Today’s top-tier cities in China are no strangers to foreigners coming from different parts of the globe: Americans, English, French, Spanish, Brazilians, Russians…you name it. And so it comes as no surprise that people in China and expats themselves have developed certain opinions of each other. While we are all well familiar with worn-out stereotypes, like “French are romantic” and “Americans are open”, I started to wonder whether the impressions we make in China are different from these age-old generalizations. After all, what better place to test who we really are than in this multi-cultural, one-of-a-kind playground, where, free from the watchful eye of our mother countries, we are left to ourselves.
The nation that interested me the most, was, of course the one I belong to—Russia. And I also couldn’t wait to find an explanation to the question of why the newly opened Russian restaurant in my neighborhood hardly had any expat visitors. Have the age-old stereotypes of Russians being “tall, blond and hospitable” been replaced by something less flattering? It was time to find out.
I must break you! Photo: bodybuilding.com
Russians are mean
I would rather say, why do Russians come across as mean? Being mean involves actually doing something bad, but the problem here seems to be this: “You can always tell a Russian apart by a sullen expression on their faces.” I heard that from a non-Russian friend. Ok, let’s admit it. We are not the most cheerful and easy-going nation on Earth. We tend to see the world in darker tones, which is reflected in our literature, movies, music and subsequently the expressions on our faces. But are we really to blame? Having “hosted” two World Wars, crept through the scarcity of communism and having survived the anarchy of the “democratic” nineties, we have learned to be ready for the worst. And we have also learned to not expect the best—from the government, nature or people. In the country where winter may last until late April and summer can fly by while you are shopping for sandals, there may not be too many occasions to smile and exchange a friendly look with a passer-by.
But I encourage my foreign friends to not mistake the appearance for the essence. We may not come across as the friendliest bunch and it may take a while to win over the trust of a Russian. But once done, it is truly the time well spent. We value our friendships and acquaintances, up to the point of sacrificing our own comforts for the benefit of a friend. No matter how much we may deny it, we have been raised with a collective mindset and we need the people close to us to be well, for us to feel well too.
Russian men are aggressive
I almost believed in this myself when last month in my mixed martial arts class 8 out of 10 men turned out to be Russian. But I would rather interpret this as interest in an active way to blow off steam, rather than an expression of aggression. However, the image of a Russian man portrayed in old Hollywood movies, like “Rocky IV” or “Red Heat” has somehow found its way even into the modern-day idea of a Russian man inside the expat community. But this strong, muscular, bear-wrestling and ice water-swimming Russian man is an idea of the past—or at least one that can only be found in the depth of a Siberian forest. Modern Russian men are normal, reasonably fit and easy-going people. And the only thing standing in the way of others seeing that may actually be that mysterious aura of a “Rocky-type” past.
Russian women are gold diggers
In my view, gold digging is quite an international phenomenon. But maybe the acknowledged “beauty of Russian girls” puts them in a better position of using it (that is, for those who have the desire and nerves to pursue this lifestyle). Another possible explanation is that some Russian women prefer to follow a more traditional role in a relationship. And those who are not specifically career-oriented feel happy and fulfilled in a role of a “housewife”, so strongly rejected by the majority of Western women. This approach may sometimes be interpreted as the lack of independence or the need to be “sponsored”. When in most cases, it is just the love for a simple, traditional life.
A China-specific factor may also be that quite a few Russian women in China work in the entertainment industry: acrobats, dancers, models and singers—jobs some people tend to associate with lack of seriousness and the need for a “sponsor”, even though in most cases this is very far from the truth. Clothing style could also contribute to the assumption. Russian women are known for “overdressing” and “wearing heels to the swimming pool”. But do not be fooled. In the majority of cases, just as with Chinese women, the short skirts and expressive make-up are just for show and do not define the essence.
Russians and Chinese
There are currently over 15,000 ethnic Russians in China holding Chinese citizenship and over 70,000 residing in China while retaining their own. It is definitely one of the most populous ethnic groups in the territory of China. Having had a long and fruitful period of cultural exchange and cooperation with Russia, Chinese people—particularly the older generation—seem to consider most Russians “friendly northern neighbors” or even “comrades”. But is it still the same? Modern relationships between Russians and Chinese lie mostly in the business realm. Russia is one of the leading trade partners for China, which explains not only the number of Russian people traveling here on business, but also the growing number of Chinese people who are interested in learning Russian to ease up the communication process. But have we really gotten closer to understanding each other better?
