“Russia, see you later!”: Russian American told about 27 years of living in the USA
I guessed about her that she enjoys yoga, dreamed of dancing in ballet, loves Europe. So focused in work, clear and attentive, but relaxed during breaks, dreaming and romantic, as if she is constantly looking for something in herself (and certainly finds it) and talks to herself. Interesting, in Russian or English?
Anna Mikheeva, translator, accompanied a group of Russian journalists on a trip to America in March 2017. She has lived in the States for 27 years, left Russia as a young girl, and her life turned upside down. We recorded this interview in New York, sitting in the Chelsea Market, where it smells deliciously of baked goods and flowers, writes Ksenia Semenova for Sakhalin.info.
- I want to start with a compliment: I usually easily guess the age of the person with whom I communicate, but for you it is difficult to do. I watched you a little, you have something European in you, you could be French, you could easily have imagined you somewhere in Venice. But you are in America ...
- Almost 27 years. My first visit to the USA was just in New York, I was 17 years old.
- How did your parents react to this, how did they let you go?
- My parents brought me. Almost by force, I did not want to go to America. I had a lot of fun in Moscow with my friends, and I didn’t feel any excitement about the move. But my father had a job offer and we drove off. At first, they thought that we would look around, maybe return, maybe stay, but most likely we will stay. So it happened. True, that work from my father did not work, but he found another. My father is also a professional translator.
In New York, I stayed only a month, then I was immediately sent as a dependency to some friends in Houston (Texas), where I began to intensively learn English, because, as it turned out, the five in English in high school did not mean anything . My knowledge was clearly not enough to lead an independent lifestyle in America. I took the tongue close. We lived in Houston for a while, I studied, and then moved to California.
- What struck you in the United States when you came here from the Soviet Union that had just collapsed? Probably, you felt that these are two different planets?
- These were two different planets. I had a great cultural shock. I was very young and inexperienced and didn’t know the world at all; I didn’t see anything, except for my Moscow region, even in St. Petersburg I was not even once. And I remember being shocked by the number of homeless people on the streets, the number of black people — until that moment I had never seen African Americans. Maybe just a glimpse, by chance. And I remember very well the attention that they attracted to themselves. Rather, they attracted only my attention, because for the rest the picture was familiar, but I did not understand how not to look at them.
- How was your relationship with your peers?
- It was very hard. We have a completely different style of friendship in Russia, to be honest. We are close to people, but there is no such thing in America. And so far all my close Russian-speaking friends.
- Why is this happening? Because of some American prudence?
- No, Americans are not calculating, this is a false idea of them. They are more relaxed about money, business and day-doing in general. They are not considered shameful to be rich. And many rich people here are actively involved in charity. No, they just have more attention to the external side of public life, that is, how you look, how you behave, smiles, all these hi, how are you ... And it does not mean at all that they are interested in your life.
I remember, at first, when I was asked how was it going, I had an inner impulse to respond, but I quickly understood that it was just part of the greeting, polite communication, which does not oblige to anything (in the USA, in the cafe, in the shops, in taxis always asked me how I was doing - author's note).
- And how did it seem to you then: that you are now pulling your life strap and returning to Russia or do you still need to get used to it, because is it forever?
- The first three years it was very hard for me, I missed my friends. But then, little by little, I was not so accustomed and resigned, but I learned to understand myself and find pleasure in my own company. Changes in my life made me somehow bud off from merging with others and find my own inner space. I am grateful to fate, because now my inner space is always with me, it is completely inviolable and does not depend on external circumstances.
- Have you done any spiritual practices for this? Maybe yoga, meditation, read special books?
- Before that, no, but I have been practicing yoga since 20 years.
- I thought so, for you it reads. Very noticeable. And here, by the way, is yoga common?
- Extremely. Yoga helped me a lot. And I do not think that in Russia and Moscow I would have come to this, and if I had, it would not have come at such a young age.
- How was your life? You started to study, and then?
- The first thing I had to do was learn a language. And then I followed in my father's footsteps and became a translator.
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- Was it difficult to start a professional activity? Find the first job?
- Since my father was a translator, he helped me a little. Translation is a kind of activity where all the work that I receive comes to me through my colleagues. Those ties that I made while studying at the institute still feed me.
I got my first professional experience at school. There was some kind of responsible event, scientists came, I was worried. Then I worked for free. I remember that my father also took me to some conferences so that I could try myself.
