In the previous post I dealt with “russification,” or the ways in which we as a family have become more a part of our Russian culture and surroundings. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and my own self-imposed space limitations for a conclusion. So I wanted to write a brief “wrap-up,” summarizing what russification looks like personally here in our world of small town Russia.

First, in the simple practical aspects of life it means watching my little boy’s eyes light up when he sees a big bowl of fresh fruit in the winter, and being truly grateful for it as he picks one variety and then another. It’s the simple pleasure of putting cold sour cream over a smoking hot plate of pelmeni. On the other hand, it is walking up five flights of stairs with two large containers of water with a backpack filled with four bottles of milk on your back, determined not to show weakness by stopping and resting. It is distracting yourself on the ascent by thinking and wondering about the person who built those steps. What was life like then? Did they believe that as they finished those steps they were helping build a better industrialized and communal life? Did they see the labor of their hands as contributing to the realization of Lenin’s dream? Or were they just trying to get through the day and get home safely?

In relationships and social settings russification is learning to talk about things that matter. It’s forgoing the small talk until you know a person well enough to talk about the things that are truly meaningful. It’s reading Russian history and of those who suffered in this country for “opening up” to the wrong person—and paying the price. Then when you want to chat casually with Russian people you do not really know, you understand the “history of their silence” and you are far less likely to dismiss them simply as “unfriendly.” And that makes you all the more appreciative of Russian friends who honor you—an AMERICAN—by telling you about their lives, their personal histories and aspirations. They have “verified,” and now they trust you.

You also find yourself both defending and cursing Russia. So many reports, articles, and news clips day after day portraying life here in such a negative way. And you know from the content the authors are completely ignorant of what life really is like here. The political reports on this place—the place you and your family live—demonize Putin, Russia, the whole society here in order to achieve a political goal in America. Russia is just a political football in their “more significant” Western world. They aren’t trying to understand Russia; their villification is from a darker place. Strangely, you feel offended by their lies, like they have attacked you and your family. One of “my worlds” wants to destroy the other. But then you have to walk to the market on a sheet of ice, and being from South Carolina, it is not your finest hour. You fear the shame of being the American whose feet went flying. You now feel Russia itself is against you, and “the Russians” are all waiting for your moment of humiliation. Reading of the experiences of Napoleon’s army or the Nazis I should’ve realized – Russia is not always hospitable to foreigners in winter. Foolhardy perhaps, but I continue to press—or slide—on.

In matters of faith russification is standing in a Russian Orthodox Church in a small village, which has a beauty that defies its drab, cold, grey surroundings outside. Standing there (never sitting!), listening to beautiful singing with no instruments to guide the melody. There is no hype, no drama, no performances. It is worship stripped bare of the barnacles of modernity. Then we say the “Symbol of Faith.” All the voices expressing the historic confession of faith from hundreds of years ago. All of those voices are in Church Slavonic—except yours. You quietly say the English, under your breath, while you are listening carefully to the Slavonic so you are speaking with them. You want to say what they are saying, but of necessity “in a foreign tongue.” It means a lot of pauses. Slavonic takes longer than English. In the “mystery of faith,” you realize what is going on here is not about me; and it’s not limited to any people or country or any language. It is worship. Russification means you don’t feel so much like an outsider in those moments.



