Sunday, 20 September 2009

Language and cultural change

I have been trying to reduce the number of if-it-is-possible, and what-I-was-thinking-was-maybe phrases that usually pepper my (very English) speaking, as I can see that they confuse my Russian colleagues as they try to unpick what I am actually getting at.

But I am also less willing to make any assumptions about cultural/language differences. I am asked quite a lot what English people are like, which is a pretty impossible question to answer. And even only being here for a few weeks all those generalities about what Russians are 'like' of course begin to fall apart as different personalities take shape. For many of the people I work with - in their 20s - the Soviet period was already almost over when they were born; the older stereotypes we have about communist life seem to hold much stronger in the west than here.

Went to a lecture about the post-revolutionary 1920s workers clubs (many of them famous as constructivist architecture) at Garage, which included some fabulous archive footage of workers doing leisure and educational activities in black and white collaborative gusto. And the audience looked just like any young European cultural audience. The problem is why I expected them to be any different - maybe either square jawed Slavs or strange communist characters.

Even for all these young 'new Russians', what they know about the past depends a lot of the often very different experiences of their parents. With the few young people I have asked, it is clear that their parents - the older generation - are very open in talking about Soviet times, it is not being forgotten. Some said their parents really missed how some things were, others that their parents or grandparents had suffered under communism and were glad for the change. So no easy generalisations here.

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