Today I was chatted up by one of the students at the school where I work. At least, it felt like I was being chatted up. One student approached me and he began to ask me questions that started off seemingly innocent and then branched into more personal, “let’s get to know each other” type questions. At first I didn’t think anything of it. Although he’s a university student and quite close to my age, I was at work and there the boundaries are clearly drawn so I didn’t even think of him as someone who would approach me in such a way. And even though he’s not my student, I saw the situation simply as a student talking to a teacher. Because I’m American, many students find it interesting to chat with me and ask me a lot of questions about America, my life there and how I like living in Russia.
But it was after the fact that I realized there seemed to be a bit more to the conversation. If he had been American and we had been in America, I would have gone so far as to say that he was flirting with me. But he’s not American, and we’re not in America, so suddenly the situation becomes a bit unclear. So I got to wondering, what are the rules of attraction in Russian culture? What constitutes flirting? What cues does one send? I was picking up on cues that have been labeled as flirting in my culture, but perhaps they’re not the same here.
Furthermore, I began to wonder what he (or any Russian) might have been thinking, if he was indeed flirting. I mean, he’s Russian and I’m American so does he think of this difference and try to adapt his approach to what he thinks is the proper way to talk to an American? Or does he only know the Russian approach and so this is what he uses? If I had been interested, should I have responded in an American way? Would this have sent the wrong messages? Perhaps he wasn’t flirting but I thought he was so, had I flirted back, he might have been baffled by my behaviour.
So you see, so many questions! When I quizzed my Russian friend about it and told her the specifics, she said yes, he probably was flirting and “he probably likes you.” So I guess the signals aren’t all that different and I was correct in my evaluation of the situation. But still it made me realize how little I know about Russian culture still and how many questions can arise from a simple interaction. Another thing that made this interesting was it got me thinking about culture and gender. This is an especially fascinating topic for me because when you take two people (male and female) from two different cultures, you suddenly have four cultural attitudes to contend with. In this instance, not only Male-Female and Russian-American cultures, but Male Russian culture and Female American culture. Male Russian culture is different from Male American culture and vice versa. So it adds some extra layers of culture to be stripped apart and analyzed.