Monday, October 12, 2009

Getting to 'Da'

One thing we've learned since living in Russia is that Russians don't admit error. That's not quite same thing as not being able to apologize. They do say "I'm sorry" or "Excuse me." Sometimes (but not when they push you in the Metro).

What they don't do is say, "You're right. I was wrong." And if you are arguing or negotiating with them you want to guard against forcing them to say so. Because generally speaking it won't happen. (A book about Russian culture I enjoyed, although it is written primarily for an American audience, is From Nyet to Da).

We had a prime example of this yesterday in Suzdal. We went to visit the Museum of Wooden Architecture.

The domes of these churches were made from the wood of the redbud tree (Cercis). For the first few years, the wood resembles gold. Then as it weathers, it becomes silver in color.

Besides the incredible wooden churches (made without any nails), there were several examples of traditional 19th century peasant cottages (изба or izba). 

We went into the first one. There was a docent. When Olga, one of the Russians who arranged the weekend for us, began to translate the descriptive text on the wall of the cottage, the docent got very indignant.

"You are not certified!" she told Olga. "You cannot be these people's guide!"

Olga was gobsmacked. She began to protest. "These are my friends. I'm just translating the sign because not all of them can speak Russian!"

Now of the seven of us, only two of us couldn't read the sign. The others in our group, The Spouse included, all began chattering in Russian about how silly this was, how they wanted the foreign guests to get something out of the experience. In our defense, one of us did purchase a small English-language guidebook at the ticket window. We were using what we could find to understand the museum. But none of the signs were in anything other than Russian.

The docent realized then what we were doing. But she never said, "Oh, that makes sense. Of course." She never said anything at all. She just sort of stepped back and let us look around the cottage.

And that was that.

At the next cottage, we had a more typical Russian museum experience. There, the docent went out of her way to draw our attention to the various items and features in the room. She explained, for example, that izba entry ways were always low so as to force you to duck or bow to the icon corner (which was always positioned opposite the door). She pointed out the long-handled tools women used to place and retrieve cooking pots from the ovens. And on and on and on.

So go visit the Museum of Wooden Architecture.

While you are at it, go see Saviour-Euthimiev monastery-fortress, too. We only had about an hour to spend there, so we just walked around the grounds and did not get to go in any of the buildings. But you could easily spend the better part of a day going into all the churches and museums.

Here are a few pictures from there.


TRex said...

I ran into the same thing during my time in Japan. Huge loss of face to admit an error and even more to not help them get out of it. Friendemies all around!

Aunt Becky said...

That would drive me BONKERS.

Anonymous said...

Apparently my mother must be Russian, 'cause she has NEVER admitted to doing anything wrong! :)

hexe said...

The contrast of the hunter greeen and blue skies is stunning. But the never admitting error would drive me a bit crazy.

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