Let's start with the worst.
"Do you like vodka?" Don't even try to say "no".
They will pour it straight into your mouth because everyone is convinced - Russians drink shots for breakfast. Mixers? Don't disappoint your friends! In fact, they will assume you drink a lot.
P.S. this picture's name on Pixabay is "Russian dinner".
2. Political stigma
"What do you think about Putin?" "Are you a communist?" " What about your parents? Grandparents?" "Do they like Stalin?" "Do you have Lenin's picture in your house?"
Don't even get me started on this one.
Picture from GamingVid
"Are you cold? How can you be cold? You're from Russia!"
Never say you're freezing because Russians are not allowed to! In fact, nobody knows that in southern parts of Russia the climate is similar to the one of northern Italy! For example this is Russian health resort in Sochi.
Picture from Znanie.
And here are the best things according to my LONDON BASED experience.
Wherever you go, you will always stumble across Polish shop that sells 'tvorog' or Azerbaijanian takeaway that offers 'borscht' and 'pelmeni'.
Due to similarities in the former-Soviet cuisines it is easier to feel at home. There are always nice Russian restaurants too! For example Zima in London.
The grammar complexity, vast vocabulary and extraordinary pronunciation make it one of the most difficult languages in the world. People are usually impressed with how gracefully you levitate between "Р"/rr/ , "Ш" /sh/ , "Щ" /sрch/ , "Ч" /ch/ , "Ц" /ts/ and "Х" /kh/. In fact, cyrillic alphabet ensures no one can understand your messages even using Google Translate.
But not to worry, it is official language to 38+ territories with at least 150 million speakers! Thus it is most likely that you will communicate easily with people from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and some parts of Ukraine. In fact, common language creates stronger bonds.
Additionally, Russian is a good language to have in terms of employment. As it is both hard to learn and widely spoken it gives you a comparative advantage in the workplace.
Picture from Wikipedia.
3. Russian literature
Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Bunin, Gogol, Turgenev, Nabokov, Bulgakov, Pushkin, Solzhenitsyn, Pasternak, Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva...the list goes on.
Everyone knows War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment and Idiot. Indeed, Russian literature is widely acknowledged. Last year many Brits watched a BBC adaptation of War and Peace. Some of them asked me about the author and were curious to find out more. Here is a picture of Leo Tolstoy!
P.S. If you live in London there is a whole section of books in Russian on the fifth floor of Piccadilly's Waterstones.
4. Russian classical music
Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Shostakovich...no need to say anything, just listen.
5. Russian history and politics
Ivan Grozny, Peter the Great, October revolution, Perestroika, Putin...The narrative is special and extraordinary, that's why many scholars in academia around the world continue to research and analyse Russian historical past. They would be excited to discuss it with a Russian person.
LSE usually does a lot of public talks, lectures and seminars to explain Russian foreign policies and history behind it. For example, this lecture I attended in the beginning of February. Vladimir Posner visited London this year and gave a lecture at UCL on the same topic.
In the light of 100 years after Russian Revolution there is a number of events going on in London. For example, this exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts dedicated to Russian art between 1918 and 1932. The British Library is doing another exhibition on Russian revolution this month.
It's exciting how much you can learn about your country from abroad. It's flattering that people from other countries want to learn about it too!
Here is a picture of Catherine the Great.
Overall, being Russian abroad can be both positive and negative. The worst part is when people judge you based on the most common stereotypes about Russia. The best part is that actually a lot of people are interested in your culture and history.
To be honest it is a challenging question. Life in the UK can be a very diverse experience. One of the main advantages of living in London is the incredible multinational community. It is amazing how people from different parts of the world share their cultural, social and economic experience. In this city, you can really understand the meaning of the words – citizen of the world. In times of globalization and permeable boarders it is very important that people respect and support each other. I was particularly astonished when Londoners united in the face of the sickening Westminster terror attack, instead of marginalizing or blaming certain communities.
Moreover, it is important to emphasize the top quality of education in the UK. Universities here encourage students to invest time into self-education, in my opinion, such strategy enhances critical thinking of every individual.
However, there are certain disadvantages. Firstly, life in London is extremely expensive, many students are forced to take a burden of student loans and face over inflated prices for accommodation. In turn, despite the high-quality education in the country, it is very hard to get a decent internship and it is even harder to get a full-time job after graduation. As a president of the Queen Mary Russian Society, I am launching a platform that will help Russian-speaking students to find an attractive work placement, where every student will be able to apply his knowledge and achieve great results. Furthermore, another disadvantage is constant demonization of Russia in British mass media. Indeed, there is tension in the political world right now, however endless criticism of our country is a big obstacle for integration of Russian students in the UK.
So, you are from Russia...
Questions like ‘Wait, Russia isn’t part of EU?’ or ‘Do you have monarchy in Russia?’ followed me around, and even if first I thought they were jokes, I quickly realised that people don't know anything about Russia. It looked like people’s ideas about my home country were based on Disney’s ‘Anastasia’, which is, in fact, not even a Russian movie. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it. Although, it’s not the most reliable source.
If Russian writers and musicians are well known around the world, Russian artists tend to share a relatively small part of the fame. It is understandable as Tolstoy or Dostoevsky may be studied in the foreign literature lessons, and everyone heard about Russian ballet and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’, however the artistic part of my culture seems to hide in the shadows. The only exception I can think of is Malevich. I have a lot of English friends who study art, so I obviously felt like it’s my duty to introduce them to the rest of the famous Russian artists like Vasnetsov and Aivazovsky.
For most people it’s almost a synonym for ‘Russia’ or at least one of a few things they actually do know about my country. So obviously, when we go out with friends and someone want to have vodka shot but doesn’t want to be alone, I end up having it as well. To be honest, my very first vodka shot happened exactly like this. Although, I didn't tell anyone. Saying that you are Russian and have never tried vodka is pretty much the same as if Italian says that they have never tried pizza. No one would ever believe.
In Russian schools we learn to write in cursive, so naturally everyone has their own cursive-ish handwriting, which doesn’t change when we write in English. In Europe it isn’t as popular as in Russia, so it’s always nice to hear compliments about my handwriting. Russian cursive looks very complicated, so whenever people see my own notes, they think it's a magic spell or an evil plan.