Monday, September 19, 2011

A Reply

After closing down this blog earlier this year, it came to my attention that my post "50 Facts About Russians" was discussed on a Moscow radio show, and afterwards I received hundreds of emails and many comments.

Half of the emails were positive responses and half were negative, and a few were quite hostile. I decided that, despite shutting down the blog, I owe it to readers to reply to their comments.

First, thank you everybody for your emails and comments. I published the choicest ones on the page and deleted the more obscene and ignorant ones. Most were good but I just did not have the space to publish all of them, or the time to reply. However, know that your messages were read.

Second, these "50 Facts" were written with humour and sarcasm. Many people understood this, but many did not. For those who didn't understand this, well, please don't send me emails.

Third, during my time in Russia I fell in love with the country. Now that I'm back in Canada all I can do is dream of returning to Russia. There is a "feel" and a deep spirituality in Russia that feels more human than in the West, more personable, and I miss it. However, there are downsides, such as the disintegrating roads, the corruption, and the horrible, horrible customer service that I can personally do without. It is my hope that Russians will get these things under control without sacrificing their culture and history.

Fourth, to reply to some specific comments, the crowds on the Moscow metro ARE insane, and I got hit repeatedly every single day. I was pushed and jostled and squeezed, had my toes crushed and my ribs elbowed...every day. The person who said this isn't true has obviously never been on the red line at 4 in the afternoon on a Wednesday.

The customer service in Russia IS horrible. There are some decent establishments, but 90% of the shops, restaurants, kiosks and everything else are cold and impersonal, and it seems the customer is an inconvenience to the clerk/server.

Not all Russians are alcoholics. After reviewing my "50 Facts" I realize that this post came off sounding this way. Many of my students didn't drink at all, and a couple of my Russian friends also didn't go near alcohol. In fact, there's a movement in Russia calling on Russians to "put down the bottle!". The Russian government has been taking steps to curb the sales of alcohol, and people are aware of the social problems associated with drinking. However, those Russians who do drink, can REALLY drink!

When Russians DO drink, they tend to do so in the kitchen with many friends, and have lively philosophical debates about life. At least, in my experience, the experience of my Western friends, and from what my Russian friends, students and wife have told me.

I would personally rather walk down the streets of Moscow, around Fili or Kurskaya, Kitai Gorod or even Yaroslavski Voksal, at 3 am then any street in any American city at the same time.

Russia IS incredibly beautiful in the winter. It's almost a real-life fairy-tale, with the white snow and trees and Orthodox churches, people fashionably dressed in warm furs and the smell of delicious food on the still winter air.

Feminism began in ENGLAND, not Russia (as one commenter tried to inform me). It spread to America very quickly after that. Nothing like political feminism ever really appeared in Russia until very recently.

Being a reporter during the Chechnya conflict was a lot more dangerous than during the Vietnam conflict. More than 22 journalists were killed or went missing in Chechnya, while only 8 were ever killed in Vietnam. After the conflict many Russian journalists who had criticized the Russian government wound up dead or missing.

Fifth, I could write a similar list of somewhat funny Canadian stereotypes, but I don't need to. Plenty of people have done so already (Read "Why I Hate Canadians" by Will Ferguson). However, I encourage any Russian person who has lived in Canada for longer than 1 year to submit a similar list, and I will gladly post it on this blog. You can email me at :