published, promoted and read, but that no one ends up translating the two or three important books that refute the crazy one. Thus, either (a) the crazy ideas can become influential for a while, with nothing to stop them, or (b) the one crazy book convinces people that ""this is what Americans think", when really we don't.

With books that are harmless in the US, there can be further trouble. I saw Czechs reading books like "Think and Grow Rich", "How to Win Friends and Influence People", and others, but they don't have the cultural context to interpret them properly. They take the ideas to weird extremes, because they understand them in relation to 19th-century robber baron capitalism, or something like it, and they are completely missing the point, because they don't understand the religious and charitable underpinnings of the mentality of most Americans. Thus, good ideas from America can turn into bad ideas when they are misunderstood by foreigners.

Quote Lena:
"...Problem is that Russia has always been partly in Europe, partly in Asia, hence the difference..."

James K's response:
Oh, I hear this from Russians all the time, but none of them have ever been able to explain it convincingly. I think it's just an empty saying.

Quote Lena:
"...The two Russian guys Jamie describes fit into a pattern of sexist behaviour rather than any secretive stuff..."

James K's response:
I think I only mentioned one Russian guy in this regard, and one Russian woman. However, I also see Russian men do this to other men. And I still don't understand why someone would phone me very distraught about a problem, complain that she is not getting any attention or sympathy from me, but still never reveal the problem I'm supposed to sympathize with her about.
Another interesting thing is that about 10 years ago, if my answering machine had no message, but just the sound of a person hanging up without leaving one, I absolutely KNEW it was a person from a former communist country. Russia, China, whatever. Most of them wouldn't talk into an answering machine, and they'd tell me it just made them uneasy. In 2004, though, this never happens anymore.

Quote Lena:
"...The society is still rather sexist, although Russian women have high positions in 89% of industry I think. More than in the USA in any case. I'll check the exact statistics and will revert, I was amazed by it myself!..."

James K's response:
Higher female participation in the work force isn't necessarily a good thing. It can be, but it doesn't have to be. Remember that American women weren't forced into collectives and didn't have to send their children to government kindergartens. Most women I know have chosen their careers with the idea in mind that they WANT to stay home and raise their children. They want a career they can interrupt, because they want the full duties of motherhood. This is why in the US the engineering classes consist of 35 men and 2 women, and the teaching classes consist of 40 women and 2 men.

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