Page 15 Chapter 14:
NOTE: Click on any of the questions below for an answer!
1) What should I and shouldn’t I write about in a letter to a Russian lady?
(NOTE: Some of these do’s and don’ts will change as a relationship matures. They are not listed necessarily in chronological order.)
- Explain why you are looking for a wife in Russia.
- Are you lonely? Have you in the past or do you now feel pain because of loneliness? Then, say so! A traditional woman needs to be needed. If you picture your life as perfectly successful and without problems, a traditional girl might not be interested in you.
- If you are divorced, explain why. What is your relationship with your ex-wife?
- Do you have children? What is your relationship with your child/children?
- If you are single, explain why you have not yet married.
- Explain something about your faith or spirituality (in simple terms).
- Explain what being honest and faithful means to you.
- What kind of woman are you looking for? Describe her character. Do you want a woman that will be a homemaker? Work full time? Part time?
- Give a brief chronology of your life and memories of your childhood.
- What kind of relationship do you have with your family?
- Describe your lifestyle and the city, town, or rural area you live in.
- Explain any problems and disappointments you’ve experienced in looking for a wife.
- What kind of life do you see with your future wife?
- Talk about your hobbies and interests.
- Explain what you know about Russian art, music, and literature.
- Be willing to help with postage/e-mail. It’s a large expense for women that are often at the margins of living. Also, if by post, pre-addressed return envelopes are helpful in avoiding delays as a result of mistakes.
- Don’t talk about sex or about past sexual partners. For women in North America and Western Europe, this might be acceptable. But, in Russia this is highly inappropriate. If a woman in Russia doesn’t mind talking openly about this, the risk factor rises. You can get the same results without leaving home.
- Don’t ask for her vital statistics. Don’t ask for photos of her in a bikini.
- Don’t emphasize material wealth until you are pretty sure your relationship with her has a realistic outlook. It’s okay to state that you are stable and dependable. (Don’t go fishing for barracudas.)
- Don’t send photos of your house, car, or other possessions, at least at the beginning.
- Don’t make negative comments about past romantic partners, and don’t make them a topic of casual conversation.
- Don’t talk about how you saved by buying used clothing or relating to other topics about frugality. It takes time to understand her culture and circumstances. Begin explaining your monetary habits in more detail only after you have learned more about her own experiences.
- Don’t talk about death as a casual topic of conversation.
- Don’t use slang, and avoid colloquialisms. Keep your messages simple and clear.
- Don’t ask her why she wants marry a foreigner (she will think you don’t know how to read). In any case, she will tell you without your asking. For the most part, it’s not about economics. Economics are more akin to the straw that broke the camel’s back.
- Don’t cross-examine her about her motives for marrying a foreigner. In any case, this line of questioning will not likely “flush out” a disingenuous lady. Listen, be patient, and don’t accuse. It will insult a sincere woman and can place your relationship with her at risk. The best way to determine sincerity is self-education, patience, common sense, and the end — some leap of faith.
- Don’t send cheap handcrafts, gag items, or humorous greeting cards as gifts. Don’t send any kinds of intimate, hygienic, or used items. Flowers are okay at the appropriate time, but always in odd numbers (odd numbers are for funerals).
- Don’t talk about politics — especially don’t talk about communism. Also, table any thoughts about praising “Gorby” (Gorbachev) until you learn more about this. Many Russians don’t like him.
- Don’t make references to the poor economic conditions in Russia, and don’t brag about the economic conditions over here. If she’s sincere, she will tell you about life in Russia without complaining too much about her own situation.
- Don’t be too quick to send money. In any case, if handled improperly, this can be both insulting and humiliating. If a woman finds a reason for you to send money, especially too soon into a relationship (i.e., “my mother is gravely ill”; “I just lost my job”), it’s time to get suspicious. A sincere woman with self-respect, actually, will need to be approached cautiously and with regard for her feelings.
2) What do Russians really think about Americans?
Russians really do not know a lot about America and Americans. The majority of Russians get their information about Americans from Hollywood movies and soap operas such as Santa Barbara (Ouch! What a pathetic source of information!)