  1. I love your musings there doc! Us foreigners living long-term outside of our birth Nation are feeling you. It is weird, frustrating, and a joy to walk in this third way of ours.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Hal! Thanks for your post. Actually, translation mentioned by Dmitriy Zembatov above comes from this source and announced as an Editor’s (translated by sparling-05, editor – lookomore, whoever they are). If this info is of any interest to you, indeed. But, as I see it, translation is done quite to the point. And there are other translated posts of yours there too.
    I can imagine the process of “russification” can be “weird and frustrating” but as long as one finds a “joy” there as well then it’s all right. Actually, these are applicable to any other “-fications” or “-zations”, I believe. Being Russian (or Soviet) I spent some years living in India and in the West. My experience was – as long as I stay open and considering acceptance from local as a “privilege”, I am on the right track. At a human basics level, there are not many differences between people, there are folks you can “click” with, and there are folks you “click” bit less.
    By the way, if I understood it right, your wife is Russian. Have you both been living in America previously? Did she have her “frustrations” while “Americanizing”? Like… could you compare? Please, accept my apologies if I asked anything incorrectly.
    And thanks again for your thoughts… Very refreshing also, perhaps due to the “stereotype” of the “stereotypes” on Russia in western and American media (mainstream). Sometimes wondering, where from do they get all those ideas (substances or?)?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response Andrey. I came across the Russian translation of my blog almost by accident when I saw that I was getting a lot of “views” from Russia. I had to see what was going on! Some people on one site complained that my Russian was not good! Then someone else explained I didn’t translate it. Translation can be tricky as all of us know. I’m glad someone was willing to do it! I often think people who criticize translations have never translated anything! Obviously I started writing for Americans, but now as I’m writing I think–“How would this sound in Russian?” My wife says that sometimes my sarcasm or the way I make fun of myself gets “lost in translation,” because some Russians think I’m serious.
      I completely agree with you on adjusting to another culture. I determined to accept Russia as it is, just as you said you did when you lived abroad. 1)It is a privilege. 2)I don’t “click” with all Americans, so I was quite sure I wouldn’t click with all Russians! By the way, your English is excellent. I rarely see that level of expertise in writing. Do you live in Russia now?
      My wife is Russian. We were married while I was living in St. Petersburg. We moved to the U.S. in 2008 and lived there until June of 2016 when we moved here to Luga. Honestly, she had very few problems at all getting “Americanized.” She was completely fluent in English, and after being with me 3 years before we moved there she had heard my “stories” of life in America. She developed friends quickly. She loves her homeland, but she had some problems moving back. Some folks here would ask her about her accent! Apparently her Russian sounded a bit different and several people commented on her ‘American” accent. Ha!!! Also she misses the climate of S.C. You can understand that! My family and friends accepted her right away and she was a part of the family. So, she hated leaving them as much as I did.
      Finally, one of the reasons I have kept writing this blog is what you mention in the last paragraph. So many stereotypes and stereotypes of the stereotypes of Russia and Russians. So many “facts” on Russia in the U.S. news are created out of thin air by people who know nothing of this place. I try to inform, but I also try to show people that while our cultures are different, Russian people still have the same loves, hates, fears and hopes that all people have. Thanks again for your well articulated post.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hal, thanks for you “elaborated” reply!
    Being “lost in translation” seems to be quite a common thing all over the planet. Even translating from Russian to Russian some Russians get lost (again, applicable everywhere, I guess)…But as I mentioned earlier your articles were translated quite well, at least I get more or less the same feeling from Russian texts and “original”, and I think it is most important in translations unless it is some academic scientific text. And, most probably, it is that FEELING you manage to put in words which attracts people to your posts, original or translated. And I believe it is about having a talent, a gift to be able to express yourself, and you’ve got it. So, of course, thinking about people who might read your writing is definitely a thoughtful intention, but if you continue the same way… It is just fine (as I see it). And there always shall be “critics” indeed… Some people are just like that :)… Sarcasm… Yes, it can be quite particular to certain places, but, again, it is a very human thing. I used to work with one British guy, and perhaps, I was not the first Russian he has ever met, but besides work, we used to have once in a while some talks about “Life, Universe, and Everything”. So, once he has noted something like, oh… you Russians do have a sarcasm! (Dunno, possibly, Brits think it was their invention… Then… it is one there was no shame stealing and using, I guess)
    Regarding the “accent” of your wife… I have a good friend, an American lady (new yorker ), who supposed to have Ph.D. in English literature, I know her from my times in India… So after like 15 years staying in India she went for a visit to States with her French boyfriend… So, she told me her boyfriend was never asked by anyone about his origins (he has a very rich French accent), but she was questioned continuously about her roots and “pretty good English”…
    I can understand your wife climate preferences… I guess S.C. stands for South Carolina? That can be “painful” to be around SPb for sure. I know it very well since I was brought up in Estonia, near Narva, which is about 100 km (60 miles?) from Luga. About my origins, just FYI… My dad was Estonian, my mom is Russian, from Siberia (near Lake Baikal) where I was born, but when I was 1,5 family moved to Estonia. My father’s family was deported in 1949 and spend there about 18 years (though my father used to tell me after being back to Estonia for few years he still had dreams of Siberia, friends, nature, etc). Actually, my mom’s dad was also sentenced for some kind of “treachery” as a military officer in 1937, and was “snow-cleaning” in Nothern Siberia for about 19 years. Not really very “extraordinary” family story for USSR, but I was not brought up as anti-Soviet in any way (though, I had my questions). I am an Estonia citizen now, though culturally I feel myself being Russian. My daughter (who is a big girl of 26 now) lives and works in Moscow, where I do have a lot of friends since I graduated technical university there. Actually, my daughter was bought up in India in an international community, I guess, it has a positive effect on her… And it was fun too. At the moment I reside in Norway… Life might be strange sometimes… Sorry, it looks like the answer to my whereabouts got pretty extensive…
    And yes, please do write your blog. I shall follow and might be “popping up” sometimes…
    It is good to have Americans inside Russia! After all, America has got a few Russians… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, fascinating story. You’ve really “been around” as we say. Yes. S.C. is South Carolina. I’ve only been through Estonia (on the way to Latvia). I would LOVE to see Lake Baikal! And also Kamchatka, but we’ll see.
      Russians do have a sense of sarcasm for sure. I often catch it in some of the hilarious idioms! I’m not sure why they often don’t get mine. Maybe there’s a difference that I’m not aware of.
      It’s good to be an American in Russia. Interesting! But Russians are often shocked when I tell them I didn’t come here as a result of job or anything like that. I just wanted to live here. Sometimes I think they may not believe that!
      Thank for you reading and responding. I appreciate your kind words.