- And how did you evaluate yourself at that moment? Did you like yourself?
“Absolutely fearless, because she didn’t know how bad things are.” And it really helped me a lot, because if I had given myself the fear of enslaving, nothing would have happened.
- I watched you translate. You have to be extremely focused, it seems you don’t even have a glimpse of something to distract. How is it to educate yourself? I think yoga helped you too.
- Yoga is actually an antidote. When I am in the process of simultaneous translation, I turn off all external, except for sharpened attention on the process itself. I do not delve into the essence of what has been said, and then, if they ask me what we were talking about, I cannot retell it if, of course, there is nothing quite unusual. I do not feel my body, I do not remember the time and place where I am, dissolving in the process, this is partly yoga, too, because yoga is also a dissolution, but in my body, in sensations. At another level.
- Do you like your job?
- Could you do this in Russia?
- I thought that if I had to return to Russia, I could be there as a translator.
- And when you lived in Russia, with what did you tie your life?
- I was a typical teenager and I didn’t think about what was going to happen in my life. She lived one day, enjoyed the moment and great awareness did not differ.
- Do you remember any outstanding person whom you had to translate, maybe a star?
- I had to translate two girls from Pussy Riot, and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on the Voice of America during the election campaign, when they had a debate.
- The same feelings as in ordinary days?
- Yes, again, dissolving in the process. When responsibility is more, you are nervous, but the main thing here is the reception of yoga - to prevent the nerves from paralyzing you. I think this way: being nervous, worrying is good, you develop adrenaline, from which there is more concentration, and I can focus properly, the energy boost, but only up to a certain threshold. And if I cannot control my level of stress, it will have the opposite effect.
- You often meet with Russians who live in Russia. It is clear that questions are usually asked to you, but you want to ask something about your country? Generally something inside ekaet?
- Sometimes ekaet. And we communicate with those who are open to such contact, and continue communication after separation. It's simple, because globalization continues, and we are closer to each other than we seem.
- Do you communicate with your friends from the past?
- Yes, and you know, there was a period when each of us built our own life and we did not communicate, but recently I have noticed nostalgia in my peers, school friends suddenly hatch on Facebook, and you know, this is the adult level of communication , very pleasant. I was recently in Russia, and we met with those with whom I wanted to meet. I am very glad that their life is going well and we have something to talk about.
- Do not envy you?
- Now, probably no longer. I remember being jealous when I first left. And when I returned, after serving five years in America ... It was really a feeling as if I was serving a term, it was so hard, but at the same time, by that time I was already saturated with the local student spirit, I didn’t have any admiration for brands, chasing clothes, Than young girls of my generation are sick, and even today, I think. And when my friends, with whom I communicated before (now I don’t communicate), saw me, they appreciated me by their clothes and were very disappointed that I came in old ripped jeans and an unthinkable sweatshirt. They asked: Anh, are you especially crying in front of us so as not to offend us? Where are your labutenes, they say. For me it was amazing. It’s as if in America, everyone entering the country is given labutenes at the border. I was a poor student. I didn’t have any money at all, I lived on what fell from my parents, and maybe I could earn some money myself. Often did without lunch, ate air ...
- And apparently therefore keep a wonderful figure.
- No, I keep the figure, because heredity is like that.
- Your parents are alive?
- My father has already died, and my mother is alive, she, by the way, has returned to Russia, has not taken root here. After the death of her father, she said: everything, nothing holds me here anymore. And her family there, and communication, she never adapted. But for me does not pull. I still have a younger sister, she also left America and now lives in France. When we moved to the USA, she was 8 years old, and she also had a difficult period of breaking. She did not know the language at all, and she had to go through an even more traumatic time. She immediately went to school, and we know how peers treat strangers. I had my own problems, and I could not imagine that my sister was even harder than me. Now we talk a little, the difference in age affects, but she settled down, found her way, I admire her.
- Your children, you have two girls, were in Russia?
- Yes, they love to travel, and in Russia we were five or six years ago.
- In general, where do you go to relax? In the world or in America?
- I like to show the world to children, I like to travel by myself, we went to Europe, Latin America, maybe we will go somewhere else.
- The question may seem incorrect, but do not consider it as such, this is a really important aspect: it turns out, does your financial situation allow you to travel?
- Completely. We try to live modestly so that we can keep money on vacation.
- Is your spouse an American? How did you meet?
