Ya wanna Russian wife?!
For Better or Worse, Russian Brides Not Boring
By Lynn Visson
With the advent of glasnost and perestroika, the collapse of the Soviet Union,
the lifting of travel restrictions and the boom in dating and marriage agencies
– including Internet services – more and more Russians and Americans are
opting for the closest of bilateral relations: marriage. The pages of the
media are splashed with pictures of beautiful Russian women seeking American
husbands. Are they after something more than a passport to the, United States?
And what do American men find so irresistible in these women?
Based on the contacts I had with more than 100 Russian-American couples while
writing my book, and on talks and interviews during a trip to Moscow last
month, here are a few attempts to answer these questions. Even during the
Soviet period, when Russian-American contacts in general and marriages in
particular mere a risky business, American socialist idealists, Moscow
correspondents, and diplomats were failing in love with and marrying Russians.
In the ’60s and ’70s a wave of student, cultural and business exchanges led
to more mixed marriages, and today the rapid development of cultural and
commercial ties and the presence of numerous American expatriates in Russia
have considerably swelled the ranks of these couples.
Many of the Russian wives were really in love with their American husbands-
men they had met and dated in Russia – and not just with their passports.
But by the ’90s, Russian women, were flocking to sign up with international
dating agencies and were openly advertising in the newspapers for American
husbands. The explosion of Russian-American dating services was a result
both of post-perestroika freedom and a reaction to the drastic economic crisis.
“It doesn’t matter if
he’s old, fat or ugly – what matters is that he can
get her out of Russia,” one Muscovite woman said cynically. Fine. So many
Russian women long, for a better life. But what do American men see in them?
The answer, the chorus of American would-be Prince Charmings sighs, is
“femininity.” These American men are attracted to Russian women who enjoy
being women, are dressed to the nines made up like models, eager to be housewives
ant mothers rather than to zoom down a career track and are free from the
feminist desire for total equality with men. Compared to American women,
Russian women seem old-fashioned and feminine rather than feminist.
Despite the changes wrought by glasnost, many Russian women do not accept
the feminist notion that women can and should do anything men do. In Russian
the word feministka, or feminist, is very negative, meaning an aggressive
woman who hates men,” one woman remarked. Many of the American husbands I
interviewed commented on their enjoyment of their Russian spouse’s interest
in homemaking, good grooming, and sex appeal. “She’d never go out without
doing her nails,” one man said of his wife, “She really makes me feel like
a man in bed,” admitted another. “Not like any American girlfriends who treated
me like a gas pump designed to service them and who treated sex like an aerobics
class – now do this and now move there.” One young American married to a
Russian stressed that he was tired of women in tailored suits and Nikes
interested only in promotions and bonuses.
The negative reactions of Americans and Russians to certain kinds of behavior
in their own cultures help fuel their attraction to each other. Some American
men have had enough of emancipated feminists, and many Russian women have
had enough of men who drink and do nothing to help around the house.
But there is another side to the domesticated young lady the American wants
to escort down the aisle. Underneath the pretty, kittenish exterior there
may be sharp claws and an iron will. A look at Russian literature shows a
series of strong heroines and weak heroes, such as Pushkin’s Talyana
and Yevgeny Onegin, or Gencharov’s Olga and Oblomov. Russian folk heroes
take orders from their wives and mothers. Nearly an entire postwar Russian
generation was raised without a man in the house, and Russian women have
for so long had to cope alone on all fronts that many have become rather
cynical about Russian men, considering them infantile little boys.
The noted Russian sexologist lgor Kon observed that to be successful, a Soviet
man had to be devious rather than adventuresome and servile rather than proud.
The two verbs most Russian women I spoke to used in talking about Russian
men were prezirat’ (to hold in contempt) and zhalet’ (to feel
sorry for). American feminist may resent men as oppressive exploiters, but
a dominating chauvinist is not someone you feel sorry for. The Russian femininity
that so charms American men is coupled with a toughness American feminists
could well envy, which is something a American husband might take a while
“Nina is a great wife and a wonderful cook,” one American said of his spouse.
“But when she wants something, there is not much I can do. She smiles, she
purrs, and then she gets her way.”
Russian women are also attracted by American men who don’t drink, bring home
their salary (or put it in a joint checking account!), help around the house
and are active partners in raising children. The Americans’ ingenuous charm
and politeness -and often the Russian wives’ lack of knowledge of America
and Americans – make the women feel the Americans are real men rather than
mama’s boys or drunken boors. “He’s always so polite,” Lyudmila said of her
husband, Lawrence. “He treats me with real respect.” Svetlana liked the way
Mark came home from work on time every night. ” He never goes out drinking
all night with his friends,” she said. “He takes a drink before dinner, but
I’ve never seen him drunk.” A Russian psychologist explained why her best
friend had married an American. “Can you imagine that – to marry her when
she already has a child!”
The young Russian wife of one American put it more cynically “These days,
what kind of a Russian can you marry?” Olga asked. “With a factory worker
you’ll starve. A New Russian businessman’s money is here today, gone tomorrow,
and he could be knocked off by the Mafia. With an American you know you’ll
be taken care of for life.”
So, in this best of all possible worlds, our Russian woman marries a nice
man from the Midwest with a decent salary, a non-drinker who adopts her child
and does the dishes every other night. And she sends home some money to mama
and papa every month. What’s the price? As far as many Russian women are
concerned, the price tag is boredom. Real skuka. And that’s one complaint
I have never – for better or for worse – heard from an American married to
Lynn Visson is the author of “Wedded Strangers: The Challenges of
Russian-AmericanMarriages”. Published in New York by Hippocrene Books, in
November 28, 1998 Associated Press Reports
Russian Women a Fast-Growing Market
By Deborah Hastings
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — On the matchmaker’s video, a young Russian woman
saunters across a bridge in historic St. Petersburg. She wears a clinging
T- shirt, skintight pedal pushers and stiletto heels. ‘I really like big
cities such as New York or Los Angeles,’ she tells the camera, in heavily
accented English. ‘So I would be very glad to see you.’ Her goal is a ticket
out of Russia’s eroding economy and forbidding future.
