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ESL Article: A Russian View on Culture (3)

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Let''s go a little bit astray on the subject of female participation in the work force: Did you choose carrier which you can interrupt and not the one that you can enjoy? Why should someone else do it? Both men and women should be encouraged to interrupt their carrier for child-minding. Wife for (pre and post) and natal periods and husband for babysitting afterwards. Other notions are connected with old-fashioned myths. It doesn''t have to be that all people necessarily have to do that, but society should encourage both men and women to care for their babies and interrupt their carriers if necessary. Scandinavian countries are beginning to encourage this and this is a good example.

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If society doesn''t follow this, OK, go and learn Chinese now, you''ll need it pretty soon anyway. (By the way is only Russian spam full of ads to learn Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese?) In USA you also have families where both adults are working especially in bigger cities and they use baby-sitters. And who originally forced English and American households to have governesses and servants, not the evil influence from the east, I hope?

Russia is partly in the east partly in the west? Nothing empty, it''s just very catchy, someone was having a point when it was first said, but it was lost after a thousand of repetitions. For me it''s mainly religious confessions and the influence from the East and the West-Islam, Christianity, Buddhism. For me Buddhism makes more sense: I do not see any evil and bad-wishing in this religion, nor do I see anything bad in Islam I mean when you read the Koran, not the extremists'' babble. The Protestant church is fairly young, younger than Catholicism or Russian Orthodox Church, a lot of awful things happened with Catholicism in middle ages, during Spanish Inquisition times, Russian Orthodox Church is not without sins…Protestantism appeared in quite different times -- in quite another state of society development, in different society formation, and it''s only a few hundred years old, so it''s one of the youngest confession that''s all. After all the only difference between the Saint and the Sinner is that the Sinner has the past and the Saint has the futureJ. Let''s talk after the Light and the Good news after it is 1000 years old.

Moreover why should you talk about imperialistic impulses of the USA? I think we were talking about business and household prejudices, but if the subject has been touched, then here you are. I do not subscribe to the idiotic views that USA act like Hitler imposing ''benevolent'' truth upon the world, etc. etc., but I''m also far from the naive belief in the purely benevolent impulses of your politicians, why should the benevolence coincide with Iraqi oil, why should the Good news not be spread to North Korea or a couple of islands in the Pacific Ocean? No matter how cynical the real reason to wage the war is, the human minds have always needed plausible excuses for the military aggression: Alexander the Great invaded India claiming to be their savior, when in fact it was for diamonds, Crusades were to free the God''s tomb but "incidentally" allowed to conquer rich oriental countries in between and waged new aggressive wars.

What I say is that any country of the world being in the USA position would probably wage these invasions as well to get the oil, this is cynical but it seems true. However to consider this benevolent impulse of innocent lambs is going way too far, reasonable people here are not claiming here America is evil, it''s been typical in human history to wage wars for economic and political profits under plausible ''benevolent'' pretexts to convince the convincible, sadly but it is, but no reasonable person will ever admit that America is a new Messiah…Both extremes are dangerous in a way…These extreme pseudo "cross-cultural" differences between "evil east" and "benevolent west" play into the hands of modern cultural superiority myth makers and serve just like a good reason to wage a new cold war, I only hope that such xenophobic attitudes planted in the brains of your students and our students now will not develop further to bring the species to the extinction very soon. Each country is exceeding others in some aspects I do not think it gives any reason and any right to the politicians to impose its excellence and superiority on others.

And a final point: Let us speak about national identity itself -- what makes a person believe that being a Russian, American, British or German one has to behave this or that way, in other words how truly you can you say for sure that you have the national mentality. When you read books or watched TV as a kid -- that was all the influence as well -- in the majority of cultures you''re not convicted to art created solely by your own country, you have the diversity. Now with the internet so wide-spread when you see hundreds of young kids infesting internet-cafes or sitting at their homes with red eyes after the all-night chat with their pals not necessarily from their own country -- which mentality they have now?