To make matters worse, many Russian “journalists” publish steady streams of misinformation for the communists that are still alive and active and the nationalists that are also fighting for power. In addition, far too many Americans traveling to Russia in search of wives exhibit extremely disrespectful behavior that often overshadows those men that are respectful and courteous.
No surprise that the images Russians have of Americans is convoluted. Remember, unlike Americans, many Russians don’t have easy access to factual information. Despite the many changes that have taken place, they are still faced with a wall of misinformation that has to be scaled in order to get to the truth. Be forgiving. To help you, here is a list of the main stereotypes Russians have of Americans:
- Americans are greedy. They will spend their money only on a profitable investment. They count each penny.
- Americans are ignorant about any language and culture outside their own, and they are selfish and self-centered. They are individualists, not really caring about the feelings of others. Although they are quick to smile and act engagingly towards others, it is just a mask. They are generally only interested in themselves.
- Americans are poorly cultured and educated. They don’t like to read literature and don’t understand the arts and good music. They prefer “pop” culture and have poorly developed tastes.
- Americans are crazy about sex. They have no moral taboos. Uninhibited sexuality is still going strong in America.
- Americans are naive. They believe each and every word they hear, and it is easy to deceive them.
The main reasons Americans are looking for Russian wives is because they are “tightwads” looking for cheap labor abroad, knowing that Russian women are selfless and unspoiled.
It might amaze you, after learning about these images, that Russians actually like Americans and have a great respect for them. Partly, this is because the majority of Russians have an even worse image of themselves. Russians probably rank lowest in the world in terms of self-esteem. In Russian folk humor, one can easily find more self-deprecating, cynical anecdotes about Russia and the Russian character than about any other nationality. They love foreigners, Americans included, more than their compatriots.
3) Why do all these Russian ladies want to marry foreigners? Do they just want to immigrate?
The communist regime and perestroika have been extremely damaging to Russian men. Many men that couldn’t find their place — couldn’t adjust — and became alcoholics and/or chronically depressed. Those who survived and prospered the most successfully are the so-called “New Russians” — very wealthy people, often with little or no morality, culture, or honor. These are the main reasons why traditional Russian women want to marry foreigners.
The best of them, the cultured and educated women, can’t stand the “New Russian” mentality with their perverted attitudes about traditional morality and spirituality. These women can’t build their families and have children with devastated, weak, and crushed men, many of whom are emotionally and physically abusive. Although economics definitely play a role, traditional women would never desert the men of Russia solely because of financial hard times. They are incapable of that kind of weakness and shallowness.
4) I am going to Russia to meet a Russian woman who seems to be very traditional. Can you give me some advice as a first-time visitor in Russia?
If you are fortunate enough to meet a truly traditional Russian woman and you are going to Russia to visit her for the first time, here is some advice for you:
- Never try to impress a traditional Russian lady with your money or material possessions. Don’t describe or show pictures of your house, boat, or other material wealth. Don’t talk about your money. That said, it is appropriate, as the situation dictates, to state that you are financially stable with a secure employment position or profession (all ladies everywhere like to feel some sense of security). If you dwell on material wealth, she will feel uncomfortable and think that you are trying to buy her.
A traditional Russian woman, aside from an understandable desire for some security, is looking for your heart and soul. And she needs to be needed. You will only gain entrance to her heart if you humbly share with her your problems, pains, and loneliness. Be humble and honest about yourself. She’s looking for sincerity, honesty, and loyalty.
- Consider taking modest, unassuming luggage, and avoid dressing in expensive clothing or jewelry while in Russia. Don’t advertise the idea that you represent a potentially profitable target. Dress modest but tastefully. Although most Russian women can ill afford to actually purchase the latest fashion, they do keep up with trends and have very good taste. They will appreciate your tasteful appearance. Don’t wear very bright clothes in Russia! Bright green, red, and yellow, for instance, are considered loud and tasteless. The best color choices for clothing are pastels and earth tones. Also, avoid wearing shorts in Russia. Although a small number of Russians do wear shorts, this kind of clothing in public is considered to be in bad taste. You can wear comfortable, casual clothes during the day.
