I feel like a manic-depressive every Moscow summer. First there is MIOGE or Neftegaz in June. It is a frenetic month. And after a long Russian winter, it is a treat to witness the sun setting at midnight and the sun rising at 4 a.m.
Now it is mid-July and I am getting annoyed. First, I don’t want to wake up at 4 a.m. when intense sunlight tells my body it is time to rise, and the fact is, I went to bed at midnight with the setting sun!
Secondly, it’s almost as hot as Texas but unlike in Texas, there is little or no air conditioning – not in my apartment, not in my car, not in my office. And I’ve noticed that some restaurants and cafes that do have air conditioning, also have staff that believe it is unhealthy; so they keep the door wide open.
It’s the same with ice. Sometimes I have to literally beg for ice in my drink. And often, the waiter spends just as much time telling me about the dangers of drinking ice water. I might get a cold. It’s 95 degrees on the street and 85 degrees in this café, are you insane? Still, here comes the ice in a separate glass so I can add it to my drink cube by cube – just in case.
Soon I’ll be off to the U.S. and while it will be just as hot there, I’ll have all the ice and air conditioning I want. Maybe I’ll even get a cold. But it will be “my” cold.
Now if you think this is a trifle, I’ll have you know that I read in the weekend Moscow Times about a new organization – the Society for Russian-American Rapprochement. Stay with me, you’ll soon understand the connection.
“At the heat of the American tradition is individualism, initiative and personal responsibility. The basis of (Russian tradition) is paternalism and conformity.” I’m quoting what Yevgeny Savostyanov, senior VP at Sistema Mass-Media and deputy chair of the Rapproachement Society told the MT.
And that’s what my personal “Cold War” is about. It is my God-given right to chew ice, to fill my glass full of ice and to sit directly in front of an air conditioning unit blowing at full blast. And if I get a cold, I will take responsibility for my misery.
Russians want to protect me from myself. And you know what? This tension between paternalism and individualism lies at the root of many of the cultural differences that affect business practices in our too cultures.
Think how profound an act it is now to insist that the waiter fill you water glass with ice (or if you’re a Russian visiting the U.S., insist that the waiter “hold the ice.”)