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Stereotypes about Russia: Drunk Bears with Balalaikas and Matryoshkas
November 24, 2018 16:04

Stereotypes about Russia were taking shape in the centuries-old neighborhood of the Europeans. Since the Europeans often sought to conquer Russia in the past, and the local population resisted their attacks, the Russians came to be imputed various qualities, mostly negative ones.
Foreigners’ Typical Stereotypes about Russia

In the 20th century, the Western ideology generated an image of the Russians as a bearish, drunken, and malevolent nation. It is long since travelers coming to Russia were deeply impressed by its cold and dangers as well as the Russian mentality. On return to their homeland, they would make up stories exaggerating their experiences all the way. The main stereotypes about Russians are eagerly replicated by the Western media and mainstream culture. They have long claimed Russia to be a land full of bears, snow, vodka, and drunk peasants with nesting dolls and balalaikas. To top it all, Westerners are accustomed to thinking of Russians as an unpredictable nation that smiles and friendliness are not inherent in. Thanks to Russian literature, however, they speak of a "mysterious Russian soul," which is "baffling to the mind".
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Russian Bear
The image of Russia as a country where bears walk the streets has been there for ages. Back in the 19th century, Russian historians researched its origins found that it had a real background. For a very long time, the bear was a totem animal and the embodiment of the spirit for the Slavs. It is not mere coincidence that the bear became a significant and popular character of Russian folk fairy tales.
Long ago, there was a tradition to demonstrate men’s fights against bears for kicks at almost every Russian fair. Moreover, trained bears would sometimes perform tricks and play the balalaika to the merriment of viewers. This is how a bear playing the balalaika came to be an image of Russian merrymaking.
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A number of stereotypes about Russia are associated with vodka. This traditional Russian drink would accompany any feast on the occasion of welcoming foreign guests in olden days, indeed. In addition, travelers could spot some drunken Russian men in taverns, and, as is usually the case with stereotypes, they extended these impressions to the whole nation. This image was actively supported by the Western media in the course of generating a negative attitude towards this country.
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Winter Cold
The Russian winter is an extremely vivid impression for foreigners, especially those living in warm countries. It is easier for the inhabitants of warm Europe to imagine this country as a snow-covered endless land reigned by eternal cold. 
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Hence, the people able to live in such conditions are endowed with special characteristics of foreigners’ imagining. This stereotype appeared back in ancient times, when the first contacts of the Southern Europe with Russia began.
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Matryoshka aka Nesting Doll
Russian matryoshka is a symbol recognizable throughout the world and it is very organic to the Russian character with its togetherness and collectivism, indeed. Nesting dolls turned out to be ideal souvenirs from Russia and the most common gifts from Russians to foreign friends. The bright looks and unique shape of Matryoshka make it an expressive and memorable image, which is easily stereotyped.
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This traditional Russian instrument is organic to the Russian mentality: balalaika is easy to master and gives great opportunities for improvisation. In the 18th century, every Russian fair had a balalaika playing bear as a way of entertainment for buyers and spectators. Since many of the first foreigners who came to Russia were merchants, it was mostly at fairs where they drew conclusions about this country. This is where many stereotypes arise: drunkenness, wild fun, and a bear with a balalaika.

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Mysterious Russian Soul

Russian literature has done a lot for prompting the ideas about this country. Speaking about the world’s famous Russian writers, namely Pushkin, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and others, all of them tried to solve the enigma of the Russian soul. Thus, the customary stereotypes of Russia have been enriched with the observations and findings by Russian classics.
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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian Mentality Stereotypes about Russia Russian Music Instruments Russian Souvenirs  

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