Insights From The Other End Of A Communicated (Russian) Stereotype

August 15th, 2012 | Categories: Uncategorized

In the following guest blog, the writer (who wishes to remain anonymous) narrates her experience with a situation in which a Russian stereotype is communicated. Her narrative provides some insights into what it is like on the other end of a communicated stereotype. When a stereotype is communicated, the conversation can still be pleasant and enjoyable. But this may be overshadowed by the discomfort a stereotype creates when it enters a conversation. The author’s insights may make you think twice the next time you are about to communicate a stereotype. In the brief moments before that stereotype escapes your lips ask yourself: How do I want the person I am speaking with to feel?

Insights From The Other End Of A Communicated (Russian) Stereotype
by Guest Blogger

I work as a lifeguard at my local community center. This is a Jewish community center and the majority of the members are senior citizens. There are a high number of Russians that are a part of the community as well. There is often tension between the Jewish (non-Russian) and Russian members. At times they will get into arguments and begin yelling racial slurs at one another.

One morning, I was lifeguarding during the “Women only” hours – a designated time for the women to be able to swim when no men are allowed. This respects a Jewish rule that the female members take very seriously. Looking at the pool during these hours the division between the groups is obvious. The Russian women stay on one side of the pool, and the Jewish women stay to the other side.

Normally each group will stay by themselves, but one morning it was different. I was approached by an elderly Jewish member after her swim. I thought she was going to tell me something was wrong with the pool. Instead, this is how the conversation went:

Member: How are you? You are beautiful!
Me: (I was laughing uncomfortably) Thank you.
Member: Are you Russian?
Me: No.
Member: I could tell. I don’t like Russians. They are gun people.
Me: (I didn’t know what else to do but nod and remain silent)
Member: Russians are harsh as a people and they only care about themselves.

This is a common stereotype I have heard, but I never paid much mind to it. I tried to change the subject and ask her how her swim went. The conversation continued for another few minutes and she left. Although it was difficult to fully understand her at times because she had a thick accent and spoke in a very low voice, she spoke louder and was easier to understand when she would get upset talking about “pushy Russian women.”

The only benefit of the situation was the pleasure in being able to talk to a member of the community center. Members normally keep to themselves or only approach me to complain about something. I also was able to learn a little more about this member because she also shared with me her time in the Holocaust. This was a benefit for me since I never had spoken to someone who was a survivor and felt this was a rare experience. I did not want to disrespect her by asking too many questions, so I let her talk.

The negative effect on the conversation was my discomfort. I was interested to hear what she was saying, but I felt torn between correcting her Russian stereotypes or just letting them go. Despite my discomfort, I did not react outright to her stereotypes of Russians because I was always raised to respect the elderly. It was also difficult to engage in the conversation since I was lifeguarding at the time, and I could not take my eyes off the pool. I noticed many women in the pool staring at us with curiosity, which only enhanced my discomfort.

This encounter made me realize how extreme stereotypes can be and how they affect people’s lives. This woman was always polite and never was outright rude to any member of the community center. It was odd for me to hear from her that these stereotypes, according to her, were absolutely true. Due to her experience with Russians throughout her life, she made up her mind on how this entire group of people acted. This is how stereotypes continue to be used against people. Experiences with other cultures cause one to make an overall generalization about every member of the group. Following that interaction she was friendlier with me and we have not discussed the topic since.

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  1. Terrence
    August 16th, 2012 at 21:05

    Always Provocative, The Lifeguard’s story and Ann’s Celebrity Gallery Riff

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