- It was a friend of my friend, who thought that we would approach each other, and got us together. We had a great love at first sight. By that time, I already spoke in English, and he was learning Russian a little and spoke Russian a lot with our first daughter. This is partly why she knows the language better than the youngest. We have the oldest 15 years, the youngest 13.
How did I learn English? I wrote a whole series of stories about Russia, and recently I found them, cleaned them up, and am thinking of publishing them. I asked my daughter to make some illustrations, she has already made a couple and will draw more. I have already written one novel, published it in 2014. This is science fiction with a yogic philosophical content. It's called Fomatsu. I wanted the word to be so Japanese in sound, but not to have such another word, so that it was unique, unique. And I came up with it. This is a replacement for the word yoga, but not really yoga, but with martial arts. I haven’t been to Japan yet, but I really want to go, and my eldest daughter is studying Japanese on the Internet, and if the hobby does not pass, we will hire a tutor for her.
I wrote the novel under the pseudonym Anna Hammond - I took the name of my husband, who helped me edit it, since my English seemed to him not very reliable. My husband also writes poems and short stories, but he is really published in various magazines. This is a craving for self-expression. I have long been mature, matured for years, and then suddenly there was such an impulse that I could not help myself, I sat down and began to write. I write, I feel that the dinner is not ready, the washing is not washed, the children are barefoot, the house is not cleaned. I tell my husband - read it, if you say that it is bad, I will not do it anymore, I have something to do. He read, says - write, I'll do everything.
Now you can buy the book on the Internet for only three dollars, there are even positive reviews on the site. The novel was dedicated to her daughters, the eldest read, and when at school she was asked to prepare a presentation on a book, she took mine. And everyone started to respect her at once, they say, her mother wrote a book ... She was proud too.
- Is it important for you that your children know Russian?
- Yes, of course, I love to communicate with them in Russian. I love to share our culture and history with them, I want them to feel comfortable and free in Russia.
- What is your husband's name?
- David. Yes, simple name. And I picked up such names for the children so that they were both Russian and American at the same time. The eldest name is Katherine (Katya), the younger Dariya, Dasha. In America, the last name is found, but rarely enough. Cach in the class of five pieces, and Dasha is one, but in Russian schools Dash in bulk.
- Your children are satisfied with life in America?
“They don't know the other.” But when they, as they say, zazhralis, I tell them: girls, appreciate how lucky you are. The phone broke down at the youngest one, and she rolls up tantrums: my life is worthless, I have it so emotional ... And I say - imagine that you were born in Africa and have not eaten for a week. Do you really think that parents, a house, their own private room are nothing, that it is possible not to appreciate it? Of course, such conversations reflect on them at least temporarily sobering.
- And who do they want to be? Or until, like you, do not think about it?
- They think, of course. But they still have everything ahead, and my husband and I will not push them anywhere, but we provide every opportunity to develop the interests that they have. The elder likes drawing, the younger rather technical person. Maybe an engineer will go or a programmer. They study for free, where we live, good public education. That's why we bought housing in the area, that there is a good school where the children got on registration. We are full of all classes, schools are expanding greatly, they are being completed. During the time that we live here, primary school has literally doubled. High School (7-8 classes) as well.
- Now you are on a business trip, and who is with the children?
- My husband has a more measured lifestyle, he works from home. He is one of the three owners of his company. Therefore, it is very convenient for me to leave my family with him for a while and go about my business.
- Yes, I see that you are striving not only to work, but also to go somewhere - to a museum or a theater.
- I am very interested in cultural life, exhibitions, performances. Here it can be left and right, only expensive. I went to the show on Broadway, paid for the ticket 160 dollars. This is the only thing that stops. It is good to live in Washington, where all the museums are free, we often visit them with children, especially during the holidays.
- What is the biggest difficulty in America for the common man? What can disturb the ordinary citizen? To make it clear - in Russia, for example, on Sakhalin, there used to be a lack of places in kindergartens, it is now difficult to get to school, expensive high-quality higher education, inaccessible free or affordable, but expensive health care, bad roads. And here what?
- Here everything is the same, in fact, but what distinguishes the American mentality is the fact that it is customary here to rely more on yourself. Here the person who made himself is a national hero, everyone aspires to this, and for this there are all possibilities. A person who is really ready to work, in theory, can achieve everything. But of course, this is a theory, and there are different circumstances, but in America they love to tell children such stories in order to inspire them to good learning.
- In Russia, start-up capital is still important in many respects, not only in the form of money, but also in the form of connections. Like here?
