In the comments section of the post immediately below, frequent commenter L.S. points me towards an article in the UK’s Daily Mail regarding a book written by a young Russian woman about her experiences living in London. I had a look, and normally I’d not bother writing a post about it, but it’s melt season here in Sakhalin, the place is under a foot of mud, everyone is either bored or depressed, and there’s not a lot to talk about that I didn’t already say last year.
So let’s take a look.
A young Russian woman’s book about the pitfalls of living as an immigrant in Britain has become a surprise best-seller in Moscow … and it paints a distinctly unflattering portrait of the natives.
The biggest surprise for me in this passage is that the book’s popularity in Moscow came as a surprise. Lots of nationalities enjoy reading one of their own slagging off another place and its people, and Russians are no exception to this.
Instead of finding London the city of her dreams, 23-year-old Olga Freer moans about the shopping hours, the public transport and the bad manners she encounters.
I don’t know what her complaint is about the shopping hours, but I’d agree with her on the public transport and bad manners. But how naive can you be to arrive in London expecting it to be the city of your dreams? A cursory 2-hours reading a UK newspaper would tell you as much as you’d need to know.
In a litany of complaints about her adopted country, in her book The UK For Beginners she claims that Britons:
• Habitually scratch their bottoms in public places;
• Never remove the price stickers from the soles of their shoes;
• Fail to iron their clothes; and
• Are obsessed with TV programmes about buying and selling houses.
If these are examples of the complaints she has with the people of London, I’d say she’s got off lightly. Every country has its quirks and unsavoury habits. Would an impartial observer think that the public behaviour of Russians, their approach to clothes and fashion, and their TV preferences are any better than those of Britons? I doubt it.
She says the country is full of “prudish, arrogant people who eat healthy food for breakfast – porridge or bacon and eggs. But in reality the nation suffers from obesity”.
Well, London is full of prudish, arrogant people. And the nation does have a lot of fat people in it, which is a sign of wealth more than anything else (I didn’t see too many fat people in Cambodia). But I have to laugh that a Russian considers bacon and eggs a healthy breakfast. No doubt she considers a healthy salad to consist of a jar of mayonnaise with a pea dropped in it.
Some 60 per cent of the female population wear size 22 clothes, she says.
“But being overweight doesn’t stop red-faced English women wearing minis and shaking their haunches at discos – some spectacle! It’s a nation with girls, debauched girls to the last degree. The only sacred thing for them is Christmas, for which they wait 364 days a year.”
It is true, that Russian women are usually of a smaller dress size than their English counterparts, but if we’re going to have a competition to see which women dress and act as the more convincing slappers when they go to a club, then there’ll be no clear winner.
But there is a crucial difference. Overweight English women go out and act in an unrestrained manner because they can, as appearance and attracting a man is not especially important to the current generation of twentysomething English women. As I once commented to a young Russian woman, why does an English woman need to dress up every day to impress men when she earns £40k per year, owns her own apartment, and drives an Audi TT? She doesn’t. British society has advanced equality to the point that many women can get by just fine on their own. By contrast, much of Russian society remains in the 1950s timewarp of male-dominated chauvinism, whereby women feel – usually egged on by ill-informed female friends and relatives – that their sole purpose in life is to find a man, get married, and raise a family, all before they are 20 years old. Correspondingly, most Russian men value appearances much more highly than education or intellect, the women realise this, and dress up accordingly. Russian women physically present themselves better because that is their only method to achieving their lifetime goal. British women are busy achieving their lifetime goal, which is irrelevant to their looks. This is a simplistic explanation I know, and exceptions abound, but you get my point.
Olga, who faked her CV to find work as a pizza-leaflet distributor, nightclub hostess and shop assistant in Oxford Street, is particularly damning about the “lazy” British working class.
“Every second immigrant achieves much more here than the ordinary Brits,” she writes.
This is true; but it applies equally to Russia.
“The ordinary Brit, having a choice between education and a job on one hand, and unemployment on the other, would always prefer to live on the dole.”
And this too sounds awfully like Russia.
“Then all they have to do is send £10 notes through the mail as birthday presents for their various children who they don’t see. The greed of these islanders was a real shock to me.”
I wonder how many absent fathers in Russia send money to their children on their birthdays or at any other time? And isn’t there something ironic about somebody complaining about the greed of others whilst dismissing a £10 gift as being unsatisfactory?
Olga came to Britain in 2002 when she was 18, and married a year later. She now has a son and secured British citizenship.
I’m sure this is doing wonders to improve the image of Russian women who arrive in the West. What’s the betting her husband is considerably older and rather wealthy?
She writes: “By settling in England I made my dream come true. The only plan I had since I was about 13 was to come here as an immigrant. I had no idea how it would work, but I knew that one day I’d become a UK citizen.”
But by finding a husband within a year and getting up the duff she soon found a way!