A few of my Chinese friends, who often communicate with Russians (mostly in business settings), seem to be unanimous in describing their encounters. According to them, we are “tough businessmen”, “too direct” and occasionally even “rude”. This impression seems to mostly come from the way Russians do business. And let’s face it—there may be a lot to it. The thing is, most Russian people working with China have been doing it for a long time. They know the market, the prices, the factories, the style of doing business and more often than not have a very decent level of Chinese language. And feeling confident in all of the above, they tend to avoid “the polite dance” and get straight to the point, voicing their requirements clearly and insistently.
One of these businessmen shared his first business experience with me: “The first project I was in charge of in China failed miserably. I spent almost one week in dinners and tea tastings with the company’s boss, only to discover that half the goods they sent me were completely different from what I ordered. Now, when somebody invites me to dinner, I just take them back to the factory and ask them to spend this time checking my goods.” Too direct? Probably. Unreasonable? Probably not.
Definitely, the impressions we form of each other while in China should be based on individual encounters, rather than generalizations. We are all living in a unique place and a culturally charged environment, where we may exhibit new qualities to help us adapt, or, the opposite—re-enforce our traditional mentality. As a result we may come across as walking matreshkas. But it is up to all of us to look beyond appearances and what we have heard or read. And it is also up to us to be very careful about making generalizations in China. This is a special place and it deserves a special approach.
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Keywords: Stereotypes of Russians Russians and Chinese
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I really like the way Nixan and The-Final discussed this issue and I think people should read and understand their discussion.For me,I believe there's there's good and bad in any society,country or race.How do we as humans allow this to affect our daily interraction with a fellow human is the question.After all,to be human is the only one thing that connect us together.It's a bad and an unfortunate thing to be a stereotype.As a person of colour from Africa,I'm facing the problem of discrimination due to stereotypic nature of the locals and even some other foreigners from the west at large.It is often quite believed that Africans don't go to sch,diseases and poverty rate is high,etc.I used to be a science oriented student back in high school.But when I ask my western colleagues who were also science students back in high sch some basic science questions just to play with and remember old times.They never answered correctly.Things like the first 20 elements on the periodic table in basic chemistry.And some of them are college graduate of science.And when I say the answer in just few seconds,they will be amazed.And yet,I'm African and I schooled in Africa.A lot of Africans are senior professors in alot of Western Universities.Infact,there's a saying that,the worst student in Africa,can always become the best in the west.This is to show how good we are in terms of education and other things too.Stereotype also beleives that Africans or people of colour are peddling drugs for money.But may I ask them,if they know of any narcotic labs in Africa?Or can we eradicate drug biz without wiping out the production labs? of course they won' talk about the labs.They are hypocrites!If Africans are poor and uneducated,why would the father of the president of the most powerful nation in the world leave Kenya for America to study? And there are many African scholars and biz men all over the world.We should just look at the individual cases and not generalize things when dealing with people.Cos,we might miss the right and the best person around.I've met Russians and other people around the world and never a time I've allowed my experience with one affect or judge the other.It's quite immature to judge one by the experience encountered with others.Where the experience is good or bad.The experience should just be a guiding too and not to judge.
