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CULTURAL HINDRANCES #2

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The evening sun over the Volga, Samara, Russia

In Russia, I am asked without circumlocution about my living circumstances. Often in the first hour of an encounter and mostly by other often older women. "Do you want to get married?", "Would you like to have children, you can handle them very well, you should have kids soon!", "Do you have a boyfriend?" And "Why are you in Russia?"

Left overs from a time long past, Sizran, Russia

Most of these questions I can't answer with a simple yes or no. "What is your profession?" For example, makes me stumble. I studied something, but I am not working in that field. I have been working as a teacher (and yes, I studied the languages I teach), but I will never earn money like this in Germany. My last job was that of a photographer, but I didn't study it, I taught myself. Also, I might not want to be a photographer all my life. If I am anything, it's a combination of all of these things. It's a bit much to communicate and with my current language skills, no chance.

Summer in Samara, Russia

Other questions are easier. No, I'm not married. Yes, I want children, but not immediately. I want to travel around the world first. After that comes the question about my age and with my answer the anxious eyebrows of my opponent jerk into their hairline. At 28 I am already old. There are grannies as old as I am...

Then there are the questions I would like to respond to with a snarky comment. Something along the lines of: “None of your business, lady! And why should I have already decided this for eternity?” “No, I have no boyfriend.”And if my counterpart speaks German or English, “I don't know if I want to get married. Maybe one day, but that is not a priority. Also, my priorities change all the time.” When they hear that I don't have a boyfriend, they react surprised (I never know, is that a compliment or is that meant to scare me?) Only in a relationship people become holistic human beings. This view, however, is not unique to Russia. It's universal.

In Russia, these are the central issues. If they these things are known about me, I am put into categories and become part of the community. It's not really about the answers. (Which takes the wind out of my sails.) That is new to me. In Germany, asking most of these questions right away is impolite. These are problems that are discussed in private because the answers to most of them are either very personal decisions and preferences or unanswerable. I have girlfriends of whom I don't know if they ever want to marry or have kids. I know that most are playing with some version of these thoughts, but not one has ruled any of it out yet.

This type of answer search is typical for me. The attempt to answer truthfully doesn't lead to any definite answers. Everything stays in the land of probabilities. A luxury one is not accustomed to here. In Russia, it's not a question of responding with absolute truth. It is evident to everyone that there is no absolute security for anything. But people position themselves in different camps and look how far they get. Therefore there is almost always an absolute answer. Easy, right? It's a tendency that is woven all through Russian society, history and identity. Just take a look at the way historical developments are portrait. There mostly is a specific date, at least a year, that things changed. For example the peasants in Germany were liberated in a span of 100 years, in Russia, the peasants were released by a law that was passed on a specific day in 1861.

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