Our emigrants: "Being Russian in Great Britain is like having a fatal disease that is contagious"
A Russian woman who immigrated to the UK believes that the stories about the tolerance of Westerners are greatly exaggerated - according to her, she faced a wave of condemnation in society, which was mainly caused by her national origin.
The woman told her story in a blog for publication. Independent.
My name is Valerie Stark. But this is not a real name. I do not use the name I received at birth for two reasons. First, it is difficult for people who do not speak Russian to write and pronounce it correctly. Secondly, having lived in the United Kingdom for several years, I was tired of people looking at me with distrust and sympathy.
I soon realized that recognizing myself as a Russian in the UK is like recognizing that you have a fatal illness and you have only a few weeks left to live. And that this disease is contagious. When I mentioned my national identity, the reaction of many was a mixture of surprise, confusion and distrust. Over time, I began to use my name less and less. And in the end I completely refused it.
The refusal of my Russian surname did not put an end to my troubles, although they stopped to look at me when my name sounded in a restaurant or when I came to a beauty salon. I was no longer the prostitute or the criminal who came to the laser removal of her nasty Russian woolly coat. I became Mrs. Stark — a woman who needs to remove some unwanted hair.
But my high life was far from as smooth as my legs. Despite the fact that I am not the most sociable person on the planet (primarily because of the volume of workload), in Russia I had quite a wide circle of contacts. I had friends who I could call in the evening after a hard day at work and come to their house with a bottle of wine. I also had a couple of very close friends who didn’t even need to call and warn about my arrival — they just had to grab the wine.
In London, everything is different. It was very hard for me to meet people and make friends with them, and it seems to me that my nationality was the main cause of my problems. It all started from the day when I arrived in London. I checked into the hotel, and after a short, refreshing walk, I went to a restaurant to have dinner. While I was sitting at the bar, waiting for a table, I got into conversation with two British people who were about 25 years old. It was a very nice conversation - at least until one of them asked me where I was from.
I do not have that noticeable Russian accent that many of us are familiar with, and in most cases people did not distinguish it. I told the guys that I was born in Moscow, expecting banal comments about vodka and polar bears to be heard again now. But instead I heard: “Oh, not that! Only not Russian! "
I was shocked and for a second or two I tried to gather my thoughts and ask them what the reason was. But by the time I got together, they were gone.
I constantly got into such situations, and each time I felt more offended. In yoga class, a friend asked me to explain why "all Russian women dress in inappropriate ways."
The doctor, to whom I referred for pain in the neck, asked me if I had come from Russia, at the moment when she performed some manipulations with my cervical vertebrae. Her reaction to my affirmative answer made my trust in her as a specialist performing manipulations with my spine disappear quickly. I still remember her words: “So many Russians come here with lots of money and buy expensive houses here. You know, we don't like each other. You may not remember this, but your mother remembers. Cold war and all that. ” It was some nasty verbal diarrhea. She finished the session. I paid, went out the door and never returned there.
Before moving to the United Kingdom, I thought that America and Europe were permeated with the spirit of tolerance. Now I understand that tolerance and love for other cultures are not attached to the citizenship of certain countries or yoga seminars. They are acquired through education, life experience, and the fight against their own hypocrisy. To consider yourself better than others just because you were born and raised in a certain country, which now boasts of its tolerance, is a colossal myth.
In the UK, right up to 2003, there was the so-called Article 28, which prohibited “propaganda of homosexuality”. Just 15 years ago, the UK was a homophobic country.
I understand that the image of Russian culture may have been spoiled by revolution, Stalinism and the Cold War, and the current political climate is very tense. I also realize that Russia still has a law similar to Article 28, and just a few weeks ago, the State Duma Ethics Commission acquitted the chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, which subjected several journalists to sexual harassment.
Later, the dean of Moscow State University, who gave a lecture at Novosibirsk State University, said that "any normal man can, under certain circumstances, put his hand on a woman's bare knee <...> or on some other place." Yes, that's exactly what he said, and such is the sad reality - but only if you compare it with the reality in the United Kingdom and America. In many Arab or Asian countries, the topic of sexual harassment is not even raised.
I am proud that half of the students rose from their seats and left the conference hall in protest and that those young journalists tried to protect themselves. Even 10 years ago, this was hard to even imagine, and now it is happening. In terms of tolerance and equality, Russia still has a very long way to go, but this is explained by deeply rooted prejudices inherited from a long and painful Russian history. Everything changes, believe it or not.
Even without turning to history, I can say that there are many amazing and talented Russians who are known not only in Russia, but throughout the world. Remember Vika Gazinskaya, who creates clothes and recently released a collection of artificial leather, which is sold everywhere, from Browns Fashion to Matches Fashion (MatchesFashion.com). Natalia Vodianova is a famous model, actress and patron of the arts who runs the Naked Heart Foundation, which helps children with special needs. The founder of BioFoodLab, Elena Shifrina, sells her healthy vegan bars all over the world.
There are a great many Russians, who cannot be called “prostitutes and criminals” and it becomes very sad that they are judged and judged for who they are.
Don't get me wrong, but I, and many other Russians living in the United Kingdom and beyond, admire British culture. In Russia there is a whole cult of British literature, cinema and the UK itself. The Russians read out the novels of Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dickens, Wilde, Austin, Tolkien and, of course, Rowling. Our publishers publish the works of Lewis Carol with his sketches, and then cover the edges of the pages with gold paint. In the United Kingdom, I have never met this.
We adore Charlie Chaplin, discuss all of Kate Middleton's outfits, we have communities whose members wear Beowulf and Grendel costumes, and some even speak Elven. We listen to Robbie Williams and want to marry David Beckham - but only if we get the whole of Victoria’s wardrobe with him.
In Russia, I studied the history of Western Europe, and when I moved to the United Kingdom, I took up comparative literature and Anglo-Saxon history. I met many amazing British people, including my history teacher Robin Anthony, who also speaks Elvish and tells amazing stories about Henry VIII.
Unfortunately, despite my love for the UK, my nationality still has a strong influence on how people treat me. I decided to write this article after I received a lot of negative messages, like “finally you are returning to Russia” or “Russian whore”. Recent political events have increased the degree of hatred towards Russians to 100.
I want people to learn about my experience from me personally, and not from the press talking about Russians in Great Britain. We need the media to publish more stories of successful Russians who have successfully assimilated in the UK, instead of articles and TV shows in which Russians are portrayed exclusively by gangsters and corrupt oligarchs. We need films about Russian culture, people, and even, perhaps, superheroes, and not stories that have already become commonplace about prostitutes and spies. We need your respect and love, and I believe that we deserve them.
But so far, the first definition of the word “Russian” in the Urban Dictionary sounds like “an accent that can be imitated so that you are not attacked on a dark street.” Is it really the best we can do?
Text translation prepared edition Inosmi.