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Culture shock

Good manners are always good manners – anywhere in the world. That’s what Miranda Ingram, who is English, thought until she married Alexander, who is Russian.

When I first met Alexander and he said to me, in Russian, “Nalei mne chai – pour me some tea”, I got angry and answered, “Pour it yourself”. Translated into English, without a Could you…? and a please, it sounded really rude to me. But in Russian it was fine. You don’t have to add any polite words.

However, when I took Alexander home to meet my parents, I had to give him an intensive course in pleases and thank yous (which he thought were completely unnecessary), and to teach him to say sorry even if someone else stepped on his toe, and to smile, smile, smile.

Another thing that Alexander just couldn’t understand was why people said things like, “Would you mind passing me the salt, please?” He said, “It’s only the salt, for goodness sake! What do you say in English if you want a real favor?”

He also watched in amazement when, at a dinner party, we swallowed some really disgusting food and I said, “Mmm… delicious”. In Russia, people are much more direct. The first time Alexander’s mother came to our house for dinner in Moscow, she told me that my soup needed more seasoning. Afterward, when we argued about it, my husband said, “Do you prefer your dinner guests to lie?”

Alexander complained that in England he felt “like the village idiot” because in Russia if you smile all the time, people think that you are crazy. In fact, this is exactly what my husband’s friends thought of me the first time I went to Russia because I smiled at everyone, and translated every please and thank you from English into Russian.

At home we now have an argument. If we’re speaking Russian, he can say “Pour me some tea”, and just make a noise like a grunt when I give it to him. But when we’re speaking English, he has to add a please, a thank you, and a smile.

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