Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Slav Talk

Being an immigrant is -by definition- being a freak.

Or "outsider" if that word has a more dignified ring to your ears.

Being an immigrant who is prone to melancholia/creativity/intellectual thought (or "nihilistic and sad idea-man" if that sounds better) ... meaning being the kind of a person who is somewhat of a freak even in his native land... well, being that kind of a person is a double whammy as George W. Bush would say.

From the earliest age the society that births your endows you with a certain cultural rhythm.

This is not an ideology that you are conscious of; nah bro, it is a certain internal way of being in the world and interacting with others.

Its your inner melody, your communications wavelength that you share with others in your country.

When you move to a foreign land, you can learn the language, understand the customs and the humor but you will never be able to purge your inner rhythm (not that you would want to anyway).

You will always be different. The rhythm of your adopted home will merge with that of your native culture and create a unique symphony that may forever banish you to some form of permanent alienation.

For most of the billions who inhabit this moist rock called earth, Russia and America are two completely separate entities. For me, one merges into the other and it is hard to say where one ends and the other begins (kind of like Alaska and Alaska has one of the highest suicide rates).

I have long suspected that one of the reasons I have few close Americans friends, has to do with this inner rhythm.

Sure I can shoot the breeze by the water cooler. I can even manage a few lines of small talk and I have learned the intricate skill of the forced/authentic American smile.

But when it comes to moving to the second base, a Russian monkey wrench  finds its way into the engine and the whole things goes to shit.

I hypothesized that one of the hindrances is that while small-talk suffices as a major form of communications for many Americans, it simply doesn't exist in the same way in Russia.

Nevertheless, I was hesitant to make that proclamation official because -after all- I have moved to the states from Russia when I was twelve and the last time I have set foot in the motherland was on a two week visit back in 2006.

So I was reluctant to turn theory into law in this case.

Now, I have the data to make that leap.

I met this Ukrainian coworker at the store break room (where we have free soda!) and literally in the first 10 minutes of our interactions he told me that his wife left him for a younger man who is unemployed and is on disability. That he would go back to Ukraine if it wasn't for his son. And the rest of the time we talked politics.

So I was right all along.

Slavs talk big.


  1. In this case, you both share a common bond: immigrants from relatively similar countries. Your coworker may therefore have felt a basis for trust to start such a discussion. The average person will not engage in TMI right off the bat, for fear of being judged. So he will engage in small talk to determine if the other person is amenable to deeper subject matter, and more importantly, hunting for common ground. Your detection of "outsider status" from others may stem from the fact that you exhibit a much deeper grasp of issues than they do, and that can be very intimidating.

    1. First of all, thank you for your comment, Dave. Outside of cleansing the soul, the purpose of writing is to be read and I appreciate your comment.

      I think since Russians (and I include Eastern Ukrainians in that since for most of our history we were one country) talk so opening about their lives their fear of judgment on these issues is tame compared to these of some Americans. Part of that cultural rhythm thing.

      And while Russians certainly have a version of small talk, it usually doesn't last as long and it doesn't have the same energized quality that you can see in America.

      But you are right my outsider status is definitely reinforced with both my ethnicity and personality.