Only in Russia – Contradictions

The Russia Only articles are a series of short stories about Jeroen's experiences of living and working in Russia over the past 25 years.

Russia, the land of contradictions

Russia transforms a man; man doesn’t transform Russia. If there is one thing I learned, in almost two decades of living and working in Russia, it is that you have to learn to accept what comes your way in Russia. Accept the good with the bad and learn to play with the cards that you have been dealt. Foreigners who successfully thrive in Russia are those who enjoy living and working in Russia and who have a certain affinity for the country. Those who love Russia will find all the reasons why they love it and those who hate it will see all their reasons for hating it confirmed.

One of the keys to loving life in Russia is to understand what makes the country tick. However, in spite of my long history in this country, I am yet to meet the person, Russian or foreign, who can clearly explain the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma (as Churchill put it) that Russia is. One can approximate an understanding and try to dissect Russia along cultural, historic, political and economic lines, but the pieces of the puzzle one collects will never create a clear and indisputable image.

It was the famous Russian poet Fedor Tiutchev who wrote in 1886 – “Russia cannot be understood with the mind, nor can she be measured with the ordinary yardstick. There is in her a special stature: You can only believe in Russia.” But if there is one thing that is unmistakably true, then it is the fact that no matter what you say or think about Russia, the opposite is always true as well.

In Russia, one is always wrong and always right and the key to successfully thriving in Russia is to know the exact right or the wrong way to act at any given moment. This may seem like an easy task at first, but in a country that is defined by contradictions, most foreigners, and many Russians as well, struggle to deal with the daily contradictory Russian reality.

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