Over many years spent in Russia, I've had my fair share of conversations with Russians of all shapes and sizes - from ex KGB generals and disgruntled cabbies to an IT guy who told me what it was really like to trip balls on LSD.
But while I end up talking about all kinds of things with Russians, over my 7 or so years in Moscow, certain things come up on a regular basis. Apart from WW2 (tip, never debate WW2 with a Russian), these are the main three things that have popped up time and again.
I'm a spy or I'm just pretending to be foreign
You would be amazed at how many Russians find me and the fact I can speak Russian, more or less without an accent, suspicious.
I would probably be the worst spy in the world because everyone already thinks I am a spy anyway. In fact, if I was running agents right under Putin’s nose, most of the people I know probably wouldn't even be surprised. A bit like when the suspect-looking guy with the puppy and ice cream shack finally gets convicted of being a sex offender, they’d say, yeah, totally saw that coming.
I am the linguistic version of this van
Typically the older generation is the most suspicious of me being a spy, but the younger generation makes up for it by thinking I am a Russian who is pretending to be English.
Not to sound like an arrogant douche, but Russians simply don’t hear foreigners speak decent Russian very often, so I kind of throw them for six.
When I was more active on the bar and club scene (an impending wife and baby have neutered some of my more wild activities), I would always have to think about what language to approach the ladies in. Being a foreigner is somewhat of an advantage, I’ll admit, but if I started my conversation wizardry in English and they didn't speak English, I would look suspicious when swapping into Russian and they’d accuse me of faking it.
Crazy talk! Who would pretend to be foreign! Well FYI, there are Russian dudes that do that, my friend Sergey, aka Chad from California, used to do it!
One time I was at the bar just talking to my American friend and overheard two girls say: ‘oh, listen to those guys pretending to be foreigners!’
So why not just approach in Russian, right? Fine and dandy, but if I make my approach in Russian, I'm kind of killing a minor advantage, looking like any other Russian mullet smasher (just without a mullet and at least with a modicum of game spitting ability).
You might think, ah, but you can just prove it by showing them your passport! Sure, I've done this but it actually makes things worse because you look like you are trying too hard. It’s paradoxical. I would say, I can prove it, and they would say, I don’t want to see proof!
After some trial and error, I realized it was simply better just to whip out the passport and give it to them to look at. But even after that, sometimes they would say, oh, well you probably faked it or your parents are Russian.
I blame Jason Bourne for this mess
Can you imagine how bad you’d have to suck, in a place like Russia, full of women, to actually have to spend money on a fake passport so you could pretend you’re foreign, just to get laid?
I have to listen to talks on why America is the devil or get blamed for whatever America is doing
A week ago I was asked: ‘so, what’s all this you’re doing with sanctions against Russia?’
Well, I don’t have anything to do with the sanctions and I sadly can’t call Obama, or any other world leader, and convince them to do anything. I am as politically impotent as they come.
Every time something happens in the world and involves America, I somehow get dragged into it. Why is the US doing that! Why does the US think this! How can the West say this!
Well I don’t know, but geopolitics is just as real as ever and there is no one ‘good’ or ‘bad’ country. The world is just like Game of Thrones, full of intrigue, betray and flaccid wiener.
But of course, there is always something going on with America, if not Ukraine, then the Middle East or the economy.
One time a girl in a bar was going on to me about the Fed printing money, instantly killing any potential boner faster than a Feb bubble mortgage crisis.
How can you just keep printing money! The dollar is worth nothing, you don’t have any gold reserves! I reminded her that I was from England and that I lived in Russia and paid Russian taxes - then she started rambling about me not supporting my economy.
That's kewl and all, but it still, doesn't change the fact that I am not from America and I'm not an economic expert.
So whatever the issue, like Ukraine at the moment, I get asked all kinds of questions about America’s motives, what the West is scheming and so on - except their not real questions, they are just stepping stones into a massive rant on America/NATO and how Crimea was never Russia and how Khrushchev was a dick for giving it away.
And while America might be getting the blasting, I don’t get to forget that Britain was once top dog…
The British Empire
I first came over to Russia when I was 19, I think. I can’t even remember exactly, which is scary in a whole different way. Whilst in the UK, the British Empire was not a topic that came up a lot, I don’t even remember if it was on our school syllabus.
But in Russia, I've been reminded, on plenty of occasions, of just what a total Empire of shits we were.
Just the other week, one of my GF’s brother’s friends was talking about the Empire to me. This is how the exchange looked:
‘Well, you have to admit, the British Empire was easily the worst in history.’
‘I don’t know about that Andrey, not to defend colonization, but we didn't even have an empire for that long relatively speaking– the Roman empire lasted for thousands of years, then there was the Byzantine Empire, the Persian Empire, the Egyptian Empire, Alexander the Great doing his thing, the Mongolian Empire. Plus Spain and France were both superpowers.’
‘Yes, but you wiped out a whole race and cultre.’
‘What culture was that?’
‘You know, the Indians’
‘Actually, that was the Americans and they didn't completely wipe them out.’
‘Yes, but Americans came from England originally so they're basically the same!’
If you want to talk wiping out cultures, Cortez should be getting way more shit imho.
Now, to be fair, it’s usually the older generation that starts up the empire talk, typically in a context of ‘poor Russia was always getting historically ganged up, we never had an empire like the British one, conquering and subjecting people etc etc’.
And true, Russian history has been a rough one. 1000 years ago, Russia (basically a collection of princedoms that were constantly fighting for dominance) was being dominated by the Mongols. It took a couple of hundred years to get rid of them and then Russia was hit with another crisis and was left without a Tzar. This was called смутное время, the time of troubles. They even had three fake pretenders that managed to get crowed Tsar.
History is some serious shit
This was all sorted out eventually with the birth of the Romanov dynasty, after that the Russian Empire started picking up speed.
But, while blasting the Brits, Russians somehow gloss over the fact that Russia used to be an empire itself. And guess what? It did expand territories (for example, the land on which Peter the Great built SPB was once a part of Sweden).
And fuck, the Soviet Union was kind of like an empire too. What, you think all those Baltic States just loved being absorbed into all that Socialist love fest?
And yes, we had the slave trade because people in the past were dicks, but guess what, Russia had slaves too. The only difference is theirs were white and serfs.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending the past, but it's like Russians feel the need for some moral superiority (we’ll ignore the Soviet’s getting involved with Afghanistan, invading Czechoslovakia, ruthlessly crushing rebellions in Hungary or any of the other shit they got up to). The reality is, nobody is innocent in history, we’re all total cocks and we always will be.
Let me know in the comments what topics you guys end up discussing with Russians the most. And, if you’re Russian, what comes up with Westerners the most?