The Inevitable Troubles of an Expatriate

Being an expat is a cross one has to bear with dignity and self-respect. You cannot afford to make a mistake - what will your country think of you? That’s what you keep thinking, and that’s what your family constantly nags you on about. You know, when you regularly stumble upon your Eastern counterparts, you feel petrified and somewhat bemused by their rotten and imbecile behaviour. Russian tourists are infamous for their careless and inconsiderate, disrespectful demeanour towards others and the country they are living in. They don’t even bother to learn the language properly. You’ve probably had experience with Russian tourists yourself. Just taking a nonchalant walk across the River Thames is quite enough to realize how ‘multi-national’ England really is; you hear the familiar accent, people cursing and quickly jabbering on about some new soap opera episode they missed with the strange and unnerving sharp, blunt sounds, rolling the Rs and laughing at the rhoticism of the French and English. According to a 2013 survey conducted by Triposo in which 700 people participated, Russia came third in the list of worst-behaving tourists around the world. Here’s the real deal, the bleak stereotype of the typical Ivan Petrovich Sidorov, a sight you wish you’d never glanced upon in the first place.

However, I should be more forgiving - a bronze medal for having the worst tourists is not bad for the largest nation in the world. In fact, the countries that came first and second on the list were none other than USA and England, respectively. This definitely explains the reason why my grandmother told me to avoid using English when we recently travelled for a 2-week holiday to Turkey.

When it comes to the topic of cursing, it’s quite funny - the words that you hear abroad don’t sound so foul-mouthed. Frankly, I don’t think many nations realize how profane English (or any other foreign language that one comes across) swearing really is. I can understand why the Swedes or the Danish or many other countries don’t mind uttering the taboo once in a while in public. I’m speaking from experience, here. As a native speaker of Russian, I cannot admit the full extent of the vulgarity of this wondrous language. On the contrary, the English language seems very plain and naïve when compared to the rich, mature and beautiful Russian. However, with the richness comes vulgarity; Russian can be an extremely obscene and ear-defying language. There are so many cursing words and swear words and all kinds of other demeaning and derogatory terms that it is almost impossible to keep a comprehensive list of such vocabulary in your brain and you stand there facing your Eastern counterpart in the London Underground, listening attentively in wonder and in disbelief, thinking, There, my list of words to use for cursing has had a major update!

But don’t get me wrong, I want to break the degrading archetype of a Russian hoodlum, I want to show the world that a Russian is not all about being a worthless savage who disrespects the laws, who consistently consumes vodka and plays on the balalaika (as it has been masterfully portrayed in Leviathan, the recently Oscar-nominated film by Zvyagintsev), rides bears, and shows off his patriotism by waving the flag and ecstatically crying "Za Putina!". If you are lucky enough to experience the daily life of a megalopolis, I’m sure I don’t even have to bother to give you an example, as Russian speech is an inevitable part of cosmopolitan society, and you never quite expect to hear it in the strangest and most unusual of places, ranging from the loony London Boroughs - where if you try and speak in a Russian accent, gangs and hoodlums will start treating you with an air of caution and certain respect, avoiding eye contact and the like - and the great, magnificent and consistently corrupt and sordid miseries of the upper class, Russia being home to the wealthiest expats in the world. As reported by The Telegraph, over one third of Russians in the West earn more than £160K p/a, admitting that it would do noticeable damage to Britain’s economy if all the Russian expats were to migrate to some neighbouring country.

I’ve been going on and on how barbaric Russians are. Or in that predisposition, anyway. Who am I to criticise? – I’m a Russian, myself! For every nation, there are the good stereotypes and the bad stereotypes. I’ve covered the latter; spoiled and brainwashed by the media and TV, that’s how I imagine the West looks upon us. I know that the West despises the East, especially in this politically-tense time and age. I am subscribed to The Guardian and a fleet of other English newspapers, I read their constant updates and from what I can gather, they want to crush us. Literally. Living in the West, being an expat is a dream of many Russians, but they never bother to realize that it is a big, mind-changing cross to bear. Everything is different. Yes, you can start a business, people respect your IP, and there is good education and little corruption. But after spending decades here, you begin to reminisce, start remembering all the summers spent with your grandparents at home and at peace, and it grows on you.

The city of London has been dubbed by Russians as ‘Moscow on Thames’, or ‘Londongrad’, as coined by the British translator of Chekhov, Prof. Donald Rayfield. As he once jokingly noted, it has become impossible to speak Russian peacefully on the London Underground, as a native Russian speaker will undoubtedly be found in the same carriage. Words of wisdom; I have stumbled upon Russian cursing a gazillion number of times in G.B. and, in a way, it’s a very sentimental and whimsical experience, reminding you who you are and where you belong, bringing fond memories to mind and soul. Mind you, I’ve been keeping a tally since birth - how long can I last without uttering a single swearing word in Russian. And I didn’t break, so far! Oh, but plenty in English. Sometimes, I wonder how I would’ve turned out if I was to stay in Russia. I wish I was brought up in the Soviet Union.

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