Culture And My Place In It Cultural Studies Essay

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The Russian culture is extremely rich in history and traditions that is why for foreigners it has always been mysterious. We like to talk about 'specifics of Russian soul' or 'mysterious Russian soul' and repeat the famous phrase of a Russian poet 'You can't understand Russia by your mind' [1] (Tyutchev). However, in the essay I would like to describe the Russian cultural backgrounds which will help to understand us and define my place there. I hope that after learning a lot about Russia it will not remain incomprehensible.

The modern Russian ethnicity is formed from two groups (Northern and Southern) made up in the past of Kriviches, Ilmen Slavs, Radimichs, Vyatiches and Severians East Slavic tribes. Ethnic Russians began to be recognized as a distinct ethnic group in the 15th century. Between the 12th and 16th century, Russians migrated to Northern Russia and settled the White Sea coasts. As a result of these migrations and Russian conquests, following the liberation from the Mongol Golden Horde domination during the 15th and 16th century, Russians settled the Volga, Urals and Northern Caucasus regions. Between the 17th and 19th century, migrants settled eastwards in the vast, sparsely inhabited areas of Siberia and the Russian Far East. Now the Russian Federation is home to as many as 160 different ethnic groups. As of the 2002 census, 79.83% of the population (115,889,107 people) is ethnically Russian. Other ethnical groups living in Russia are Tatars, Ukrainians, Bashkirs, Chuvashs, Chechens, Armenians and etc [2] . The fact that the Russian culture consists of various cultures of small ethnical groups shows that it is rich and diverse. It is also characterized by high tolerance to different nations.

Russian historian Lev Gumilev stated that geographical position had a strong influence on Russian culture and national character. The location between Western and Eastern civilizations created the peculiar Russian view of the world. Russian culture as well as Russian behavior is a combination of western and eastern values [3] .

The endless Russian borders shaped the idea of collectivism. Russian culture is non-individualistic. The power of an individual in Russia is much less than in the West and most deals are made through family, friends and acquaintances. Russian saying is, 'One is not a soldier in the battlefield'. We often have to rely on our friends to help us; that is why we maintain friendship. My family and friends are a great support for me.

The idea of the boundlessness of the territory created the Russian idea of the endlessness of human spirituality and was one of the sources of the Russian passive attitude toward life. Spiritual values dominate in Russian culture more than material objects and because of that music, literature and painting are more outstanding in Russian art than sculpture, architecture, and consumer culture. Russian cities have more space and less order than European ones, more spirituality and less religiousness, more sophistication and less formality. St. Petersburg is a Russian impression of a European city, while Moscow, which is where I am from, is purely Russian by nature.

Russia had created emotional, irrational thinking and an artistic perception of the world. That is why belief, hope and love are eternal values of the Russian national mentality. This resulted in the fruitful works of Russian writers: F. Dostoevsky, A. Tolstoy, A. Chekov and others. These men developed the idea of the heart being the center of human reason. In their understanding the heart is the core of real self-identity. We like to emphasize our different attitude towards material values and consider ourselves as sincere, cordial, understanding and unselfish.

The famous cold Russian climate in combination with the boundlessness of space is the reason for the slow pace of development and results in conservatism of thinking. Maybe that explains why getting things done in Russia takes longer and requires more effort.

Unpredictable climate is one of the main features of Russian weather. It created the idea of trusting the Lord rather than our own efforts. The traditional and mostly unconscious Russian outlook is the belief in favorable fate. We hope that things will 'somehow work out'. We agree with the old saying 'whatever is done is for the better'. These words show the typical Russian optimistic fatalism with passivity and non-interference with life that goes on as if 'all by itself', while people think, 'All I can do is hope' or 'Let's hope for some luck'.

These geographical factors created such features of Russian mentality as collectivism, irrationality, pessimism, cultural conservatism, passive aspiration to material values, and strong family relationships.

There are some other things which define Russian culture.

Russians are not religious at all as religion in Russia plays little role in forming the society habits and citizen's morals. We are more aware of horoscopes than the Bible. And when something is not allowed but we really want it - it is permitted as an exception. Although I am not baptized I usually attend the church just to "light a candle". I do it to ask for something to happen (a deal, an exam) or to remember my grandmother who is dead.

We consider ourselves as a well educated nation. And it is really so as both education and culture facilities are widely available. Our general knowledge is very good because we know a little bit about everything. At secondary schools, we study not only the Russian history, literature and geography but also the world ones. In the secondary school course we also study chemistry, math, physics, astronomy, biology and many others. I studied in a linguistic school and we have such subjects as English literature and geography in English. I am used to reading a lot and developed this habit at school where many books of both Russian and Western authors are mandatory reading in the course of literature. Now I can read English and German writers in original. In addition to schools studies Russian children are engaged into extra-curriculum activities such as spots, dancing, music, arts and others. I did ball-room dancing for 8 years and earned D-class classification level. During studies at school I also had additional advance English courses.

