The Russian Invasion of America

1997 > Russia

The Reverse Invasion: Russians in America

Dear Wayan,

Before proceeding any further I will take a liberty of introducing myself
by stating that my name is Vladimir (which is the same as your landlord’s
name). Native Russian. POB is the region where Claire, a spicy (do not get
me wrong – I have not been sarcastic) English woman was headed a while ago
to soak up the nature prior to her return to England. Moscow is the place
I left 7 years ago heading for USA.

Set my foot on American soil back in January 1991 (New York) Atlanta makes
my current place of residence. Do I like it here? – Not at all. Different
country, different culture.

There are so many things here I refuse to understand and be a part of. For
this period of seven years, I have grown home sick. Depression and nostalgia
are the feelings I fight on a daily basis. That is why I welcome any opportunity
to learn any thing about Russia. I do search the Net ( does it only on weekends
– from work ) Not a long time ago visited a Russian channel (on line) with
future viewing a Guest Book. While going through all the comments and suggestions
left by other browsers I came across the note that you had left. What attracted
my attention was the name (Wayan) and location (Moscow). I decided I would
approach you.

Unlike me (in USA), you seem to have been having a good time in Russia. Visiting
your site on the Web was pleasant experience. Articles about hot banya
experiences, Chuck Norris’ Casino adventures, and so on and so forth were
very informative and brought me a joy of reading.
A-tax-related-with-fellow-Russians-chat story came as no surprise to me;
nevertheless, I had a good time reading it as well.

Curiosity is said to be a part of human nature. People want to see everything
with their own eyes. People travel. Travelling, for the most part, is a rewarding
experience. It also contributes a lot to our education. It just happened
that I made my way to US . Sure enough, my impressions would have been different
had I come here for a shorter period of time.

America is a very unique country, like any other country would be. It is
rich with a very strong economy & a high standard of living. Its banking
system is highly developed and the law is strictly enforced.(Nobody seems
to be above the law. Even president himself can be sued.)

Unlike Russian banks, American bank is the safest place where one can keep
one’s savings. Yes, indeed, American banks can be trusted ( Let me put it
this way-I do have a checking and a saving accounts, CD, but I would never
even consider putting my money in a Russian bank.) The reason US banks with
their banking and credit systems can be dealt with is because nobody wants
to loose customers or money ( remember: law is enforced ), because cheating
is severe punishable and breach of contract will result in legal action brought
against you. Millions and millions of dollars in damages for conducting business
illegally. Not only does that apply to any bank, but also it does to any
company, any business, any individual, etc

Despite all the advantages America has to offer, I gradually came to dislike
this country.( Hey, no hurt feeling, O.K ?) They say America is the land
of opportunities. Very well could be, but it is far from being a free country.
Not only did they pass unnecessary, ridiculous laws that do not make any
sense, but also they (police) go strict and wild about handling simple

A blind person crosses a street at a wrong place, just a few yards from where
he is supposed to (no wonder – a person is blind ) he is slightly hit by
a passing car. Minor injuries. A police officer ( I assume -a Fucking redneck)
happens to be near by. A blind person ends up being fined $150 as he broke
the law.

Another instance-Police officer, on the street of Atlanta, is chasing a criminal.
A motorist drives by and sees the chase. He pulls over, parks his car, jumps
out of the vehicle, and blocks the guy’s way. Shoplifter is caught. The guy,
who assisted the officer gets fined $50 as he had parked his car in no-parking

These two instances are from the Atlanta Constitution -local Atlanta daily
newspaper) Two police officers – two rednecks, no education ( otherwise they
would not be in a police force ), all they know is how to say ” you have
a right to remain silent …” and put handcuffs on you, In a first instance
police does not show any mercy, in a second case police is not grateful at
all, and this kind of people represent the law.

In America, while some of the values may be the same, like those Russians
cherish (family, education, friendship, job etc) still there are a lot of
things that go beyond my comprehension.

Capitalism is about money. Money is what made America and what America is
all about. Money plays a major rule in relations between big corporations
and ordinary people just like you and me. People and companies sue each other
because, sometimes, it is the easiest way of making money ( a clear example
is Clinton’s case. Why would a former White House secretary tape her
conversations with Monica Levinsky ??? )

Unfortunately even close relatives charge each other for the time invested
and services rendered. I refuse to understand the situation when a father
pays his son just because a son comes over to his father’s house (on father’s
request ) to put up a fence in a backyard with further painting the said
fence. Once the job is done father, in addition to thanking his son verbally,
gives him money ( the sum of money was agreed upon in advance over the phone
conversation last week ) They are not ashamed of themselves. Neither one
of them is embarrassed. No offence taken. The son knew it was coming up (
father giving him money ), he anticipated it. Otherwise, he would not have
wasted his time. (time, as we know, is money) And a father was ready for
it. The damage was not too big after all. Both are happy. And you know what
? -They both call it a favor. That is what drives me nuts.