- It is appropriate to wear a suit and tie to restaurants and the theatre. If you plan to check your coat, make sure to empty your pockets before doing so. If you leave money, documents, or keys in your pockets, they may well be stolen. And as a side note, while attending a movie or theater in Russia, you are not allowed to drink or eat during the performance.
- Although standards are improving, the quality of food in many Russian restaurants is still not very good. Portions are small and prices are typically high. A modest dinner for two can cost as little as $25 or as high as $200 and above. It’s very easy for an unwary traveler to unwittingly wind up in a restaurant at the higher end. Also, many restaurants in Russia are favorite hangouts for the Russian Mafia and New Russians — sometimes, one and the same. Seek advice and referrals and choose a restaurant with a good reputation and prices that fit your budget.Many Russian restaurants play loud music.
Often, there are drunken people in these restaurants that can be rude and aggressive. Never allow anybody to involve you in a conflict. This is a strange country for you with strange customs. If you find yourself in a compromising position, quickly but politely pay your bill and leave. You may prefer to dine at one of the many U.S. restaurant chains that have established their eateries in the most popular destinations such as Moscow and St. Petersburg.
A note on tipping: Tipping is not a custom in Russia. But in cities like Moscow international norms are becoming more accepted. Take the time to decide where you are going to dine out and ask for advice from your interpreter or host.Your Russian lady may feel shy or somewhat uncomfortable dining out. Encourage her to choose a meal she really likes. If she is a traditional lady, she will probably try to order the cheapest food or even say that she is not hungry.
If she refuses to order food, do it yourself. She will overcome her shyness and eat. Be very patient with her. Dining in restaurants had been a cultural norm, but the economic conditions of the last several years have crippled the ability of most Russians to afford this. It’s now almost a luxury for many Russians, and they may feel awkward.It is often said that Russia is a land of paradoxes.
Doctors can have a lower income than street sweepers. And, many of Russia’s most educated, cultured families cannot afford to dine out. So if a Russian lady invites you to a very expensive restaurant and appears quite comfortable there — watch out! This is a very strong sign that she is not a shy and retiring traditional woman. Her favorite pursuit in life might well be the acquisition of “Dead U.S. Presidents” — American money.
- Never, ever allow your lady to go home in a taxi alone. It is not safe. In fact, I recommend that you do not use a taxi alone, either. There are too many cases of robbery — and even murder — connected with taxis in Russia. Public transportation in Moscow and St. Petersburg is very good, though it’s best to avoid rush hours (7-8 a.m. and 6-7 p.m.), when both buses and the Metro (underground rail) are very overcrowded. Note: Always offer your seat on public transportation to elderly passengers, women, and small children.
- Ask your lady what she would like to have — ice cream, sweets, or other snacks — when you are walking in the city. She will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Traditional Russian women are genuinely happy to receive very small but original presents rather that an expensive one. It really is the thought that counts. You will impress her if you buy her a bright balloon, a stuffed animal, or a single rose. A sincere girl will almost never gravitate to the purchase of expensive merchandise, pricey restaurants, or other items. If your date does this, take it as a warning.
5) Is it appropriate to make a home visit to a Russian lady that I just met? What are the living conditions of Russians now? Is there special etiquette for home visiting in Russia?
It is very common for Russian girls to live in the same flats with their parents and even grandparents. Living conditions are very poor in Russia and flats are rather small. Generally speaking, there are mostly no formal living and dining rooms. If Russians say that they have a two bedroom flat, it likely means that they actually have a one bedroom flat and a combination living room/bedroom.
If they say they have a one bedroom flat, it usually means that the living room and the bedroom are one in the same. There is typically one toilet in a flat with the bath as a separate room. There is also a rather common, communal condition of life where two or more families share the same flat, kitchen, bathroom and toilet. And the conditions of flats are often run-down. Be prepared for this.
