Thanks to all of our readers for giving last week’s post thousands of hits!
For this week’s list, we’ve come up with a number of things that the UAE has in common with Russia. I’ve been to Russia three times, spending weeks at each go, and the wife, of course, lived there for many years. After the better part of a year living here in the UAE, we’ve noticed some similarities. Let me preface this by saying none of it’s meant to be offensive. That’s not the spirit that it’s written in. These are just our observations. If you disagree, feel free to say so. Also, we’re tag-teaming the writing, so you’ll have to apply your brain power to figure out who’s the “I” sometimes, but we have a great deal of faith in your capability to use deductive reasoning.
Alright, let’s get started:
1) Fatalism. Wow, that’s a strong word, isn’t it? I don’t think anyone probably likes having it applied to themselves, but here I go doing it anyway. When I first visited Russia, I was amazed by the number of people who would observe a problem and then shrug their shoulders and say, “Ah, what can I do about it.” Here in the UAE, the number of “inshallahs” a person hears everyday, especially when dealing with important paperwork, is maddening, and basically presents an extremely similar viewpoint on life. Jenia says that there is a saying, “Avos’,” in Russian which means more or less the same thing. What can I do about anything? Nothing! It’s not my fault. I have no part in this. I make no guarantees. Maybe…. God willing…
2) Cheating. It’s practically institutionalized here. Kids expect it. Teachers expect it. The sheer lack of ability that’s applied to academic pursuits is mind-blowing. In Russia, it is the same. Many will probably argue, but in reality it’s not nearly as big an offense as it is in the US. It was absolutely normal for me (Jenia here) to help my classmates with Russian/English/French and to get help from them with Trigonometry or Chemistry. Teachers knew. We never got zeroes. Ever.
3) Crazy driving. Picture this: you’re driving along the interstate highway, the motorway, going a little over the speed limit (i.e. 80 mph or so) in the middle lane, and a Bentley sedan zips past you so fast that your car rocks from the wind blast. It’s followed a moment later by a BMW and an Audi. Roundabouts are an adventure in daring and intimidation. In Russia, traffic incidents are so common that people install dash cams in their cars to help determine who’s at fault (among other reasons).
4) Rules are made to be broken. Or bent, or flexed, or altered, or applied selectively. Russians hop over fences and ignore signs. So do Emiratis. Seatbelts aren’t usually worn. The legal driving age is 18 in Abu Dhabi, but plenty of 16 year-olds drive themselves to school. In both countries, the number of people carrying infants in their lap instead of in a carseat is mind-blowing (we think, it’s partly ignorance and partly the afore-mentioned “inshallah/maybe” mentality. Need I say more?
5) A default religion. Here people identify themselves as Muslim because that’s the culture they belong to. I know there’s further religious reasoning behind it, but what I’m saying is that there are plenty of folks who don’t take their religion very seriously, even though they’d identify themselves as Muslim. In Russia, the same is true, but of Orthodox Christians. Even if they’ve never been to a church service, they’ll tick the “Orthodox” box.
6) Conformity. Society doesn’t like individualists here. You’re part of a group, and you have to do things the way the group wants them done. You don’t see it to the same degree in Russia, but the old Soviet reality of punishable initiative still dwells in the minds of too many. It is not always a bad thing, not at all. It can be, however.
7) Attitude toward foreigners/strangers. A friend of mine once said that Russians are like coconuts. They’re hard on the outside, but soft and wonderful on the inside. The same seems mostly true of Emiratis. They’re mostly oblivious to you in public, but once you are invited into a home, you’ll find yourself in the company of kind, gracious people. This leads us to number 8:
8) Hospitality. When you become friends with a Russian or an Emirati, they shower you with hospitality. You’ll find lavish meals laid out before you and people eager to share their culture with you.
9) Propaganda. As a friend of Jenia’s mentioned recently, one can’t help wondering if the Russian government is drugging its people: reasonable individuals seem to be losing their critical thinking skills and believing in whatever the TV is pouring down on them. In the UAE, a teacher is not allowed to talk about anything related to Islam, Judaism, or any other religion, he/she cannot use a map or a globe that has Israel and/or Persian instead of Arabian Gulf on it; both terrorist attacks and pigs are never to be mentioned.
10) Nature. Both countries have some fantastic views to offer. Yet, neither culture seems to care in the least about preservation. Littering of epic proportions is widespread.
We’ve chosen to write about things which are different from what your average American experiences back home in the USA. Some strike us because they’re surprising, others because they’re merely unlike what we live with normally. There are, of course, a great number of commonalities shared by each of the countries we mention, and the UAE and Russia are wonderful and interesting in their own ways.