Jul 18, 2013 14:18 Report Abuse
I have met many Russians and never had any personal issues with them. I can say that a good many of Russian girls I have met were into African guys, this is true. Some even married African guys. I don't believe these girls were gold diggers because the guys that they married were average gents at best and given the way racism is rampant in many countries, I doubt these guys would ever elevate past average in order to satisfy some aspiring model's dreams. We have all heard of the comments, Africans are well packaged but even sex is not worth the lifetime committment of marriage. Perhaps for those girls, different is as good as Western guys coming to China to mix it up with the locals. We are attracted to what we are not and the power of love does take over. It is quite easy for me to befriend a Russian girl, though I am not African. Just be friendly, smile, and patience will earn respect. The male Russians I have met, they do love to drink. Drink along side them and its all good. If you befriend them prior to their binges, they will leave you alone, even if you are not a drinker. Most of the guys I have met are big into sports so common interests helps. There are groups of Russians that portray themselves as being mobsters and they even control the "situations" in nightclubs where the Chinese mobsters are also sometimes present, I'll leave that to your imagination. I have witnessed fights amongst such drunks but it is difficult to say that these guys would be any different than any other man, drunkened and jealous over a girl. It would be unfair to label them as typical Russian troublemakers. In the past, there has been some inbred hatred between old Soviet state citizens and capitalist nation's citizens. Most of this can be cured with a smile and some honest patience. In fact, I have found that most people are more curious about each other and willing to break down the stereotypical barriers than to judge. I don't believe that anyone is so narrowminded that hatred would blind people from making sound judgements. It is easy to look at certain lawless situations in old Soviet states and say this is the norm. But one only needs to look at places like America, where single people with guns commit mass murders and it might be easy to say that Americans have lost their marbles. Negative news always leaves a lasting impression but is not always the full truth about any people, I know this is a very Chinese way of seeing things but there is truth in my opinion. In short, I feel that stereotypes do Russians no good, just like Americans are often stereotyped by the world as being arrogant and loving wars and invading and policing, which is not true of every common citizen, or Chinese labelling Western men as being playboys. If people have a chance to befriend Russian people, take this chance. Only through experience and proper education can these stereotypes be solved. Even if we cannot totally dismiss the stereotypes, at least enjoy the food, those Russians are really excellent cooks.
May 30, 2013 09:24 Report Abuse
Dolph Lundgren is Swedish yes? A lot Swedes are tall and/blond. My 'stereotype' of Russians is 'stout and swarthy' and often of a dark complexion and maybe some are ruddy/sallow in complexion. I think of Americans or Dutch as athletic. I think of Russians as being entirely unathletic but then wanting to stick their chins and chest out 'daring me'. Although I DO think of Russians as being surprisingly strong. A lot of guys with those 'truck driver' physiques are surprisingly strong. And I do think of Russians as being tough and hearty. A few vodkas and you can smash baseball bats off those thick sloped heads and they almost laugh at it! Lastly, my stereotype of 'mean' is that Russians are surprisingly cruel. And an almost disturbing 'juvenile' cruelty where a great thrill is had from humiliating another. Paradoxically, I also have a stereotype of sober Russians being surprisingly gay (yes I mean that in the classic proper sense) and surprisingly 'close' and giving. Russians having 3 speeds - 1. Surprisingly intimate and affectionate. 2 (which is 90% of the time) is 'Neutral' or 'depressed' or devoid of any happiness or anger or any feelings and then 3. cruelly humiliating someone (or trying). To give you an idea how much of a problem Russians are in Canada - they hold THE HIGHEST MURDER and Violent Crime rate of any group of immigrants 'per capita'. As well, most singles websites have permanently blocked any Russian or Nigerian IPs. That's how bad the scams are. And yes almost all caucasian prostitutes in Asia will be Russians or Russian Federation. And of course the favorite stereotype of the worst dressed people in the world. shiny dress shirt, adidas track pants, dress shoes, obnoxious gold chain worn outside the shirt and then my dads jacket. And obviously the vodka and suicide and cultural wasteland images. But these are all just typical 'images' and there are exceptions to very rule. Almost all my friends here are Russians and only half of them fit those descriptions. And the daughters are quite conservative and the Dad doesn't even drink and punch people at all!