A month later a summer here to stay. A son and his family go to Florida
vacationing. However; prior to doing so he calls his father and asks him
if it is ok for them ( family of four) to stay in a condo that a father owns
in Panama City ( beautiful beaches by the way ) After getting a-go-ahead-sign
son’s family occupies the condo for the period of time of two weeks Again,
both, father and son are happy as father made money by charging his son $50
per day during their two week stay and the son saved some money as it would
have been much more had the family stayed in one of those fence hotels. Complete
happiness and satisfaction well describe feelings of the both. And again
they call it a favor.

To me it makes no sense This is BS. In Russia, it does not work that way.
It is absurd. Favor is something that you do for somebody without being
financially committed. Favor is what you do for the sake of doing a favor,
just because you like a person whom you do a favor for, because you want
to show that person how much you appreciate his or her personality, how valuable
that person for you is and you yourself peruse a goal of satisfaction upon
achieving a final stage once a favor is done and you feel good about yourself
just because you had this chance to prove that you are real droog or loving
son or daughter…

The situation I described to you is a very typical for American culture.
It does suck. A big time !!! You are absolutely right about three different
levels of friendship that do exist in Russia. If you want to reach a droog
state with anyone, do not let money come between you and that person and
you will be amazed what a payback will be.



And here is Elena, with a different view…

Dear Wayan

1) I guess the greatest thing about America is weather, even in PA.

2) is that wives do not cook every night, since men here truly enjoy frozen
pot pies and other “dinners” with cup cakes from a mix (brrrrr), and it is

3) is that there is a tiny chance only that a piece of ice from a roof in
New York or anywhere will smash your head into small pieces.

4) is that I do not have to pretend American to get better service, I proudly
speak Russian when I want, and if I do not want the crowd to understand me,
such as how will this fat-fat-fat woman fit in that small-small plane seat?
In Russia I always had to make that “foreign” look of selfpride, politeness
and independence to enter Intourist (Moscow) or other hotel to use a civilized
bathroom, since every woman is automatically proclaimed a prostitute as soon
as she is in a proximity to any hotel. Since I used to work as a translater
for a long time in Russia, that “acting” always was very successful.

5) is the feeling of respect from the country at JFK or other immigration
area, since those who live in the US have the special gateway for passport
control. Russia treats EVERYONE equally, it is a true country of equality,
right? And without SSNumber, it is a true country of freedom, right? Just
go anywhere and get lost

I’d better stop for today.


August 15, 1999

If you don’t like it, leave!

By Aliona

I read just two first posts, and just ‘ran through’ the rest – I’ll
get back to it later.That first guy on the board was pretty bitter… I just
don’tunderstand why he is still here than if this country feels so wrong for
him. What people like that guy don’t understand is….no, THE REASON why they
don’t understand is because while in Russia, they get this idealized image of
America, and when they get here – they see all kinds of things, bad including,
which is NORMAL, because it is not some kind of fricking paradise, but just
another place where ordinary people live, because there are bad and good people
anywhere (dugh).

People like him just simply need to understand that Russia is one thing, US
is another, China and Britain -third, fourth, et cetera, et cetera. THANK GOD
that we are so different in our different countries, otherwise the world would
be too boring. AND,if you come to another country – you need to learn to accept
the customsof that country – ‘Oh well Akunah-matatah’, or ‘WHEN
IN ROME…..’ otherwise why bother in moving? (another ‘dugh’)

Wanna know something? after living here for a while, I can honestly tell that
if it wasn’t for my husband – I would go home (oh, I just can SEE that ironic
look on your face), so assuming the next question of yours: Of course, the
living here is better from monetary and other similar points ofview, but having
my whole family back in Russia is too hard, therefore,YES,I WOULD GO BACK home.
Actually, I never really suffered in Russia -always had a great job and
stuff,… but never had a male soulmate by my side..

Moscow Times, June 29, 1999

INSIDE RUSSIA: Travelers Find Western Ways Hard to Shake

By Leonid Bershidsky

The best way to exorcise your demons is to classify them.

Internal emigris, obviously, have a lot of demons to chase away. After all,
so-called Westernized Russians, or WRs, try to live in this country by rules
they learned elsewhere.

In the Russian segment of the Internet, several servers recently offered
visitors a chance to help compile the ultimate list of signs that you have
lived in the United States too long. First, dozens of the afflicted submitted
their lists of symptoms and then the public was allowed to vote for the ones
they thought best reflected their condition. I found the final lists at and

Some of these symptoms are real gems. I only lived in the States for a year
and now, years later, I still see some of the signs in my reactions to Russian
reality. Others on the list are somewhat wild, showing strictly individual
reactions to the infectiousness of the American way of life. But judge for

Here is a subtle one, for example: “When asked how to find your house, instead
of giving your address you start by asking, ‘Where will you be driving from?'”
Don’t know why, but I still do it. I suppose that is one of the faster-acquired
American habits.