Having a university or college degree is a common thing in Russia. According to the statistics, Russia has the highest educational level in the world (more than 40% of the total population has a college or university degree). However, our educational system experiences a few problems, one of which is that it is always rather theoretical and unrelated to practice. Because of that it is usual when a person with an engineering degree works in sales or with chemical backgrounds finds himself in marketing. That is why the educational programs are being changed now and they are becoming more practical. The main reason why I have chosen IBS-Plekhanov program is the fact that it gives very practical economic studies and resembles the European system of education.

We are also fond of live performances at theatres. Usually every city has several theatres. The theatre culture is developed when tickets are sold through schools. The tickets are brought for distribution to every school and the teachers organize collective visits to the theatre. I think it is an excellent system as people have the opportunity to attend theatres from the early age. They start from attending performances in a Muppet theatre, then move to the Youth Drama Theatre, then to Drama, Musical and Opera, according to their age. Also attending performances in a company is always much more fun, which contributes to the popularity of theatres. This is how I have developed my taste for live performances. Besides, we like movie theatres a lot. Nowadays they are becoming more and more popular, especially among young people.

Russians enjoy visiting museums as well. Every small town has at least one historical museum. When we come to a new city of Russia or abroad the first thing we do is visit the city museums. The habit is also developed at an early age when at schools teachers motivate schoolchildren and their parents to visit museums and held lessons there.

We think that we are smart as we have so many difficulties and problems in life, but every time we can easily find a roundabout way for anything. We are used to situations where everything is unpredictable and unstable. We live in a society where anything can happen. We have to adapt to new rules and laws quickly, and we manage successfully with this task. But we do not have a deep respect towards any law, including traffic rules. We are the most reckless, but at the same time skillful, drivers, and the most careless pedestrians in the world.

Russian women are fashion-conscious. Visitors to Moscow and St. Petersburg are often startled at how well-dressed Russian women are. The domestic clothing market has been growing at 20 percent a year, and people in Russia spend twice as much as other Europeans on clothes [4] . Russian women dress completely different from western women. They prefer make-up and high heels and do not like style of dressing of western women: jeans, T-shirts and trainers.

During the Soviet time there was such a phrase 'Everything around belongs to the public (nation), so everything around belongs to me'. There was no such concept as 'private property', that is why Russians do not care about intellectual property either. There are pirate software, video and audio records, CDs and others exposed for sale on every corner. The pirate production is very cheap and everybody buys it. Those who purchase the original versions are considered to be either very rich or not clever.

We are also famous for our pessimism. We wake up not to enjoy a new day but to cope with today's problems. We are used to minor everyday difficulties, and they do not even bother us anymore. Our daily life is tough, and it is probably the reason why we smile so seldom. It is rarely possible to see a smiling face on the streets.

But it does not mean that we do not know how to have fun. Fun for us is just something that happens without plans, spontaneous and when people are happy and cheerful. We love to celebrate. We celebrate not only our national holidays but we also adopted the Western holidays such as St. Valentine, Catholic Christmas (we celebrate Christmas twice - Catholic and Orthodox) and Halloween. We also appreciate Chinese New Year, Muslim and Jewish holidays, as Russians are very tolerant to other religions.

The majority of Russians do not have good manners as Russia is quite a tough country and Russians usually do not hesitate to say what they think in a way that does not leave room for any misunderstandings. It is because during the Soviet period having good manners was considered as a bourgeois survival.

We are very straightforward. When people meet or phone each other, they seldom spend time on questions like "How are you?" and go straight to the point. They are not rude it is just our way of doing things.

One of the most prominent Russian men traditions is hard drinking. Russian drinking traditions are very much a cultural thing. The person who drinks and does not become drunk is always respected. People say "he can drink". Drinking alone is considered as being an alcoholic, drinking in company is encouraged. Russian men do not drink without a reason. It does not mean that they do not drink just when they want, it means that every time they want to drink they bring up a reason. Many business deals in Russia are solved while drinking together. I think that it is probably one of the main reasons why it is so difficult for women to succeed in making careers in Russia.

Of course, there is something we do not like in our culture and we can criticize it severely, but if a foreigner tries to do the same we will defend it furiously as we love it.

As I was born and grew up in Russia I possess all qualities which are typical for Russian mentality and culture. I love my country and do not consider my life as miserable. I feel that things are changing for the better and everything is starting to work out in the country. I feel like a citizen of the largest county in the world, which has rich history and deep cultural roots, and I am proud of it. At the same I try to get rid of all negative things Russians have. I may say that I am more optimistic, law obedient, careful and polite. I trust myself more as I know that the success depends only on me not on the fate or somebody else.