The following was written by a pastor with whom I have some association here in Russia.
by Andrei Furmanov
Daily life in a city for the majority of Russian men and women is very much the same. One gets up at 7- or 8 a.m. depending on his or her company business hours. A simple quick breakfast (usually just a sandwich with a cup of tea or coffee), and out of the door – one goes to catch a bus/tram/trolleybus/metro. Most Russians live in apartment blocks in the outskirts (“sleeping zones”) of a city, and work in the center. An average amount of time people have to spend to get to their work place take from 30 to 90 minutes. That is if they do not travel by car.
By the way, unlike in previous decades, nowadays many Russians do own cars, sometimes more than one. However, it is still a relatively new thing for an average Ivan or Maria. There is a downside to this new luxury – hours in traffic jams. That is why many still prefer to use public transportation, which is always overcrowded during the “peak” time, as they call the rush hour here. People are like canned fish, no private distance at all. No wonder users of pubic transportation are always unfriendly and irritated, yet a pregnant lady, a person with a baby or a small child, or someone very old will most probably be looked upon kindly and even offered a seat.
An average work day is 8 hours long with one lunch break and numerous coffee breaks – there’s poor discipline in state-owned enterprises, one can easily leave his or her job to take care of personal problems. Working for a private company means better discipline and a better salary, but also staying after hours rather often. Many people are working in shifts and hardly have time to get adequate rest at all.
Leaving work at 5-7 p.m., an exhausted Russian has to make his or her way back home using the same overcrowded public transportation or standing in a traffic jam, which is a real killer. Yet, using public transportation makes one twice as tired. Living in St. Pete in the early nineties I used to go to my University by bus, and I can testify with confidence – public transportation totally exhausts you.
After arriving at her stop on the way back home, a woman usually goes to the nearest shop to buy groceries. Carrying bags home also doesn’t make the woman relaxed – even if it’s only a few kilos and few hundred meters (usually homes are within 1-2 miles from shopping areas), you still feel it.
You arrive home completely exhausted. If you have a child, you must get him from the kindergarten on the way from work. A woman who has a family must prepare dinner. Cooking in Russia seems to take much longer than in the West, not only because of different recipes, but also because of the lack of worthwhile half-ready products. During our last time in the States we were overwhelmed at how easy you could fix a meal. Open a package, do a couple of magic tricks, and voila – it is all totally ready!
After dinner a typical family watches TV – the most popular past time – and then go to bed. Russians who used to be known for love for books read less and less. These days many consider reading to be the most boring and completely useless thing to do as it does not bring you any financial profit. Some people visit gyms, probably about the same proportion of population as in the West (which means most people don’t). Worthwhile entertainment is expensive, thus usually entertainment means visiting friends or relatives on weekends.
Generally, the daily life of a Russian can be described as *home – work – home* or *home – work – shops – home*. You can say that it’s pretty normal for the life in any given Western country, too, but there is one big difference: even small things in Russia require much more effort. The word “convenience” was not in favor when the current system of Russian life was designed.
Another thing about Russian daily life – people do not really enjoy it. They wake up not to enjoy a new day but to cope with its problems. There is little comfort and contentment here. Russians are used to minor everyday difficulties that don’t even bother them anymore. Russian daily life is tough, and it’s probably the reason why you seldom see smiling faces, which makes most foreigners pause in wonder.
A Russian, living in Russia, might argue some of the points I have discussed here, but a Russian, living abroad, will surely agree with me.
I believe the main difference in Russian and western way of life comes from those basic beliefs: western life is built around the “cult of enjoyment”. Life in our country is built on the basis of a popular Russian saying “God endured and commanded us to endure too”. Westerners live to enjoy; Russians live to endure.
What can we say – Russians are survivors. This cultural paradigm can be demonstrated even by the difference in religious rituals in western and Russian churches: there are no benches and amphitheaters in Russian Orthodox temples. All through the 1-2 hour-long service people are supposed to keep standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a badly lit, stuffy, one-level room, where one struggles and strains himself even to see the priest. Many people choose to stand on their knees during the service.
Russian Orthodox church service promotes humility through enduring; while a western Christian church service promotes integrity and joy. The very word “enjoy” has some indecent flavor in Russian: it is something that is not very appropriate, but done nevertheless.
When speaking English to you a Russian will usually say “I love/like [doing something]” rather than “I enjoy” [doing something]. Therefore they love (like) some things but doing them does not result in the feeling of contentment – this is actually what I mean by saying “They don’t enjoy it”, which of course doesn’t mean that Russians don’t know how to have fun! They do know how to have fun, and many Russians abroad miss the Russian limitless fun (as compared to reasonable, and appropriate western fun). Also, the English phrase “to have fun” is hardly even translatable into Russian, since Russians do not have the purpose “to have fun” or “enjoy” things. Fun is just something that happens sporadically when people are happy and act cheerful.
Although basic routines of Russian daily life are pretty much the same, it would be important to emphasize that we, Christians, find our security and meaning in the Lord and doing His holy will. So it would be true to say that lives of genuine believers are strikingly different, even though we live in the same world and deal with the same things and issues.