January 01, 2000

Privacy is Not Everything

“It’s your day, so we should be doing something nice for you!”

That was the reaction of some American colleagues years ago to my  invitation to an improvised birthday meal I organized in my own honor. It was one of those subtle cultural differences between Russians and Americans that you don’t notice until they slap you in the face. It reflected a fundamental difference in the Russian and American mentalities: for the former, the collective meant everything and the individual came second; for the latter it is the other way around.

I must admit that these cultural differences have narrowed a great deal in the past few years. Many Russians were shamed by our TV guru (with the vast American background), Vladimir Pozner, who repeatedly noted that the Russian language doesn’t have the equivalent of the English word “privacy.”  What a shame indeed.

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