Currently, I am studying Russian language abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia. Russia has always been an interesting country to me, and because of that I wanted to learn the language. When I arrived in Russia I was ready to get used to new cultural experiences and expectations, and even excited to learn the differences between the cultures.
One of the first noticeable differences that many Americans will be aware of while traveling in Russia is the lack of personal space. While walking on the streets people might bump you constantly and not say “excuse me”, because it is so common and not considered rude. On the metro, in lines at grocery stores, or while ordering food at a cafe, people will stand extremely close to you. The personal bubble that most Americans are used to is non-existent to a point that I find it comical. I say comical because while I’m standing in line, I feel like people are breathing down my neck and I think about how this closeness means nothing to them. One fun fact about Russian language is that there is no word for “privacy”. While teaching about privacy and personal space at the university, they actually just use the English word.
Another difference in culture is the topics that you are allowed to talk about. In Russia it is common to talk about your salary, why you are not married, and personal health problems. I believe that some of these topics are taboo in the States. One thing that they say Russian’s never talk about is their sex life. This topic is extremely taboo, but in my opinion it is strange because they talk about health, and issues of marriage but not about sex life. My professor told us a joke and said that people in the Soviet Union didn’t have sex. It’s funny in the context that conversating about sex was so taboo then and the history of Soviet Union policies.
Moving to another topic, I want to talk about how I met my first Russian friend. At the university there was a sports festival that consisted of students from different countries playing volleyball, basketball, and soccer. At the event each country had a different team for each sport. I played on the soccer team and we played four games. After the festival, some of the players from the other teams asked if we wanted to play basketball. I was already tired, but I thought that it would be a good way to meet new people, so I decided to stay. We played basketball for about two hours and after one of the guys invited us to a restaurant. Only when we got to the restaurant, did he tell us that he was the organizer of an international Russian speaking club. Because of this meeting, I go to the Russian speaking club events that are every Tuesday. I also met my friend Igor that I talk to every day and we go to different places, like the Ermitage and different parks that he shows me multiple times a week. Just by making that decision to not say I was too tired, and to play basketball allowed me to become great friends with someone who lives in Petersburg and to network with Russian speakers from all over the world.
By: Brandon Harvey
Program: Russian Language & Area Studies, St, Petersburg, Russia
Term: Summer 2019