May 30, 2013 05:47 Report Abuse
I see you indeed want to understand Russians. Maybe, I can help you. Russian cuisine. Cabbage is not a very widely spread dish, it is only particular (by the way, all foreigners greatly enjoy cabbage soupe). Elite food is some elite sorts of fish (cold meat) like sturgeon, black caviar. Also mushrooms, but we have a plenty of sorts and they are of high quality by taste (comparable with truffle). You cannot find these sorts of fish and mushrooms in China or even in the West. Some people say some popular restaurant`s foods belong to "old french cuisine". About Russian appearanve and Dolph Lundgren. D L is a very handsome actor, but... Russians in fact are a super-nation, not an isolated ethnicity. They have a slavic base and many other small groups, and they are melting in this pot about one thousand years. So, there is no "standard Russian" appearance, like "Standard American (USA)", or "Standard European". (Who is a Standart American?). So. "Tall and blond" are not more then 5% of population. D Lundgren would be a good example of White race nazist idol, "Arean beast, superman", he would be good to play as moovie idols of Germany of 1930th years. As you remember, the opponent of Ivan Drug was afro-american boy (James Brown?). But are Russians suitable to serve as the blood treasure of White rasism? Absolutely no! If you want to see real Russian "standarts", you should watch our moovie actors, sportsmen, politicians, and you will see (I hope) a very imposant community (but not at all "tall and blond"), consisting of many bloods and cultures. Crimes. You should remember, a great number of "Russians" abroad belong to the states now independent from Russia and constituing now other nations. But they are traditionally identified as "Russians". Also, I am sure, Russians dont participate in such serious crimes as import and turnover of drugs. Then, I have once seen interesting statistical comparison of murders rate in big sities in 70th. Tokyo - one murder a week. New York - about 10 murders a day! Moscow-polis - 2-3 murders a day. Maybe, Russians cannot substantially contribute to the natural level of crimes in northern America? Russian cloth style, fashion. There is a Russian proverb : "Dont judge the world watching it from your own tower". Russia isn t a "bad America" or "bad Europe", as USA and Europe are not "under-developed Russia". Enough for today. (My English is horrible today ! :-) Sorry).
May 31, 2013 00:32 Report Abuse
Mmm Cabbage Soup! I do agree there is nothing quite like a cold piece of fish and some cabbage soup! I also agree very few Russians look like Dolph Lundgren although Putin looks quite athletic and doesn't wear shirts to work either. Russian crime rates have declined here as Canada improved its ability to reject Russian Mafia from coming here. It's true many of the Russian Mafia people are (for example) Ethnic Russian Ukrainians or Ethnic Russian Latvians. So they are not Russian by 'Country' but by ethnic background alone. I would take some times to watch Russian films but I am prone to 'depression' and even to think of eating some cold fish, cabbage soup and watching a Russian movie makes me feel cold and 'nihilistic' like I might commit suicide from hopelessness in life. Maybe when I feel a little stronger I can take the challenge!
May 31, 2013 07:04 Report Abuse
About "Russian mafia". In beginning 1970th US President Rich Nixon was going to visit Soviet Union, and before the visit he decided to do something good for Russian community of America, he ordered to invite their leaders. And then appeared: Russians are the only ethnick group in America which has not national comunity at all. Extreme individualism is a bad feature of Russian character.... That is why Russians occupy the largest territory in the world, cause they always want to keep distance from each other :-). And maybe you know that "Russian mafia" is constitued not by Russians at all? there are no ethnic Russians in the "Russian mafia". But I see you are too concentrated on negative features of life: Russian criminals, Russian whores and so on. Why do not you speak of Russian scolars? In many US laboratories now the second working language is Russian. Many US universities now became the places just where Russian professors teach mathematics to Chinese students. Russia still is main partner of US in the field of nuclear and space technologies. Russia is world Number two in exporting high-tech weapon of full range (weapon is the super elite club of high tech producers). And Russian artists, sportsmen, Russian girls... There is a joke about Russian girls: "When you see a beautiful girls somewhere in the West, you may approach her and without hesitations start speaking Russian language with her". ... And, at last. I think there are too many cheap mass-media in the West where bad journalists earn their small money for the dirty work - to combine the word Russian with some shit as often as possible. But I am interested who is financing this dirty job?
May 31, 2013 11:14 Report Abuse
No sorry to disappoint you but these stories of yours simply aren't true. Russian is not spoken in laboratories and nobody ever believes a beautiful woman must speak Russian. Nobody thinks Russians are world leaders in technology anymore. Sorry but you are hearing fables and in 2013, Russians are seen as what in the West? Do you know the saying? "Russians are the niggers of White people". You are being told false stories about Russian reputation and its hard to learn Russians are considered to be dumb thugs, poor, criminals and of sub-par intelligence. Retarded White people. I'm sorry but its true. I don't say I agree with this image but it's the prevailing thoughts on Russians in North America.
