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111 reasons to love Russia - Jens Siegert from Germany
111 reasons to love Russia - Jens Siegert from Germany

Jens Siegert has been living in Moscow for 26 years and even wrote a book entitled "111 reasons to love Russia." He told Russia Beyond about the elegance of Russian participles, the magical properties of the Russian mat, and the mysterious "Russian soul" or lack thereof.

Jens Siegert has been living in Moscow for 26 years and even wrote a book entitled "111 reasons to love Russia." He told Russia Beyond about the elegance of Russian participles, the magical properties of the Russian mat, and the mysterious "Russian soul" or lack thereof


Back in the foggy 91st in Cologne, I met a group of Belarusians from a charitable organization that helps children affected by the Chernobyl disaster, and they invited us to the Soviet Union. We bought medicines and organized the arrival of a group of German doctors. I was then pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome in Belarus and Russia. Of course, I knew what the Germans were doing in these parts during World War II and subconsciously expected a hostile, wary attitude. But my fears were completely unfounded.

The first thing that struck me when I arrived in Russia in 1991 was the sleeping quarters on the outskirts. Almost all major Soviet cities were built in this way, with huge tracts of residential buildings crowded into the outskirts. It was on this journey that I took a close look at the map for the first time. In my mind, the Soviet Union was always a distant country, but now I saw that Berlin was only 1,100 kilometers from Minsk. Rome is twice as far, and Madrid is three times!


Public and private space

In public, Russians are rather reserved and rarely look each other directly in the eyes. They often do not greet each other at the entrances of apartment buildings, which would be simply unthinkable in Germany. In the public space, a certain alienation prevails, an ingrained idea that nothing good can be expected from strangers or from the state. Bitter historical experience has taught many Russians to rely solely on themselves. But as you become more familiar with them, as you move from the public to the private, an astounding transformation awaits you. It will never occur to you again that Russia is a cold country.


Russians react sharply to what is happening around them and are easily offended, for which I was not at all ready when I arrived. Perhaps it would be fair to say: if you want your feelings to be taken seriously in Russia, you should be upset and offended! Even at work. Moreover, Russians can take offense at absolutely anything, not just criticism or lack of attention. This is how people express their emotions. And you know what? Right now I feel upset and resentment! At first I was deliberately offended, but now I find myself thinking that I no longer control these feelings.

Moscow is impossible to love

Friends say that I am Russified. What does this actually mean? How does this manifest itself externally? When I start swearing, I use a taboo Russian vocabulary known as checkmate. You know, in German it is absolutely impossible to swear as much as in Russian. German curses are pitiful babble compared to Russians. If you want to learn how to swear for real - learn Russian mat!

My wife is Russian, and she and I once discovered that my past life in Germany was not 100 percent German, and her Moscow lifestyle contained some European elements. For example, now I cannot do without bread at the table. In Germany, it is served only for breakfast or dinner, and very rarely with hot dishes.In Russia, however, bread is absolutely everywhere. I also adopted the Russian drinking culture. For example, now I can't drink without toast. In Germany, a person starts drinking as soon as his glass is full. Here, toast creates a special bond between everyone at the table.

I live in Moscow, but I don't like it. This city is impossible to love, it is too huge, noisy, aggressive and ever-changing. You just have time to fall in love with something here, and the next day everything is different. Like many Western Europeans, I prefer St. Petersburg. This is a city of dreams, not reality, created by the vision of one person.

Language is the foundation of everything

Foreigners going to Russia should understand that English will be of little use here, both for everyday life and for getting to know the country. All the answers to the questions lie in the language - without it, access to Russia will be severely limited. For example, the word "resentment", which I touched on above. In Russian it has more shades and meanings than in English or German, and sometimes it is difficult to find an exact equivalent.


Here's another example: the expression “I'm sorry for my state” from the film “White Sun of the Desert” (which, by the way, I recommend to all foreigners to watch). How do you say it in English? If literally, it will turn out something like “I am insulted on behalf of the country / state” or “it hurts me to see how my homeland suffers,” but in Russian this pain is much deeper. In addition, in Russian there are two different words: truth and truth, which coincide in English and German. Truth is a human point of view, a belief that in fact can be a delusion, and Truth is God's truth, which is eternal and immutable. The difference is very difficult to convey in translation. Or the word "bore", for which it is also very difficult to find an exact equivalent. Of course, there are many examples of the opposite, when it is difficult to find a Russian word to convey the meaning of some German concept.

It is often said that Russian is difficult to learn. This is not entirely true. It is necessary to consider the learning process not as a continuous movement forward, but as a sine wave with endless ups and downs. Sometimes there is no progress for a long time, and then suddenly - a quick leap forward. I remember how long and unsuccessfully I struggled with the participles. But it was a real discovery when I finally comprehended them. Such an elegant and precise tool for expressing your thoughts! The main thing is to never give up.

There is no Russian soul

I have lived in Russia for over a quarter of a century, and I am often asked why I do not want to return to Germany. There is one reason: people. My wife, friends, relatives. To be honest, I have nothing to do with Russia. Only to certain people. And to politics too.


Everyone talks about the "mysterious Russian soul", but nothing of the kind actually exists! You can just as well talk about the German, French soul, and so on. People in any country have their own national traits and peculiarities of the mentality. The term "Russian soul" averages and dulls the complexity and diversity of the Russian people. This is similar to the average temperature over the year without mentioning extremes.

In Germany, I recently published a book called 111 Reasons to Love Russia. This is my attempt to explain Russia to the Germans using 111 strokes to paint the big picture. In it I talk about recipes, films, the Bible, about such phenomena as the criminal world and life according to unwritten rules (as they say in Russia, according to concepts), as well as the relationship between a person and those in power.

The book begins with two chapters: "I love Russia because it is so homogeneous" and "I love Russia because it is so diverse." And this is not a contradiction. In Altai and in Moscow, people speak the same language. In Germany, you can drive 20-30 kilometers along the road, and the locals there will speak a different dialect, a completely different architecture will strike the eye, and sometimes even a different national cuisine.

In this sense, Russia is very homogeneous. However, this vast land is home to over 180 nationalities, tundra and subtropics. It is through this diversity and homogeneity that the national characteristics of the country are manifested.

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