Thursday, April 21, 2011

Russian Cultural Differences: Food: Unit 9

Food and how it is perceived is globally and inherently intertwined with the culture of nations therefore there can be many stereotypes involving the way countries prepare food and what they eat. Russians, due to their environment and cultural differences, view eating quite differently than Americans do and there are stereotypes held on both sides. Russians typically see American food as unnatural, over-proccessed fast food. They are suspicious of fruits and vegetables that are on the shelves that should have been long out-of-season and anyone who walks into a gas station and sees a twinki is automatically going to be concerned about the eating habits of that culture.

Admittedly all stereotypes do have a factual basis however small that may be. Americans do eat out considerably and do not emphasize home-cooked meals in this busy environment as much as Russians do. Our fruits are available year-round; but this is simply due to large imports and greenhouse technology. Our food might be seen as strange and bland to Russians because the only contact they have with American food is essentially McDonald's which has become quite a phenomenon on the weekends for half of adults in Russia (16-50 years old) since its initial opening in the 1990's. However, when asked, most American's do not associate their comfort food with fast food joints. They think of their mother's rich home cooking and family dinners.

Besides McDonald's and a few other struggling American chains, Russian fast food mainly consists of cultural dishes with an authentic atmosphere that is facilitated by indigenous companies; these places are so successful because the cost of operation for local businesses is about half of what it is for imported corporations. Russia also has an intricate kiosk like system that food venders use to serve their product on the street, kind of like hot dog stands or burrito joints in America. Regardless of all of these factors, Russia's main difference when it comes to how they eat is that they generally rely on home cooking. This is because of the close, traditional families that are typical of their country and the relatively low pay that they receive. Russians are also largely seasonal eaters so their dishes vary throughout the year making it hard for restaurants, especially fast food, to keep a consistent menu.

Dining edict also differs greatly between the two cultures. Russians tend to see eating as more of a down to business occasion. Unless it is a dinner party there is not much talking and it is considered disrespectful for children to talk. When there is conversation and at dinner parties Russians enjoy philosophical and political conversations, topics that are taboo in America; Russians are often annoyed at the frivolous nature of American small talk. Americans see meals as a time to socialize and many business meetings are conducted over dinner or lunch, something that Russians would never do. Unlike Americans Russians do not drink much during their meal, they consider it unhealthy. A Russian dinner usually consists of a bowl of soup, a main course, and a dessert where coffee or hot tea is acceptable. They also do not emphasize waiting on everybody to eat. If the hostess is not at the table it is not considered impolite to go ahead and dig in as long as you complete the meal; that would be considered disrespectful.

It is apparent that the Russian and American food cultures are quite different in many ways. There are still many more differences that have not been covered. But from this overview it is quite easy to see how stereotypes can form between the two cultures. Both environments are so alien to each other and if an individual from one were to find himself in the other he would either be appalled or offend somebody quite easily.

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