Another thing you quickly stop doing in the West is trying to clink paper
cups with your friends. I stopped for some time after my sojourn in California,
but now my Russian reflex is back causing me no end of embarrassment in the
company of more recently returned WRs.

Or take this symptom: “You stop reacting to the signs that say ‘Sale’ or
‘Special price.'” I tend not to notice these signs, but my wife, who has
only been to the West as a tourist, jumps at each of them both in Moscow
and outside Russia.

Many respondents to this admittedly humorous poll pointed out Americanized
Russians’ willingness to drive to the bakery round the corner, just like
“real” Americans do. Laziness generally agrees with us, and if we have seen
other people climb into cars for a one-minute drive, we will do it again
and again, whether at home or abroad.

Something else a WR will do, unlike a Russian Russian, is wear a suit to
work and a T-shirt and jeans when visiting friends. My wife keeps telling
me to put on a dress shirt when we are about to go to one of her friends’
birthday party, and I have learned to force myself to dress conservatively
for work, at least when I have meetings planned. Soon I will never be able
to dress casually. I guess that is how old age creeps up on us.

Obviously, you have lived in the United States too long if you understand
the rules of baseball, and, as one contributor to the list of symptoms points
out, if you keep explaining the advantages of baseball over cricket to your
British acquaintances. That one certainly struck home. I distinctly remember
having that argument with a Russian friend who had spent a lot of time in

But of course it is your culinary tastes that give you away immediately,
even to strangers. You have spent too much time in the States if you have
learned to drink coffee at McDonalds, and if you know the difference between
Thai and Vietnamese food, but feed mostly on hamburgers.

Baltimore Sun January 23, 1999

Emigres Keep Russia Culture Alive: Hundreds of Russian immigrants in the
area yearn for the old culture and hope it won’t be lost on their Americanized

By Liz Atwood Sun Staff

Teacher Anna Yasinova holds up a black and white sketch of an ear of corn
and asks her students if they know the Russian words for the picture. Their
hands shoot up. “Cucuruza!” one yells out. She holds up another picture,
an elephant. “Slon!” the children shout. Then comes a picture of a wide-eyed
deer. First grader Sergey Ruzenkov raises his hand eagerly and cries out,

Yasinova suppresses a chuckle. Here in Room 19 of Baltimore County’s Millbrook
Elementary School, cultures often collide. Pupils carry their Russian homework
in backpacks adorned with Tamagotchi key chains. They practice writing their
Russian letters while seated beneath posters of the English alphabet.

Many of the 19 pupils who attend these twice-weekly, after-school classes
are children of Russian-speaking immigrants who came to Baltimore for a better
life, yet cling to their old culture and struggle to pass it along to the
next generation. More than 8,000 Russian-speaking immigrants settled in Maryland
from 1991 to 1996 — the state’s largest immigrant group during those years
— and they have brought a distinctive flavor to northwest Baltimore and
Baltimore County. The Babushka Deli and other Russian markets sprout along
Reisterstown Road, selling kefir and kielbasa, and renting Russian videos.
Three Russian-language newspapers are published in the area. And Comcast
Cablevision offers a Russian-language station that features news broadcasts
and game shows from Moscow.

But many immigrants worry that their children are forgetting their culture
— that they know Walt Disney but not Leo Tolstoy, that they can converse
in English over the Internet but are unable to write a letter in Russian
to their grandparents. Larissa Sergeeva, who came to the United States a
year ago with her 14-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, has already seen
her daughter struggle for the right Russian words when they speak. “Almost
everyone wants Russian language classes for our kids,” said Sergeeva, who
lives in Pikesville. “I want her to be able to read Russian literature. It
is part of her culture.”

That culture binds Sergeeva and other recent immigrants with those who made
the journey to America in the late 1970s when Moscow — courting world opinion
on the eve of the Olympics — lifted the Iron Curtain a bit. Most have been
Jews seeking asylum from discrimination in the former Soviet republics or
joining relatives already here. Others have pursued prosperity, as economic
conditions back home deteriorated. They came from cities and villages. Some
are working-class; others are professionals.

When they first arrive, the worry is not of losing their old culture, but
of fitting into a new one. Within a few weeks of settling in America, they
must begin to learn English, find a job and buy a car — while grappling
with new concepts such as insurance and rent. They must cope with unfamiliar
mandates, including schools that require student attendance and doctors’
offices that demand advance appointments.