Also, every guest in Russia is required to change from shoes to slippers when entering a flat. They will offer you slippers, but the best solution is to take your own slippers and a slippers bag with you. Never walk into a flat past the entry area without removing your street shoes.
Be careful about accepting an invitation from a lady to visit her family. Unless you feel very serious about her, it is better to find a reason not to visit. Otherwise, they might interpret your visit as an intention to propose marriage. Family ties are very strong in Russia, and children usually introduce future marriage partners to their parents in this manner.
Parents’ blessings are also very important in the courting/marriage ritual. If your Russian lady is fortunate enough to have a flat of her own, you can accept her invitation unconditionally. But, under no circumstances should you pressure her to let you stay there (or anywhere else) with her overnight. If you are serious about her, you should respect her traditional attitude about inappropriate, premarital sexual relationships. She will appreciate your gentlemanly behavior.
It’s not uncommon for a Russian woman to try to initiate sexual contact with you. Don’t be led into temptation. If she turns out not to be traditional, you can expose yourself to the danger of sexual disease. Or, she may decide to get pregnant as a marriage trap. Even if she is traditional and honorable, there is still a significant risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Knowledge of contraception in Russia is poor.
Very few women use pills/IUD’s for this purpose. Abstinence for traditional women and abortion for traditional and non-traditional women are still the main methods of birth control in Russia. Try not to put a traditional woman in the position of sacrificing her dignity, or yourself at risk of disease from a non-traditional woman whose sexual habits make sleeping with her unsafe.
Sometimes, even very traditional and naive Russian women might invite you to spend the night. There may obviously be many reasons for this. But one thought to keep in mind is that she might feel that sex is the only thing she can offer to thank you and to show affection. Remember that the Hollywood stereotype of the American male is of an extremely sexual creature that never says no, or takes no for an answer.
She may be afraid to lose you if she doesn’t give you sex very early on. Be a gentleman. Explain to her that your feelings for her are very serious and that you are looking for a wife, not a sexual fling, and that you respect her. Make sure that neither you nor she use sex as a bargaining chip.
Whether you are visiting Russians in their flats or have them over to your own, avoid the common mistakes made by many foreigners that often act disrespectful and even indecent. Most men traveling to Russia claim they are looking for women with traditional values. But how credible can this claim be if a man’s behavior indicates that he wants her to behave like the women he says he finds unacceptable?
- Don’t “tour” your host’s flat without a special invitation. If you need to use the toilet or bathroom, ask the host to show you the room.
- Never open a refrigerator to help yourself. Always ask the host if you want something. In any case, Russians are typically very good hosts. Serving refreshments between meals to guests is common.
- Never put your feet up on a coffee table.
- Don’t use a toothpick openly at the table. Go to the bathroom or a discreet area for this purpose.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol. Russian men can be heavy drinkers. You can’t compete with them, and you will look foolish trying. Even if your future father-in-law offers you one glass of vodka after another, it’s okay to decline. You don’t have to drink. It’s true that he might initially think you are not courteous. But later, he will understand and respect your attitude. Actually, you will not likely encounter this kind of attitude from men in cultured families. And it is not typical for women to drink heavily; she will probably be appalled if you do. Remember that this is one aspect of life that so many women want to escape.
Try Not to Talk About:
- Money and investments.
- Health. It’s not appropriate to talk about health problems, and for goodness sakes not about flatulence or irregularity. The good news is that you won’t have to worry about listening to gripes about PMS.
- Jokes. Russian humor and American humor frequently fail to make the language/cultural leap, and often come out as anything but funny. Take the time to listen and learn before leaping. At the very least, avoid humor with cultural and political content.
- Religion or politics (avoid comments about communism), especially during dinner.
Typical Russian Dinner with guests:
- Russian salad, salty snacks such as salt fish, crabmeat, pickles, marinated garlic, caviar, etc.
- Russian beef stew with hot bread and sour cream.
- Creamed or fried potatoes with beef or chicken.
- Sweet pie or cake with coffee or hot, sweet tea.
Some notes on Russian cuisine:
- The food will most likely be very tasty but very fatty. If you have stomach problems, It’s better to take preventative measures before this kind of dinner.
