So before moving in with Saint Pete I joined an international ex-pat website, and last night I went to my first organised event, English Club… Yeah yeah I know, it’s not going to help my Russian, but I figured it was a good way to make friends with some locals wishing to practice English, and perhaps at a later date they would return the favour?
Until a couple of days before I was the only native English speaker who had signed up, although there was a last minute rush so on the night I wasn’t quite the ‘Belle of the Ball’ that I might have been. I did meet some really nice people who were very interested in why I had moved to Russia and what life was like in England. I am allowed to talk about it… that wasn’t the first rule, and if the first rule was (as I had assumed) that you should only speak English then I soon broke that too, so I didn’t completely cop out on my Russian.
Things started to take an unusual turn when one lady asked how I was getting on learning Russian and I told her the haberdashery story. She assumed that the ladies in the shop had mended my jacket and was shocked to find that I’d done it myself. She told me that all Russian men were lazy and did nothing towards household duties, going on to say that in Sweden the men do everything about the house.
Having been married to a Swede I felt able to expand on her world-view, and explained that my ex-step-father-in-law (is that a thing?) did the majority of the daily household chores, but that he was unable to work due to back problems and his wife worked mornings in a nursery so didn’t feel that she needed to contribute much more than that. I also pointed out that many of the Swedish females I knew complained that their partners did nothing, and that I was sure that not all Russian men were lazy.
Now of course we all generalise… It’s a very human thing, to find patterns in an otherwise random world. I’ve already done it in this very blog, although I assume that any readers will have the intelligence to realise it for what it is, and not let it taint their world view as an absolute fact. Of course there are Russians who smile in the street, although it was a Russian who first told me that they didn’t and every Russian that I have mentioned it to agrees, often laughing about it… even if we are talking on the street!?!
But this lady was adamant and clung to her generalisations as though without them she would drown in the sea of uncertainty that I like to call life… I became wary of telling her anything about myself in case she then propagated that as an unquestionable truth about the British. She then started insisting that in Soviet times it was far nicer because people visited each other at home more (but of course there weren’t as many cafes and bars to meet in), and complaining that the waitress was stealing the chocolate which should have come with her coffee.
I’m embarrassed to say that after the third time she relayed this I couldn’t help but to lose my manners a little and suggest that her complaint might be best directed towards the manager than the rest of the table, shortly after which she appeared to get the hump and leave.
She had earlier asked how much my parents pension was (I have no idea because I’ve never asked), and her obvious dislike of Russian men made my remaining co-conspirators postulate that she may have been lining me up as potential husband material.
It seems the first rule of English Club is don’t be too polite to get up and mingle.