May 31, 2013 11:58 Report Abuse
Your fart-expression "niggers of White people" at last presents you quite clear. We, Russians, believe it is much more honorable to be a Negro man then to be a miserable piece of shit with strong smell from some Baltic "Western democracies" like Latvia or Litvania. (Am I right with your identification?). That is why (due to our principles) we Russians could become and still are so great nation.
May 31, 2013 15:49 Report Abuse
It is not my expression. It is a common expression used in North America. The 'image' or 'stereotype' of Russians are some poorly dressed, uncultured 'thugs' and we have a picture in our minds they drink vodka and hit each other with the empty bottles and then piss on the one who falls first. Or drunks having intercourse in public.. in some dirty ugly alley. I don't think it's true of all Russians. Only one Russian immigrant I know murdered someone (twice he did it) and because the others were raised half their lives in Canada they are more sophisticated. None of them married Russians and all of them warn against visiting Russia which they say is corrupt and full of dirty thugs who will try and start fist fights with tourists and of course Muslim's who will try and sell you some Russian prostitutes. I don't say I believe them. I just say this is the 'vision' of the dark stocky drunk Russian with a bottle of vodka beating up homeless people for fun.
Jun 01, 2013 02:03 Report Abuse
GIRLS are always very well dressed. BOYs on the contrary like sports, and sometimes even drink alcohol. Havent you ever seen crowds of British drunk football fans...? Nothing particular, boys are just having fun. Be sure, British fans are not worse then Russians. And also, I believe a man should have more substantial merits then just white colour of his ass. But when a person has no other merits he has only one way - to be proud of his pale ass.
Jun 03, 2013 15:25 Report Abuse
I suppose beauty is cultural. If fake-fur short jackets, tight jeans, loud high-heels and lots of cheap jewelry and 'hair accessories' is your thing then you might find Russian prostitutes very attractive. I suppose it looks a bit 80s to others. Yes, I've been cornered by drunken football hooligans (later carried off on their shoulders to cheers) but I wasn't really talking about rowdy young Russian footballers. I mean just any Russians standing around some dirty bus stop (of any age) may just decide to slap and torment a weaker victim for cheap dumb laughs. Later hit 'hobos' with baseball bats and laugh at how stupid the victim looks. This kind of thing is the 'bad stereotype' of Russians. Just doing it for laughs.
Jun 03, 2013 16:22 Report Abuse
Back in Shanghai I met and shared apartment with a russian guy , at the beginning as you say he was cold, maybe not too friendly and sometimes by the way he saw me, I thought he didn´t want any talk our friendship at all. After couple of months, I can say by far, that he is one of my best friends here in china, funny and outgoing. So I´m agree with you. Nice article.
May 29, 2013 11:01 Report Abuse
I just got to your second paragraph about expats in the Russian restaurant and wanted to reply. In Guangzhou recently had a job interview and there was a Russian restaurant right next door so just wanted to check it out. Wasn't hungry, but thought I might be working in the area and was curious about Russian food. Worker seemed quite annoyed that I asked for a menu but didn't want to sit down. Was a very unfriendly vibe indeed
May 27, 2013 20:56 Report Abuse
I'm trying to understand what a Russian Restaurant would be? Lots of cabbage dishes? That come with some kind of coleslaw and vodka? A plate of steamed 'beats and cabbage roll'? 10 different kinds of potato and onion? do they have cabbage vodka maybe? And for deserve some 'candied cabbage with beat syrup'?
May 30, 2013 05:53 Report Abuse
I think its too easy to blame a gory past for a solemn outlook. Look at the Chinese, in the 20th century they went through hell and back, but they are not afraid to smile. However, there is some point to your article that we do seem to generalize Russians in negative ways.
May 27, 2013 13:38 Report Abuse
Yes. But the article is worse than "to generalize Russians in negative ways". Imagine, you read a text like this: "What are english speaking nations? There is a popular stereotype that english-speaking peoples regularly eat children meat. But it is wrong! Not regularly! And not everybody! When they have enough beaf and pork meat, they don`t eat children. They don t eat childrens meat at all. With Worchester souce. I know it precisely I am a pure British, anglo-sax, my name is Ivanko Abd-al-Kadir de`Manjyak. And now we all know the truth about English-speaking nations: they dont eat human meat regularly, and never eat it with Worchester souce!". (I monkey...) When I see that style "information" in western mass-media I dont use to "enlighten aborigens" (I know it is useless, they are not so naive). But when I see it on the Chinese territory, I don`t want that chinese young generation watch Russia through that kind "spectacles". That why i try to discuss here.
