One night in Moscow

By Bryan • personal, politics, tokyo to paris overland, travel • 3 Aug 2008

Not actually anything to do with Moscow.

I will openly admit that my experience with European ideas, opinions, cultures and ideologies is minimal – but I am increasingly suprised at the strong differences between Anglo-Saxon and American values versus what has been termed by some as “old Europe”. Initially it would appear strange given the historial ties between North America as well as the similarities in government and shared western liberal demoratic values. With these parallels one would assume a reasonable concurrent shared set of thoughts, feelings and understandings regarding various issues. But are instead presented with a very large gulf between attitudes.  Everything from immigration to welfare to defense to politics to the United States even to the underlying motivations and goals of my future urban planning profession.

I try very hard to avoid stereotypes and other regional classifications. When generalizations are required, I prefer to set them along generational and experiential lines as I feel they are a stronger and more correct form of

I’ve noticed that attitudes of those with similar life experiences and regional backgrounds tend to reflect my own and even to a lesser extent, the greater greater values of my North American background. I will even go as far as to stress the experiential entity of the equation over the regional – although regional has a strong effect.

I’m writing this entry largely as a 4am response to a very, very heated argument with a young Danish women (recent undergrad graduate or current student – that was never established) in the Moscow hostel in which I was residing.

I was very taken back at the strong strong socialist and anti-american arguments presented on varying topics.  In a rather crude, but effective manner the conversation ended with yours truly walking out over a comment signaling that my interest in working within developing world cities was nothing more than a mercenary attempt at sucking money from these already poor nations.  More specifically that I was only interested in conducting work and possibly research in the interest of my own wallet.

If there was ever an example of “White Man’s Guilt” then it was clearly expressed in this forth floor Moscow apartment by my opponent who also had a very difficult time expressing the difference between George W. Bush and the United States of America.  I truly was astonished at what I would have percieved as common values but obviously were not.  I was astonished at the complete lack of understading regarding North America. I was astonished at the lack of faith in Western liberal traditions.  I was astonished that it appeared that I had completely mis-read Europe.  I was astonished that I felt like a neo-conservative when I am anything but.

Regarding the immigration component of the argument the English travelers at the hostel were clearly displaying typical Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards immigration, assimilation and integration (ie. once you land on the shores you are American, English, Canadian etc – although this is to a greater extent in the USA) but like many from European nation-states the Dane had difficulty accepting these feelings and displayed a much more casual attitude towards racial slurs and skin colour connotations – terms that are almost  unheard of among similar North American generation.

Again, I find myself walking carefully around the thesis that these represent “old-Europe” attitudes, and instead are largely experiential-inspired opinions. I am a strong believer that opinions shift greatly with experience and distance from a university campus.  I am a living example of that.  My current travel companion is German and we share an incredible number of shared opinons and attitudes revolving around an astonishing number of topics.  I also have met and have other European (even Danish) friends who share similar thoughts…but we are all of similar age, experience and stages in our life.

I’m curious to hear from my brother and sister who both spent time in Scandinavia and their feelings of those places as a outsider.  The attitudes of their generation and the country regarding the the important issues of our time.  I’m slowly developing a feeling that many Western Europe are developing a paradise-syndrome which ignores positives in favor of the negatives at the expense of traditions that provide for their way of life…if that makes any sense.

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10 Responses

  1. me

    Jajaja poor thing dont be dissapointed. Russia is not all of Europe, I think every country is different. Besides….(dont tell anyone) but Russians have that….crazy touch….i know it for a fact. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  2. That is just it though – it wasn’t Russians but Western Europeans. My observed Russian attitudes on similar topics could fill a whole other page and are somewhat expected.

  3. Aaron

    I’m quite interested in Russian attitudes actually – if you are willing to writing something about it. Very interesting reading Bryan. Keep your blogs coming!

  4. NJD

    Yea, I was somewhat surprised when, a few years back now (post 9/11 and shortly after the start of most recent Iraq war) we used to get together with a wide range of nationalities in the wee hours (usually after too many beers) and politics would always take center stage. Being the only American I was in a unique and sometimes difficult spotlight. Surprised me greatly how generally anti-American many Europeans were, and also how unable to have a logical conversation on US politics without getting overly emotional and tossing all logic out the window.
    Some other very generalized observations of other nationalities, the Africans had a more pro-American slant, while a refreshing finding was that the Middle Easterners (not sure if that is the correct term, but sounds less obnoxious than “Arabs”) were, while obvously not in aggreement with many US policies, clearly capable of having an open discussion, seperating individuals and their governments, and seeing from others’ points of view , even when holding oppositie views themselves.

  5. NJD – thanks for the comments. Im pressed for net time at the moment so I will write a better response in the next few days.

  6. I just re-read my post. Crap – I think there was a sentence in there that I didn’t even finish! I guess that’s what happens when your full of vodka.

    I agree with your assessment regarding discussions with non-Europeans. I also found them generally far more open to rational discussion and debate than many Europeans I’ve had conversations with.

    I was never entirely clear on what the term “Euro-Trash” enclosed, but I’m fairly sure that my understanding of the term is narrowing (I would also include the drunker than hell Euro sex tourists in Riga in this category as well).

    I think experience is a major determiner though. Most of the European folks I’ve met with uber-Marxist leanings and silly, blind anti-Americanism are still attending their respective universities where they are undoubtedly force-fed this stuff. A similar atmosphere prevailed at the school I went to as well.

    Surprisingly, some of the best conversations I’ve had are with Europeans who have spent time in North America. I think that experience is really important (like-wise for those wishing to understand Europe). Their arguments are rational, intelligent and controlled. The prevailing attitude is that North Americans (Americans in particular) don’t understand anything about the rest of the world – however, the more time I spend abroad the more I believe how terribly misunderstood North America is and how many fail to deviate from the standard cliches and stereotypes.

  7. I did find some Western Euros to be a tad critical of North America, most specifically the White-House administration. It was kind of ironic at times because some would swear up and down that as Europeans they possess a superior, more enlightened view point on world issuse while at the same time failing to get past the whole ‘George Bush is and Idiot’ arguements.
    That being said I had the same experience with people I met who had lived in the States or who had spent alot of time watching American TV and absorbing its culture. They generally were far more inclined to have an open mind to the various subtileties of North American society and accept that an unbridled free market has served America well.

  8. NJD

    Hmm, Thats a good point, never thought of that (Probably too much beer at the time). Across the board the non-European “participants” in the discussions were 5-7 years older and had been living outside there respective countries for awhile, while the Euro’s had just recently gone overseas to study.

  9. NJD

    err, meant “their respective countires”.. not enough beer to write properly I guess

  10. I mentioned that I believed both McCain and Obama would make good POTUS as I feel that they both represent excellent leadership choices (clearly better than the current administration and other previous challengers). I thought I was going to have a bottle throw at me over the McCain comment…because…as well all know McCain = Bush…despite the strong differences between them within their own party (from my limited understanding at least).

    The superior, enlightened world view is also something I find really interesting given the (generalizing) difficulty many European countries are having accepting immigration.

    While not really “Europe” I noticed very strong racist and nationalistic undertones among many Russians during my time there…especially regarding Chinese. Those in the Far East and Siberia seem to feel a strong threat from Chinese migrants (both legal/illegal) and a conversation with an Austrian Russian language student confirmed the stories regarding the “Putin Youth”.

    The apparent Sino-Russian ‘threat’ often pushed by Blue Team adherents to justify policy seems very hollow given how unnatural and entrusting the relationship between these cultures and countries seems to be.

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