For at least 20 years, Filipinas have dominated the international mail-order
bride business. But since 1991, when the Soviet Union’s fall unleashed capitalism
and unrest, Russian women have become the industry’s fastest- growing commodity.
Men pay up to $10,000 to travel to Moscow and St. Petersburg to meet women
they have picked from catalogues and videos. More than 65 U.S. companies
advertise such services on the Internet. They even offer to send flowers
to prospective brides, and to put men in touch with women via e-mail.
In the United States and Russia, these businesses are unmonitored. Reports
of white slavery, domestic violence and the 1995 case of a Seattle husband
who shot to death his pregnant mail-order bride have prompted legislators
and women’s groups to demand industry rules.
In 1996, Congress asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to draft
regulations forcing agencies to inform women about marriage fraud, legal
residency and domestic violence. The INS also was asked to document immigration
fraud and physical abuse involving mail-order brides.
Congress is still waiting. ‘We asked the INS to give us a report on
an issue that’s enormously important and they’ve dragged their feet,’ said
attorney Jon Leibowitz, whose boss, Sen. Herbert Kohl, D-Wis., helped carry
the legislation. INS spokeswoman Elaine Komis said officials have been slowed
by uncooperative mail-order bride clients. ‘We got nothing that was very
helpful in the way of how to improve the situation or what could be done
in the way of regulations,’ she said.
No one knows the number of American-Russian marriages sparked by matchmaking
services. The INS doesn’t keep records on how couples meet. Its legal
responsibility is to determine whether marriages between foreigners and U.S.
citizens are legitimate.
Americans often obtain so-called fiance visas for their intended mates. The
document allows an immigrant to live and work in the U.S. for two years.
After that, if the foreigner is still married and living in America, he or
she gets permanent residency.
In 1991, there were 17 fiance visas issued to Russian women. In 1997, there
were 1,012. A social worker with Atlanta’s Refugee Family Violence Project
said she received several phone calls from battered mail-order brides after
writing an article about domestic violence in a tiny, Russian-language newspaper.
The women didn’t know their rights under U.S. law, said the social worker,
who said she has been threatened by clients’ husbands and asked that her
name be withheld. None of her clients wanted to be interviewed, she said.
The St. Petersburg-based Svetlana Agency says it is a legitimate international
matchmaking service. Two months ago, it opened a satellite office in opulent
Newport Beach, about 60 miles south of Los Angeles. Svetlana Novikova, 29,
began her human brokerage house four years ago. Her company is one of the
most expensive. Men are charged a $2,500 membership fee which allows them
to see videos and photographs. A trip to St. Petersburg, where men can meet
as 10 women a day — including the student on the bridge —
can cost another $2,500. Like many of her colleagues, Novikova says she doesn’t
keep track of her clients’ marriages or divorces. She says she doesn’t know
how many clients she has. ‘We provide our services to very serious people
who want a very serious relationship,’ she said.
Newport Beach salesman Aldo Almodovar, 28, traveled to St. Petersburg this
month on one of her package tours. ‘I’m just basically going to have a good
time,’ he said before departure. ‘I’ve never been to Russia before and
the girls are gorgeous. ‘
Paul and Galina Finkelman of Huntington Beach, Calif., were married four
months ago. They met last December in Moscow, where she had graduated medical
school and he had come looking for a wife. Both were clients of Russian-American
Matchmakers, a Virginia-based service started by an American who found his
own wife through a mail-order bride service. Finkelman, 41, said he had tired
of American women who ‘seem interested in only one thing — how big is your
bank account.’ Mrs. Finkelman, 27, said she was weary of alcoholism. ‘The
problem with Russian men is that they drink vodka,’ she said. ‘It’s not
good, you know.’
He proposed on their third date. She knew some English. He knew
no Russian. ‘Language is not a problem. I understand her,’ said Finkelman,
who is studying to become a computer programmer. ‘Look, I know it’s kind
of weird. Life is a crapshoot. You just have to be in that space where you’re
ready to make that commitment,’ he said.
In 1996 Mark Amspoker met a Moscow doctor 14 years his junior through a
matchmaking service, proposed to her a week later, and married her last year.
Although he found a wife, the 44-year-old technology writer didn’t like the
service he used. So he started his own.
Since opening last year, Russian-American Matchmakers has signed 60 male
clients, each paying $1,500 in membership fees. The agency lists about 350
women and claims seven marriages. Most agencies charge women a small fee
of about $20. Amspoker says he wants his countrymen to discover what he did.
‘I went to Russia and I could feel close to these women. I could connect
with them,’ he said. American women, he complained, ‘just don’t seem to
have time to think of settling down and having a family.’
Like other matchmakers, Amspoker doesn’t discuss safe sex or HIV testing.
‘I don’t get into the personal details,’ he says. ‘We have this membership
fee that is fairly stiff and it filters out the fellows who aren’t serious.’
Amspoker says he welcomes industry regulations. He has heard stories of Russian
women being sold into prostitution and has often listened to men complain
they were cheated by matchmaking services. ‘I think this business has always
attracted not the best people,’ Amspoker said. ‘It’s so easy to dangle
sex in front of a man and get him all excited and take his money.’
Wow! So your so interested in this topic, you’ve read down to here!
Time to check out the Philadelphia Inquirer’s very interesting 8-part
series by Donald Drake on Russian girls and American men meeting through
agency tours to Russia.