- Here it is also important, and without this little is possible. It is difficult to escape from the negative conditions that bind you. There are such cases, but this is rare. In such cases, luck plays a role.
- Do Americans take loans?
- Take. There are generally a lot of different benefits for minorities, start-ups and so on.
- Are you patriotic? And in relation to which country is it manifested?
- So you noted that I have a partly European look and at the same time it is quite obvious that I am not a Russian. In Russia I also stand out, I was even told that I do not “mow” well for Russian. The way I carry myself, and the expression on my face is somehow not ours.
“But still, patriotism is not what you look like.”
- I can’t say that I’m in every way standing for Russia, although I love Russia very much and I think this is a great country. But at the same time I will not insult and humiliate America, I believe that this is also a great country. Everywhere there are disadvantages and advantages, and you need to be able to maneuver, take something good for yourself, and ignore something or even fight something bad - this is patriotism, wherever we are. And the American people are quite compassionate. They are ready to help, they are not stupid. And in fact they believe in their democracy and their values, and are very patriotic.
- Yes, trying to do something is important, because often patriotism implies something false or ephemeral - I stand with the flag ...
- For me, patriotism is the improvement of my space. And internal as well, because if I am an adequate person, this is better for society. I am raising children in this way, I would like to hope.
- What city do you live in now?
- I live in a suburb of Washington. We moved here because it is the capital and there are more opportunities to find a job.
“But Washington, as we have noticed, is a very expensive city.” Do you have a house or apartment?
- Mortgage on 30 years. The house is expensive, but real estate interest is now very low, and we refinanced our loans several times, so it is tolerable. The house is connected to urban networks - water, sewage, light. Expensive, but I do not delve into it, the husband is engaged in accounts. Communication, the Internet is also expensive, but I look like this - if necessary, it means it is necessary.
- And what is more expensive - a house or an apartment?
- Depending on the location. A small room in the center of New York will cost many times more than a palace in South Carolina.
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- How much do you think a person needs to live like you: go on vacation, look good?
- In general, we only recently felt that you can not save too much. The husband works a lot and he mainly contains us. He is a programmer. It is very popular here.
Depending on where you live, you need a different amount per month. If it is Washington, then at least 5-6 thousand dollars for a family with two children. But it is a minimum. If you put off on vacation and some fun, then more.
- Do you have a pet?
- Sheltie dog breed, from Russia, by the way, brought. I have it bilingual. Not a puppy came to us, and when she was three years old. This is my mother's dog, she understood in Russian, and then learned English. Her name is Rusya, Ruslana. Dog 13 years, we love her madly, she already has a heart defect, but keeps on medication.
- Maybe in some dreams or theoretical reasoning, are you still thinking about returning to Russia?
- You know, I will not disappear everywhere. But at this stage, perhaps, I would no longer return to Russia. As in the song Makarevich: I'm used to it here, this foreign one is almost my own ... I know how to live here, I understand these realities. I do not know how to give bribes, as in Russia, I am ashamed ...
“Isn't that here?”
- And here, let's say, some holiday, for example, Teacher's Day. Do you carry flowers or gifts to your teacher?
- We carry. This is accepted. Mostly flowers. At the end of the year, even money is collected for it, for a few dollars.
- And if a successful operation in the hospital, thank the doctor?
- Thanks, but not like in Russia. Thanks advice. It is always nice to hear from the staff - we will recommend you. This is considered to be the best praise in America. Flowers and chocolate are not interesting to anyone here, but business, respect, recommendation is always valuable.
- You have the surname Russian - Mikheeva. Why?
- I left the Russian surname, because in my translation profession it is important for me to emphasize that I am a native speaker.
- Do you cook Russian food?
- Yes, I love borscht. Pelmeni sculpt me too lazy, in the Russian store they are sold, I buy them there. I do not like baking, sometimes I make a pie. We very simply eat, because I have no time for pickles. Basically, fish, poultry, rice, pasta, potatoes. I really like potatoes in Russian - with butter and dill. And some kind of vegetable.
- Do you prohibit children from American scourge - fast food, Coca-Cola?
- You know, they are not imbued with this and even brag to their friends that they have never been to McDonald's. It seems to me that it even ceases to be fashionable. And they eat fast food because it's cheap. It is expensive to eat in restaurants here, we rarely go there, and in general in America it is customary to cook at home.
- Say hello to Russia.
- Hello, Russia, see you later!