“I was so taken up with this idea that it never occurred to me that living in a foreign land, without friends, without mum’s cooking and Latin American soap operas on Russian TV in the evenings, may not make me happy but rather vice versa.”
Latin American soap operas? And she criticises the viewing habits of Britons!!
“I’m not surprised any more how awful the free health service is.”
Poor though the NHS is, I doubt she was surprised by how awful it was if she’d spent any time at all in the Russian free health service.
“Like everybody else, I curse unreasonably high taxes. I’ve got accustomed to Indian cuisine, which seems to have replaced the traditional fish and chips that I used to dream about.”
She came to work as a nightclub hostess aged 18 and dreamt about fish and chips? Remember, some people take it as given that Russian women are classier than Brits.
She told The Mail on Sunday last night: “Russian people are more heartful and soulful. I was bought up in the centre of Moscow, but here things are much worse.
“Here, for example, you switch on the water in the kitchen and the water in the bathroom goes off; here the central heating sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. At home it is always warm because the Government takes care of it for you.”
L.S. had a good cackle at this in the comments. Where to begin? The problem she describes with the water in British houses is well known, and it is the result of a trade-off between physics and economics. Why pay for a higher-pressure water system just for the odd occasions when it would be handy to use water in the kitchen and the bathroom? It can be a pain, but it isn’t half as much of a pain as the water system in Russia, whereby the authorities inexplicably turn off the water to your apartment whenever they like. Currently, I cannot get cold water between 12 midnight and 6am. My friend is not so lucky, she can’t get water between 8am and 6pm. I grew up in rural Wales, and never once suffered an unscheduled disruption to our mains water supply. People in even semi-rural Russia have standpipes at the end of their roads and lug buckets around. And they shut off your hot water supply all summer, deeming it unecessary. As for the home always being warm, it is true provided the government has been kind enough to turn on the heating for you. If they mis-time it and you get a cold snap, you’re left sitting at home freezing your arse off.
“In Britain if it is your birthday, people send you a £10 or £20 note inside a card – like they can’t be bothered with you.”
Still moaning about the paltry value of gifts in Britain? Why do I get the impression she spends a lot of time in her husband’s wallet?
“In Russia 99 per cent of people have been to university.”
WTF?!! This is utter nonsense. Not anywhere near this percentage has been educated past high-school, never mind gone to university, even in Moscow. She’s living in cloud-cuckoo land. Bear in mind that this is the woman who left Russia when 18 to work as a nightclub hostess and deliver pizza leaflets, and you have to wonder what contribution she has made to the educational prowess of Russians.
Here you get on a bus and the way people talk, you can tell they aren’t interested in anything other than football.
I must have missed the intellectual conversations which take place on the mashrutkas across Russia.
“I used to go to the theatre in Russia with my family a lot. But here I went once with my then in-laws and in the interval people were bringing in beer – were they there for the performance or a pint or what?”
My then in-laws? Don’t tell me she’s divorced already?!!
She added: “Britain has a lot of exhibitions from abroad here, but English people don’t seem to appreciate it. I go to museums or exhibitions twice a month and apart from a few Britons, most of the others are Chinese tourists.”
This is probably true. Russians do tend to appreciate museums more than Brits, especially the young ones.
Olga did concede one thing: “You can cook – I quite like Sunday roast dinners.”
But she added quickly: “When you come home here, you open the fridge and what do you see? It’s all supermarket food or half-cooked stuff. Do Brits ever cook from scratch?”
From one of her earlier sentences, it seems it’s her mum that does all the cooking back in Moscow. But she’s right, few young Brits cook from scratch compared to young Russians, and I’ve already touched on the reasons why. Young British women do not see their only role in life as looking after a husband, hence they often have demanding jobs which leave them little time for cooking meals from scratch. By contrast, a Russian man expects their woman to be slapping a hot meal in front of him on his return from work, and if a woman can’t manage this, she’s probably not going to be seeing much of her husband.
“It is not because your society is incredibly advanced, it is because it is lazy.”
Actually, it is because our methods of food production and distribution is incredibly advanced. The reason the use of ready-made meals is not widespread across Russia is because few supermarkets are able to sell them, as Russian supermarkets outside a handful of big cities are bloody awful. I’ve been to the new supermarkets in Moscow, and they are quickly catching up on the sale of ready-made meals. It’s my betting that once Russian women have the option of cooking from scratch or buying stuff ready made, within a generation they’re going to be doing a lot more of the latter – particularly if their husband is still sat in front of the TV, beer in hand, demanding his dinner.
Ironically, though, Olga is no fan of the British Government’s immigration policy. She says: “I am against it. You should close your borders.”
That a Russian is anti-immigration is about as surprising as daybreak.
As I said at the beginning of this post, it is little wonder that her book is popular in Moscow, as thousands of Russian women will be reading with glee about how fat the British women are and how awful their cooking is. But I’d also hope that plenty of Brits get around to reading it, because the book – coupled with its popularity in Moscow – will almost certainly reveal as much about Russia as it does about Britain.