May 27, 2013 18:21 Report Abuse
Folks, you can now see how some people are afraid of their shadow. At times it's good to remind people that the world sees what they are doing. Struggling to present a rosy picture of oneself in China is laughable. Nobody can do things and hide. The enemy is always the others. Let's not just do what we want to others, because we are all going to die.
May 24, 2013 23:51 Report Abuse
With all the respect, I don't understand why do people write such articles? Yes there are mean Russians, yes there are Russian whores and gold diggers. Yes there are maniacs, serial killers, skinheads, racists. And yes, there are talented artists, lazy assholes, white collars, war veterans, students, talking/walking bears, silly ladies, smart ladies, idiots, singers,homeless, childless, the happy and the no so happy. Just like in the rest of the world (cross the bears off the list, though). People, relax! We are all going to die, anyway.
May 24, 2013 18:15 Report Abuse
The article and the majourity part of commentaries look like a collection of western propagandist`s stereotypes tpwards Russia, like this photoe is. This is a photoe of an american actor Dold Lundgren, he offen played roles of Russian men in Hollywood moovies, but in reality he has not a drop of Russian blood, he is of Scandinavian origin, and his appearance is more scandinavian than russian. But in the West he is viewed as "a standard Russian". Let me give you a friendly advise: dont read western english-language media when they treat russian questions, they are always wrong and prejudiced.
May 24, 2013 17:17 Report Abuse
See this is typical madness. The article is called "STEREOTYPES! Of Russians in China". Ivan Drago IS a stereotype of a Russian. And look at this nashi drivel don't "read western english-language media when they treat russian questions, they are always wrong and prejudiced." -Begs the question what does a non-Russian speak? They are always wrong? Does anybody else find the fact that a guy says "Don't generalize the motherland" procedes to smear all western media with the same brush?
May 24, 2013 20:36 Report Abuse
Who`s stereotipes are those "in China"? - "Unfriendly expats", "Russians are mean", "Russians are aggressive" and so on. And her "excuses": we suffered under communism very long and the climate in our country is not comfortable... :-) Not of Chinese, absolutely! Chinese do not view Russians in this way. I am sure, opinion of the author is based on english-language media (such views are very common there). And very far from reality. I have spent some years in China. When a Chinese found out you are a Russian - if they are oldmen they invite you to be guest, to drink tea, to photoe together, they start to retell you their life story as if I you are an old relative. The middle aged generation - they at once reply : "Putin is good", and sometimes: "Russia is the only friend of China". Yonger generation react in business style, they want to sell you something ("do you need a hotel or anmo?"). And only once I have met a girl whose face expressed fear when she heared "Russian", that girl was from Shanghai, she worked many years in Western company, could speak excellent English, and her friend was a Sweden man... Those are true "Chinese stereotipes", "unfriendly expats" are not chinese stereotypes...
May 26, 2013 03:08 Report Abuse
To say openly, I greatly doubt that the author Natallia Slimani is quite a Russian. In the former Soviet Union Russian etnithity constitute only about 50% of population, others - ethnical minorities (and very far from Russian etnos). But even now abroad many of them present themselves as Russians. I sometimes met in China girls declaring "I am a Russian girl", but I see they are not. As for "Natallia Slimani". Surname Slimany is absolutely not Russian, I suppose this surname by origin is from our western regions - Polacs, Estonians, Lithuwanians, West Ukraine. Population of all this regions (now independent) had strong anticommunist, anti-Moscow`s (anti-Russian) sentiments, during WW- 2 they even actively supported Hitler. (Thanks God, now they are independent from us!). Also, her personal name Natallia is transcribed in a strange manner. Russians use to write "Nataliya", not "Natallia", I can suppose some versions: 1)she is a low educated person or 2)she is not from real Russian regions, she belongs to minority from new independent states 3) or may be she has left Russia very long ago.... Anyway, she is not quite aware of China realities. :-)
May 26, 2013 14:00 Report Abuse