With Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics approaching, much has been said about Russia, Russians, their mentality, idiosyncrasies, mannerisms and habits…
Nearly as many balalaika-vodka-matrioshka stuff as I remember from the 80th, when there were very few of “Soviet” Russians in the USA, and many Americans could recite the names of defected Russian ballerinas and KGB operatives. In the 80th, we were asked of bears roaming the streets of Moscow. Oh, bear-infested Russia, mon amour!
Tell you what: These days, Russians are no less susceptible to the offences by the foreigners than they always were. Give and take, they are no more touchy or paranoid than people of other nations. As someone you wouldn’t want to know said, “I can rant for hours about barbaric Russia and rogue Russians but if any foreigner agrees with me, I’ll punch him in the nose.” So Russian. And not only Russian.
Then comes James Clarkson, an English broadcaster, journalist (The Sunday Times and The Sun) and writer best known for his role on the BBC TV show Top Gear. After a short sojourn to Russia on his Top Gear business, he publishes an article As Russians say, manners maketh the British late in The Sunday Times.
Innocently enough, James Clarkson starts out talking about… time. Clarkson hates wasting it. He really does.
Clarkson: “…We fume in traffic jams and curse when people on pavements walk too slowly, yet we are prepared to waste hours and hours of every day gurning and engaging in idle chitchat with people we don’t know.
The British middle-class obsession with good manners means we feel obliged to discuss the weather with our postman and our holidays with our hairdresser. We write ridiculously long thank-you letters to people we’ve already thanked verbally. In business emails we use words that aren’t necessary simply because we feel the need to be polite, and if we want directions we always start out by saying, “Excuse me. I hate to be a bother but . . .”
Been on a flight recently? The obsequiousness is now so rampant that it takes half an hour to make every announcement.”
And many more words to that effect about British way of exercising good, time-tested but time-wasting British manners. Russia seem to have delighted Jeremy. Because, you see, Russians are not quite as obsessively polite, refined and well-mannered as Brits. So bloody refreshing!
When you order a dish from a menu that isn’t available, there’s no tiresome hand-wringing explanation from the waiter. He just says, “It’s off”. And if you are struggling to get your luggage through a revolving door, no one waits patiently until you’ve sorted the problem out. They repeatedly shove the handles until everything in your suitcase is smashed and your fingers have been severed.
…Ever been stuck behind two British people while waiting for a ski lift? “After you.” “No, you were here first.” “No, really. I’m sure you were.” “Oh, it’s OK. I don’t mind waiting. It’s such a lovely day.” “Much warmer than last year.” After a while you are consumed with an urgent need to stab both of them with your poles.
Queuing is much easier in Russia — because no one bothers. You just walk to the front and if anyone objects — this actually happened — you pull out your wallet and show the complainant your credit cards. This is Russian for, “I am richer than you, sunshine, so shut up.”
And Clarkson continues: It’s the same in what we call polite discussion. You don’t dress up counter-arguments with subtle innuendo. Russians just say, “You’re wrong” and move on. Here’s one conversation I had:
“Jews are running the world.”
“I hear what you say, but I don’t think that’s the case.”
“But there are plenty of examples . . .”
“I said, ‘You’re wrong.’”
Being British, it’s all very upsetting. But after a while I started to realise that being impolite saves an awful lot of time and costs you nothing. When someone is wasting your evening with their harebrained nonsense, just tell them they are wrong and walk away. When you are in a butcher’s shop, don’t bother with small talk. Just say, “Two chops” and wait to be told the price. When someone is dawdling on the pavement, push them out of the way. And in a bar, don’t try to catch the barman’s eye. Just shout what you want from the back of the queue.
…Back at Heathrow, the immigration official was very chummy. “Been away long?” he asked politely. I saved two seconds by not bothering with an answer.
I felt terrible. Guilty as hell. But that’s the curse of being British. …Because they free up more time for writing very long thank-you letters and making small talk with the milkman.”
In a word, it was a very wordy piece. His audience must’ve loved it bloody awful.
Brits may or may not have felt inspired to abandon their manners and “do as Russians do”. Russians, however, took immediate offense. Oh, boy! Did they ever!
Let’s listen to Vox populi:
Marina • Who would go to the front of the line and show their wallet to the people? This is bullshit, like many other things in this article, that
were probably aimed at showing a higher cultural level of British people in comparison to Russians, but it created an opposite impression on me.(–Written in English, original style preserved)
Incognito • Pity you haven’t come across his earlier article where this SOB denigrated Russian women. You might’ve toned down your adoration [for him]. He is a typical Brit — duplicitous, deceitful, slippery and toxic. “Born with masks and bred to lie” — this isn’t me saying, this is the opinion of British “classic” lyricist about his own compatriot.
Here it is, I’ll give you his [Clarkson’s] own words, “Of course, many believed that because Lada (Russian lightweight sedan) is capable of withstanding Russian roads, Russian winters and Russian women in the passenger seat, the vehicle, at least, must be reliable.” Now go ahead, admire Clarkson as much as you want.(–Written in Russian and English, translated by me)
Sergey • Russians usually speak politely if they know language. I am afraid Jeremy simply met people with a short English vocabulary. US Americans usually know few words in Spanish. Ask someone in Spanish and wait for answer in Spanish too. You will get response even shorter than ‘You’re wrong’. (–Written in English, original style preserved)
Incognito • You are wrong [being offended by Clarkson’s remarks]. Jeremy Clarkson is a comedian and a humorist appealing to the tastes of British working men. If his main topic was not cars but, say, biology, his popularity would be zero. So do not take [his rants] literally. He is merely entertaining his target audience with his chatter. It has very little to do with Russia, it is the rules of the genre. (Translated by me)
Aleksey Simeonidi • He must have forgotten how his countrymen in central London behave when drunk, or while on vacation in Greece. I’m not defending Russians, but the British do not behave like noble lords all the time either. He spoke of the Greeks the same way. ‘Tell you what, fu*k him. (–Translated by me)
Well, never mind my own opinion of Jeremy Clarkson’s opinion of Russian and British manners, and the Vox populi voiced by offended Russians. Let me know if you have better translation of an inscription on the picture above.