The ideas, believes, values, along with prejudices, stereotypes etc. brought up in a person by parents, school, society but how truly "ours" are all these if we do not question and review them? I''m not speaking here about unquestionable taboos like value of person''s life, etc. violators of which are tried and convicted and found in jails all over the world.

But how it works when we identify ourselves as possessing these or those traits, features, qualities of our national character. Is it just habits like eating habits, table manners or preferring a certain style in clothing or something much more deep-routed? A human being seems so easily adjustable and can review the habits with this or that degree of flexible or stubborn behavior. (Come on, you can even learn to never cut your potatoes with knife, Gosh, I always forget myself when I''m in Germany).

People seem keen on neatly pigeonholing themselves in order to give the world some preliminary information, to show the world they are this or that type to express themselves further. But from what sources do they get the information to do the classification in their minds -- we go to the outside world to gather the perceptions or opinions of other people or we go inside and introspect -- matching the outside qualities with our true self. We do both at a certain ratio. But how true is the former and how honest is the latter, in short how fitting is the pigeonhole we put ourselves in?

May I deduce that the person who doesn''t devote some time introspecting about who he is and relies more on the opinion of who he is by the people surrounding him more automatically sticks to stereotyped behavior, stipulated by "national character" or "country mentality"?

Let me ponder further: when you grow up in the second half of the 20th century, you bathe in Oscar Wilde tales, are enthralled by Sheherezade tales, hide with Tom Sawyer from adults in Mark Twain''s novels, swoon at Beatles'' songs, sail the ships and survive in wilderness with Jules Verne, sympathize with Oliver Twist in Dickens'' novel, despair at misfortunes of Chekhov heroes, ask questions about yourself reading Dostoevsky, find you''re scared by Brothers'' Grimm fairy-tales, D.Argento''s movies, Dante''s descriptions of inferno, amused by Figaro, are entertained by less Hollywood movies, Disney cartoons, Manga cartoons and savor Cannes and Berlin festivals and Oscar winners if you''re get more refined, if you don''t then you can''t exclude a slight possibility that at least some of your friends your parents, your teachers, your country''s writers, actors, poets, singers and playwrights (maybe even some of your politicians!) do this when they grow up, your actors use Stanislavksy''s system to learn acting, your psychologists all over the world still use techniques to control anger mentioned by Seneka (check yourself), we can go on forever here…moreover if you''re blessed with language skills, you begin speaking one or two languages.

Check the fairy-tales all over the world the majority of them are pretty much the same. Then you wake up one day and you hear that you have a Russian, German, Spanish, American mentality which is this and that, people in your country are generally this and that, lacking this and having a surplus of that, bringing this and that upon the world. You hear it and you may swallow it as is but do you review it when you''re turning into an adult? When you''re told that Russians are lazy and always late but have an example of your granny who was pathologically punctual, never stopped working all her life and is very skilled and precise in what she was doing and got a kick out of just working, doing something right…so which point of view you finally subscribe to?

Can you look into yourself and clearly define: OK this trait I got from parents, this was given by school, this was picked from my favorite book, my favorite hero acted like that, this was learnt from my teacher, my friends taught me to smoke J) and this… well I was in love with someone and picked it from him/her, and this, oh yeah, this is really a trait of my national mentality that I have in blood. Can you really tell the difference?

When you are growing up at some stage you need to identify yourself with some group, but how strong your analytical abilities are when the identification stage is accomplished, i.e. in your teens and 20s, i.e. is the self-identification process final and binding? For many people the real analytical abilities (if any) arise quite a few years later.

So how deep-routed are the differences in the national character traits? At least for the younger generations in more or less industrially developed countries they more and more seem very surface and subtle indeed and are in the scale of table manners or surface politesse.

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Next:ESL Article: The connections between language and culture

Author: Elena Nossal

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