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When Cultural Shock Becomes An Embarrassment; The Russia Experience

As a black and African visiting Russia, warnings of racism and crime against foreigners kept popping up in my mind. The warning was so intense that as I boarded the flight I was wondering if that was a risk after all.

However, I enjoyed my visit to Russia from visiting Belgorod, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Russia is beautiful. The tasty food and beautiful tourist destinations were mind-boggling but never the cold weather. Russian intelligence agencies were everywhere and secret cameras were mostly invisible unlike in London.

I didn’t experienced racism. Maybe I didn’t take notice and of course I just careless about given attention to negativity, or my stay was too short to have experienced it. My hair braid known as ‘rasta’ was a cultural shock to most Russians. Some said they have never seen it before. One Russian lady asked a series of questions and consistently touched it in admiration.

It was exhausting being stopped every minute and asked for a picture.

I was baffled how Russians could stare at people without any ‘drop of sorry’. To be told some may have not seen the black race in real life but only on television was a jaw dropping moment for me. The size of Russia as the biggest country in the world could contribute to the fact that some haven’t seen blacks before especially those from remote areas. The plea to take the pictures, the appreciation, the smiles, the stares, the questioning, the joy and the pose stunned me.

My biggest shock was going out to the park to see the penguins. I love penguins because they are intriguing and said to be promiscuous. Weird right!  How could an animal be promiscuous? I was so curious and wanted to know it all. At the visa interview, I told the interviewee I’d wanted to see penguins. He smiled. He might be thinking, so you are travelling all the way from Ghana to see penguins in Russia!

My nightmare started at the park. I noticed something wasn’t right. Almost everyone stared at my leg. Some stared and giggled. Russians stare a lot but this one felt abnormal.  Discomfort and restlessness set in compelling me to seek answers to explain  this unusual staring  at my person. Was it the high heels I wore to the park? Was it the red nail polish? Was it the skirt I wore? What was wrong? I was at the center of attention. Everyone passed, looked and giggled. All eyes were on my legs.

Now my brother who stays in Russia and has been there for six years also felt restless and embarrassed. Despite it, we laughed, passed funny jokes, teased each other and still enjoyed the park and did all we wanted.

It was dark and we felt all was over and now time for us to have some good dinner but little did we know the worst was about to hit us. We got to the city center of Moscow to eat at KFC and there hell broke loosed. Everyone was staring and some of the cleaners at KFC laughed. Now I frowned in wrath. The next thing was that they were calling on each other to come and have a look at my leg. They were busily staring and giggling without any conscience. Now I have to look at my own legs very well. It’s not funny anymore. At the restroom with my brother, I checked out my legs. My own leg I’ve had all my life. Damn! My legs are so straight and beautiful. I couldn’t tell what the problem was so we decide to eat. We ate and cracked our silly jokes. Now we careless!

Back at the hotel, I started searching for answers on Google.

Legs in Russia, nail polish, women’s leg in Russia, shoes in Russia, shoes to the park in Russia, hair on the leg in Russia, what Russians hate, what you shouldn’t do in Russia, how to dress in Russia, why Russians look, cultural shock to Russians, Russian women, what not to do in Russia, what to expect in Russia. I searched for hours.

Then finally I got the answers on a website that says things you shouldn’t do in Russia.

When I found the answers, I sighed in relief and sucked my teeth in shock. Then we laughed. That’s my biggest cultural shock. Hair on my leg! Hair!!! Hair!!! Hello, you mean hair? Jeeezzzz!

It then hit me to never underestimate a person that is closed-minded. It is amazing how humans can limit their thinking because of the environment and circumstances they find themselves.  Ignorance is often sadly the basis of cultural shock, racism and hate crimes. When the mind is closed, it doesn’t think otherwise apart from what has been fed to it. It’s one of the world’s biggest problems. Human behavior terrified of the unknown and finding security in ignorance.  Its in Africa, America, Europe, Asia and Australia. It’s a shock when people do what we don’t do or what we see as a norm or a taboo.

Despite the fact that we are in a global world that is connected, it’s also obvious that a lot of people are closed-minded and still ignorant of other people’s culture and lifestyle.  There’s globalization but the world is not open like you assumed and people are still close minded. It’s not only Russia. I had an experience with a South Korean as well. I remember my friend told me about her experience in America in relation to hair on her body as a female. 

What you do should not be the norm for others. Diversity makes the world beautiful. The only thing that should be a shock to us should be any form of inhuman treatment like terrorism, female genital mutilation, slavery, kidnaping etc. that is global.

I do not experience cultural shock because I have learned to understand that people have their own way of life so far as it doesn’t hurt anyone and I respect that. The fact that I don’t do same things shouldn’t mean I have deviated.

The next time I go to Russia…


Classic Ghana

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