Helping to ease the transition is a small society of services that has sprung
up in Baltimore. In addition to Jewish aid agencies, there are Russian-speaking
lawyers, accountants and real estate agents — even travel agents. But they
cannot eliminate all the surprises and disappointments the immigrants find.

Valeriy Zelentsov, a 38-year-old Muscovite, came to Baltimore two years ago
after a distant relative promised him work. The job never materialized, but
Zelentsov stayed, learning English by watching his favorite movies, including
“Groundhog Day” and “Jerry McGuire,” on videotape. He says Baltimore fit
neither the cinematic image of a big American city or a Wild West town. Zelentsov
was surprised to encounter suburban sprawl. “You can’t go shopping without
a car.”

Anna Medvedeva, a photographer who came to Baltimore from Kiev six years
ago, couldn’t wait to try her first Big Mac. Now, fast food isn’t so appealing,
and she prefers Russian restaurants for big occasions. She and Zelentsov
publish the monthly newspaper Baltimorsky Boulevard from a spare bedroom
in his Pikesville apartment. “Maybe next year we will be able to get a normal
office,” says Medvedeva, 27, who was a journalist in Kiev, the capital of
the Ukraine. “That is my dream, but that’s too early for us.”

The pages of Boulevard make clear the conflicting demands of the immigrants’
old and new cultures. Readers get news about Hollywood stars as well as Russian
pop idols such as Alla Pugachova, stories about local disputes among immigrants
and political assassinations in Russia.

The search for familiar faces, attitudes, foods and language prompts the
immigrants to gather at Russian restaurants and shop at Russian delis, Medvedeva
says. For the Jewish immigrants, there can be additional conflicts as they
grope for a new identity.

Some immigrants — through luck, talent or perseverance — settle comfortably
into American life.

Klara Berkovich, a violin teacher in Leningrad, came to the United States
with her family in 1979. After teaching at Peabody Conservatory of Music
and the Baltimore schools, she retired, but still gives violin lessons to
children. Her husband, Adam, worked six years to reclaim his engineering
profession, and retired as a principal systems engineer for the Maryland
Transit Administration.

Their children, who were in their 20s when they came to the United States,
succeeded as well. Efim is an engineer in New York; Leonid plays second violin
in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. “We were not afraid to start over,”
Mrs. Berkovich says, adding: “Everything that happened we are very grateful

Immigration is often toughest on the elderly, who have trouble picking up
a new language and finding friends. But the young, too, can be perplexed
by the unfamiliar surroundings — and torn by conflicting cultural demands.

Although the students frequently are high achievers, especially in science
and math, they often are so truant that schools have sent social workers
to their homes to explain the importance of attendance. “The parents are
very protective,” says Susan Spinnatto, coordinator for the county’s
English-to-Speakers-of-Other-Languages (ESOL) classes, which last year enrolled
153 children from the former Soviet Union. “When the kids get a sniffle,
they keep them at home.”

Many of these students test the boundaries of their new land, asserting
themselves with teachers and classmates, she adds. “They say, `This is a
democracy, can’t we do what we now want?’ ” At home, they often are translators
for the family — a role that makes them resistant to discipline and control.

Eventually, many parents and grandparents start to worry about the changes
in their children, says Igor Gorsky, who came to Baltimore from Ukraine in
1979. “When you slow down and look in retrospect, you say, `What about my
Russian roots?’ ” Gorsky was 18 when his family left Kiev. Now, he is married
and has a 10-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son.

The desire to cling to the old culture often intensifies with time, Gorsky
says. He and other immigrants who came in the late 1970s were fleeing a
totalitarian regime and coming to an America that was suspicious and sometimes
hostile to Russians. They spent several years in America downplaying their
past before starting to reclaim their culture. For later arrivals — including
some who retain Russian citizenship and travel back and forth between the
countries — the desire to hold on to their heritage and impart it to their
children is even stronger, he says.

Gorsky, whose family owns Baltimore’s Astoria Restaurant, is surprised at
the culture’s hold. He sees young men and women who grew up in America reading
Russian newspapers. Some speak Russian with American accents, but they are
drawn to the Astoria’s distinctive food and music. Often they seek out Russian
mates, even if they carry on their courtships speaking English.

Every weekend his family’s restaurant on Park Avenue attracts hundreds from
the local Russian-speaking community who come to party with their friends.
Astorio, the house band, strikes up a pulsating Russian pop song and the
crowd pours onto the dance floor, leaving their tables stacked with salted
fish, beef tongue, pickles and beet salad. They will dance and drink, talk
and smoke until 4 a.m. “They come here not to eat, not to dance, but to
socialize,” Gorsky says.

He has not been back to Kiev, but hopes some day to take his children. “I
love it here,” he says over the blare of the restaurant’s band. “It’s where
I grew up But I’m still going to be of Russian descent.”