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A Russian View on Culture

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You probably want to know what Americans think about Russians and vice versa. Below you can read what Elena from Russia has to say in answer to some ideas expressed by James K., an American language professor and cross cultural trainer:

Elena from Novorossysk, Russia:
A little more on cultural differences in reply to Jamie [James K.]:

First of all I have to say a couple of words on the "secrecy" complex, which I think is only alive in older people here.

You mention that a Russian man and a Russian woman have a problem with keeping innocent things secret. I do not know how old they are and when they immigrated into the USA. It could have been possible in the early 80s here, but not any longer. If they moved at that time they might have extinct traits which you can't find now in Russian, otherwise there could have been more innocent purely psychological reasons found in any culture.

The situation when people suffer from something, want someone to sympathize with them and do not tell what the problem is, it is something mysterious and needs further facts in order to judge if a person falls into this or that stereotyped acquired habit prescribed by this or that mentality, I truly have not often seen this in Russia, most people I meet tend to be more or less articulate and try to explain and express their feelings to the outside world.

That can happen when someone is ashamed of something, like something she feared you would disapprove of or maybe lack of self-assurance or probably lack of trust in the person whose sympathy she wanted. Or maybe she couldn't define her thoughts and feeling clearly to herself? Maybe she was in love with you? Some people are "great assumers" and they want you to guess what you think and what you feel, I've never thought of this trait as a typically Russian trait though, but some people here think that this tends to be more common with females (not rational enough or too emotional creatures). It can be a part of another myth, which we can discuss in another forum.

The man's behavior seems more mysterious because I'm a woman but I guess can be also explained without bringing Communism ideology, he was probably suffering from a stress or was provoked by probably not so innocent question to "talk back". In a word, I see no secrecy tendency.

On "Schadenfreude" being more of an eastern concept, that's a huge topic for discussion really! Thanks for mentioning it!

I have made a small research and talked to my compatriots and friends abroad. Firstly, the word itself, I must say that the Russians normally use 3 words "rejoice at someone's misfortunes" to speak about Schadenfreude (well at least for the last 50 years), foreign-words-fiends even adopted Schadenfreude in Russian, a word? which you probably mean is 'mischief' in English actually. Another search found that only in Greek language there's such a word. However I may be wrong and we can ask other English learners in the forum what word they normally use. I do not think that cultural differences lie that deep anyway mostly because of their universal nature, and also because of cultural integration, when you speak about emotions you feel, isn't it the way you express them, the way is considered polite to express them in this or that culture -- isn't that the main difference?

I've found another humorous interpretation of this missing notion in the English language (by an American journalist):
Philip Howard identifies Schadenfreude as one of the black holes in English. One commentator (R.C. Trench) celebrates this gap, saying "What a fearful thing is it that any language should have a word expressive of the pleasure which men feel at the calamities of others; for the existence of the word bears testimony to the existence of the thing. And yet in more than one, such a word is found: in the Greek epikairekakia, in the German, Schadenfreude." Well, it is rare to see such refinement of feeling deployed in the service of philology, but relations between the English and the Germans has always been complex. Personally, I think Schadenfreude is a useful and expressive word, and much to be preferred to epikairekakia.

Terry Lane has defined Schadenfreude as the sensation experienced when you see two Mercedes Benz collide: but that may reflect his preference for Australian-made cars more than his proud egalitarianism. In either case, it is a near-perfect definition for a sentiment which dares not speak its name in English. Clive James admits to Schadenfreude when he sees his rival's books in the remainders bin.

Trench's point is neatly made in the Victorian laws against homosexuality. Since Queen Victoria refused to accept the possibility of homosexual attraction between women, the offence created by Parliament was confined in application to men (as Oscar Wilde soon found to his grief) and it was not until 1925 that Aldous Huxley borrowed (this time from the Greek) and coined the word lesbian.
Author: Elena Nossal