But of course much in everyday American life sounds bizarre to Russians, as Mr. Zlobin documents meticulously in his 400-page book, “America — What a Life!”
It seems strange, 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, that ordinary Russians would still be hungry for details about how ordinary Americans eat and pay mortgages. But to Mr. Zlobin’s surprise, his book — published this year and marketed as a guide to Russians considering a move abroad — is already in its fifth print run, and his publisher has commissioned a second volume.
With the neutrality of a field anthropologist dispatched to suburbia, Mr. Zlobin scrutinizes the American practice of interrogating complete strangers about the details of their pregnancies; their weird habit of leaving their curtains open at night, when a Russian would immediately seal himself off from the prying eyes of his neighbors. Why Americans do not lie, for the most part. Why they cannot drink hard liquor. Why they love laws but disdain their leaders.I think attempting to explain any large country that's rather heterogeneous is a fool's errand. The United States is such a mess of ridiculous and weird subcultures -- imagine trying to explain the chemblogosphere to someone who is not a reader or a blogger! I can't imagine attempting to explain Amish culture or suburban American teenagerhood to someone who hadn't lived either of those experiences.
This article is a great reminder to me of all the difficulties that graduate students and scientists from other countries must have when navigating the United States and its strange customs. That they experience difficulty is expected; that most seem to transition to "doing fine" and manage to do good science is pretty amazing.