- It’s ok not to eat all the food from your plate. They will understand. But, try to at least taste each of the dishes. Your Russian hosts made this dinner from their hearts, and will be very hopeful that you like it.
- Never drink tap water in Russia. They’re immune to what’s in it; you’re not!
- Similarly, avoid eating fresh mushrooms. Russians usually pick mushrooms themselves in the woods. They can be okay for a Russian’s strong stomach, but could be very bad for you. Politely decline eating this dish. You can always say that you are allergic.
- Be careful eating fish. Filleting might not be complete.
- Finally, don’t overstay your visit. Know when the evening has drawn to a close and it’s time to take your leave.
6) What kinds of gifts should I bring to Russia?
Don’t Give These Gifts to Russians:
- Intimate presents (underwear, pantyhose, etc.)
- Used clothing
- Feminine hygiene products, including shampoos and soaps
- Yellow or black flowers
- Even numbers of flowers (odd numbers associated with funerals)
- Gag items or humorous greeting cards
- “Practical” items like kitchen equipment/culinary tools, a set of pliers, etc.
- Junky handcrafts (the cheapie that you think will look expensive to them — it won’t). Russians have a rich history in handcrafting and can tell the difference between quality and junk.
NOTE: Once a relationship is established and bonds begin to develop, the “forbidden” gifts on this list can become acceptable and appropriate. But, don’t take chances at the beginning of a relationship. Some of these forbidden gifts are the result of superstition, which may or may not have much or any currency, depending on each individual Russian. But, better safe than sorry.
You don’t need to purchase expensive gifts. Buy something elegant and original, such as a bouquet of flowers. Flowers, although not original, belong in a special category. It is a significant cultural courtesy to bring flowers to your first meeting with a woman or visit with a family. If visiting with a family, an additional box of chocolates and a bottle of fine wine or Cognac make extremely nice accompaniments, especially if you are involved in a serious courtship. Below are some helpful suggestions. Be warned: make sure what you buy is made in the U.S. — nothing from Indonesia, China, Brazil, etc. (unless you are from another country)
- Inexpensive, original Navajo (or other) jewelry
- Native American souvenirs
- Cowboy souvenirs
- Gourmet tea
- Nice pen
- Quality perfume
- Local (your home) souvenirs (Made in the USA!)
- Illustrated books/booklets or postcards about your state, city
- Fine wine or Cognac
- Gourmet chocolate
- Fancy cake
NOTE: The first three items on this list are very popular, and some nice quality can be purchased rather economically. Navajo jewelry w/turquoise is a consistent winner. You can easily locate online dealers in the Southwest with catalogs.
If your relationship with a Russian woman is serious and you are about to marry her, the most practical present will be a computer accessed to the Internet. It will allow you to communicate with her easily, and then her with her family after she has immigrated. Making her feel like you want her to stay closely connected to her family will draw her closer to you. This will also save a small fortune in telephone calls over the long haul.
7. What are the main problems that Russian girls face in the U.S. at the beginning?
The main problem is language. If your bride does not know English, I would advise you in advance, while she is still in Russia, to help her pay for lessons with a private teacher. It does not cost much in Russia. During the two or three months of waiting for the visa, your fiancee will get at least a basic knowledge of English. Also in advance, get some information about English classes for foreigners, which she will be able to attend after she gets to the U.S.
Be patient with her language problems. Imagine yourself in her position — in a foreign country were everybody speaks a language you do not understand. Do not be surprised and irritated if at first she will be afraid to come to the phone or go shopping by herself. She may just not understand what shop assistants and cashiers say to her.
The second big problem is driving a car. Not many Russian women know how to drive. A large percentage of them have never been at the wheel and don’t know the brakes from the clutch. Although in general it is easier to get a driver’s license in the U.S. than in Russia, poor English can complicate this process. Experience also shows that in spite of all good intentions, husbands are reluctant to teach their wives driving.