    • Oh, Andrey, my wife wanted me to ask you if you are registered with polismi and/or ursa. She tried to get registered so she could clear up a couple of things, but it would not register her.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I believe you shall find your way with whatever sarcasm you have, so keep it. And I am sure few people can be shocked by the idea of an American coming to Russia just to live there in the first place. There can be a score of reasons to that. Some of them totally unreasonable too.
    I am registered with ursa. Actually, there I got across one of your articles. Bit surprised about problems with registering there. Dunno, if I can help here, but, I can try to ask moderators there about what could be done. Let me know, please. Perhaps you could describe the problem? Or it is simply not happening? Registering, I mean?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Andrey! Wow, thank you for your kind responses and genuine appreciation of my husband’s work! We picked up on the fact that his blog is read in Russia just a few weeks ago. That was never the goal, but it’s great that the Russian audience finds it informative and, perhaps, amusing. Of course, the irrelevance and crudeness of some comments does make me cringe, but I understand that a part of that is that certain things do get lost in translation, and another part is there will always be people who have a negative comment in store for everything and everybody. It’s just the way it is. I’m trying not to let it get to me. I feel very protective of my husband! 🙂 Like Hal said though, the fact that Russians are interested to hear what he’s got to say about his experiences in their country is itself rewarding. So it’s all good!

      I got a good laugh out of your story about your American coworker, who went back to the States after 15 years of living in another country and people at home thought she was a foreigner! I can certainly relate! I’ve heard some very interesting comments, from “Are you from Pribaltika?” to “Where did you learn to speak Russian so well?” 🙂

      About my problem with registering at Polismi and Ursa. They both have a question you need to answer in order to get registered. One asks for the full name of Bellingzhausen and the other has a math problem that needs solving. I can’t remember now which is which, that’s not important anyway. But neither will accept my answer! I’ve tried different combinations with the name (I’ve looked his full name up, so wasnt a problem), but nothing worked. Every time it said wrong answer. And I’ve done it on different days, too, so I’m sure it’s not just a glitch. It feels almost like they wouldn’t want somebody with our IP address to be able to leave any comments there. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I can’t even contact their customer service to ask questions. If you do have time and are able to contact anybody there, would really appreciate it if you could clear that out…


  5. Hi, Oksana and Hal!
    Well, there is no point to “cringe” or take some things personally… One always gets some “strange” people around, who, perhaps might see this one as “strange”, or these people have this particular way of “surviving”… Whatever…
    I shall ask moderators of ursa about your problem and post this question here too, to keep you informed.I had registered myself there some 7 years ago and do not remember how that process was, but also can’t recall any troubles then. I do not think there should be anything to be paranoid about, ursa does have people (mostly “russians”) from all over including Canada, US, etc.
    Also, I could just try to create an account for you myself, and then you could “personalize” it as you pleased, but… Let me ask first…
    And… thanks for contacting 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is actually a great idea, thank you for suggesting it! I am totally for it! Will wait for your report on the progress…

      Thanks for reassuring comments, too. Spoken like a wise man! 😊

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi, Oksana!
    Thanks for “wise man” thing… Well, it is just an experience. Of course, writing from the heart kind of leave one “exposed”… And trying to get everyone having clarity about your ideas might turn into time and effort consuming adventure… Well, not much fun really…
    Got the reply so far
    “Good evening,
    Yes, there is. As I understand it, in connection with the increased number of imported trolls, questions on registration are invented so that only a native speaker of the Russian language can answer them 🙂
    I will now connect the Technicians of the Estate to our correspondence, I hope they will help us.
    Sincerely, Musya
    p.s. and you with the coming !!! ”

    Also, from moderator
    Technicians are now very busy on the main job, so far we have managed to get only a short answer:
      “the solution of the equation is one, one, 1”

     Then, perhaps, we will change the question. and now give them this answer, let them try again. There it is necessary to solve the quadratic equation, as I understood)

    Sorry, it took a while to answer, so I have tried to fix it the first day … But, it looks like this site doesn’t want to take Cyrillic lettering (I tried to paste the answer in Russian few times, and couldn’t succeed)…


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