Privacy is a big thing in the lives of Americans. Your medical and school records are protected by privacy. Privacy policies are a requirement in almost every field, even in blogging (as we recently found out). You cannot just send you family member or a friend to get your medical tests results, or to pick up your college transcript. Everything is protected by privacy. In Russian language we don’t even have such word. Yes, that’s right. There is no translation for the word “privacy” in Russian.
I knew all that before I came to the country and I was warmed about Russian-American differences, so I was prepared for them. What I was not prepared for was Americans’ openness, which contradicts with how obsessed with their privacy American people are.
When I was flying to the U.S. for the first time, I ended up sitting next to a guy in his mid-thirties, who was from Kentucky. We exchanged a few phrases, introduced ourselves and then he started telling me about details of his divorce. Out of nowhere… Saying that it was very uncomfortable would be an understatement. Russian people would never do that. When it comes to our personal lives, especially when it is something as delicate as divorce, Russians close up.
I will never forget going through a checkout at Wal-Mart one day. I was visibly pregnant with our first child, so the cashier asked me who I was having and when I was due (something that would be inappropriate to ask strangers in Russia). I answered and then she said: “My daughter got pregnant and she has a double uterus with two complete ovaries in each”.
I nearly fainted. What was I supposed to say?
I still don’t understand how Americans obsession with privacy can go together with this openness.
I had quite a few arguments with my American husband on our honeymoon because of that. We would go out to eat and then he would announce to waitresses, that we just got married, that I am Russian and so on. It made me very uncomfortable, because I am sure waitress, or hostess or the other strangers he was sharing this information with could care less. After people found out where I was from they would start asking me: which part of Russia? Do you drink lots of vodka over there? Is it very cold? And so on and so forth.
This was driving me insane. My husband couldn’t understand why. He said he was just proud and happy and wanted to share his joy with everyone. Um, what about privacy?
Also, if we had an argument at home, he would call his friend, tell him about it and then tell me that he did that. I felt emotionally “naked’ when he did that. I asked him to never do this again and he couldn’t understand. “But he is our friend. He wishes us well. He’s been married for XYZ years, so he might give us a good advice. Blah blah blah…”
Needless to say, “friend”, whether he gave advice or not, shared our arguments with his wife and 3 daughters, who shared it with their friends and boyfriends, so in a week our entire congregation and pretty much all the city knew about our arguments. I heard from many Russians (and I learned the hard way myself) that Americans don’t keep secrets. I think that the problem is – Americans often don’t understand why it should be a secret. They are usually nice and compassionate people, and they do want to help.
Russians are private and have a lot of pride. It is embarrassing for them (us) to share our problems. We want the world to think that we are cool and that everything in our life is amazing. This is one of the reasons why psychotherapists and psychologists are not nearly as popular in Russia as in America. People don’t like to admit that they have problems. They don’t like to share negative things. And when it comes to positive, Russians often don’t share, because they are afraid to jinx it. (here is my post about superstitions).
Keep these in mind when interacting with Russians, not only with your Russian bride or Russian wife. It can save you many arguments and fights. Learn on our mistakes. Russian-American marriages are very exciting and usually very successful, but you need to learn each other’s cultures in order to avoid problems.
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