Some just do not have time for this. As a result, Russian wives can end up trapped in the house for a long time and become completely dependent on their husbands. I would advise you if possible to help your wife get a driving license when she is still in Russia. And if at all possible, help her acquire some practical driving skills before she immigrates. As a last resort, think of finding a good driving school in America for her, or hire a private driving teacher right after she comes to the U.S.
The third problem is dependence on you, both moral and financial. In marrying a Russian woman, be prepared that for some time she will depend on you like a child. It will be a difficult transitional period both for her and for you. You will have to be patient, delicate, and reserved. Very soon she will get accustomed to her new life and acquire all of the required skills. I recommend you allocate some pocket money to your wife from the very beginning, which she can spend independently without having to report. For Russian women who are accustomed to making their own money, it is unbearably difficult and humiliating to beg money for little things from their husbands.
As for major purchases, decisions should be made together. At the beginning, do not give your wife credit cards until she learns specifically how to use them. Russian women are rather practical as a rule, but because of their inexperience in Western style financial management, they may make mistakes. It would be best to open a bank account in her name and deposit a small amount of money there. Thus, your wife will have access to finances and at the same time will learn budgeting and money management.
If you are a church member, talk to some elderly ladies from your church. Most likely they will be happy to help your young wife to learn the secrets of keeping the house, shopping, and maybe even driving. You will not find better teachers for your wife.
8) Do you think it would be useful for my Russian wife to have Russian friends in America? Not far from us there is a Russian community. I have been thinking about introducing my wife to other Russian immigrants.
On the surface, this seems like it should be a great idea. But be cautious. Though the desire to socialize with former compatriots is strong, it is better to avoid interacting with people who can cause problems for your marriage. Find out more details what kind of Russians live in your city. They may be unhappy about their life and have a very pessimistic outlook. They may envy your wife. It is better to avoid such people.
If your wife gets acquainted with another Russian woman also married to American, take a closer look at your wife’s friend. What are her relations with her husband? Is she envious of your relations? Is she traditional? Does she tell your wife tales of how generous her husband is just to make your wife envious? And so on. Don’t accuse, and don’t be domineering, but do be aware.
Especially at the beginning, while your relations are still fragile and your wife is still making her first steps in a new country and new culture, it is better to protect her from bad influence and temptations. With time she will understand everything herself and will know who is a friend and who is an enemy.
9) I live in a conservative provincial town where everybody knows each other and takes a close look at new people. My Russian bride is a very beautiful and outgoing young girl who likes fashionable clothing and cosmetics. I am concerned whether she will blend with the local society, or whether there will be problems with neighbors because of her manners and her looks.
This is a problem to discuss with your bride beforehand. Prepare her for what kind of life is waiting for her in your little provincial town. It may be that in order to blend with that new culture will she have to give up her usual style of life and clothing. Is she ready to sacrifice? Or, will she feel completely unhappy because of this? I advise you discuss this question with your bride in advance and explain to her in detail all the customs and traditions of your town, right down to a description of the clothes they wear.
10) I consider myself a decent and serious person. I dream about having a good family. My problem is that I work extremely long hours and come home dog-tired. I know that in future, too, I will not have much time for family. But on the other hand, my family will never have financial problems. Do I still have a chance to marry a traditional Russian woman?
Yes, you do. But it will take a lot of effort to find a sincere woman who would accept your style of life. Among my clients there are many workaholics with similar problems. Their matches are self-reliant, energetic, and optimistic women who have many interests and hobbies in life outside of the family and home. You need to tell this to the woman from the very beginning of your acquaintance, so that she does not have any illusions. It also wouldn’t hurt for you to try to make a compromise on your side — for example, devote at least one day a week to your family and to her. You both will profit from it.
11) I am worried that my wife speaks Russian with her son at home. I do not know any Russian. I demanded that English should be the communication language in our house. But my wife thinks I demand too much. Is she right?
Yes, she is right. Your desire to restrict her communication with her son in their native language is an attempt to control your wife and is a sign of a lack of confidence in yourself. Such demands, as well as control of her correspondence, telephone conversations and checking her personal things, are, in my opinion, equal to emotional abuse and result in serious complications for the family.