France Through the Eyes of an American in Russia: A Unique Perspective

This was my first trip abroad since I’d moved to Russia and lived there for an extended period of time. The consequence of this is that upon arriving in Paris, I immediately began to see things through Russian eyes. What I mean is that all the small differences I saw, I compared them to Russia instead of America. Although I’m not and never will be Russian, it seems that I’ve become more used to Russia than I’d realized.

When we first arrived at the hostel, the young man working behind the desk told me to smile. Perhaps he was just trying to be friendly but it made me realize how grave I must have looked. My first thought was, “I’ve been living in Russia for too long” because I must admit, when I’m in Russia, I consciously try not to smile when I’m out alone. I find it doesn’t draw attention to me and I pass as Russian which, when out alone in Moscow, can make life a whole lot easier. But now I guess going around with a blank look on my face has become a bit natural. And while the Russian explain that they’re not angry because they don’t smile, they’re just wearing an impartial face, apparently in France, like America, an impartial face means something is wrong or that you’re unhappy.

While walking down the street I also thought to myself that the French drive so slowly. Of course I’ve head so many stories about crazy French drivers, but again, I was comparing them to Russian drivers. I was also surprised to see people outside jogging and exercising, something I’ve rarely seen in Russia. I was also shocked by the diversity of people here. When I first arrived in Russia I was shocked by the lack of diversity. But I guess I got used to that too. It’s so strange how being in a new culture can work to change your outlooks on the world. I think it’s a good thing that that happens though because it can help us to understand other cultures and where they’re coming from when they say and do certain things.

So being in Russia made me appreciate America and being in France made me appreciate Russia. It also made me appreciate my knowledge of Russian. Although most days I feel like my Russian is limited and that it holds me back at times, now I am thankful for it because, in comparison with my knowledge of French, it is incredibly superior. I find myself longing to speak Russian because I can express myself ten times better in Russian than in French. So when I’m back in Russia and realizing my English is far superior than my Russian, I’ll try to remember that my Russian isn’t so bad. It’s all about perspective.

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