Tuesday, April 17, 2018

So Your Character is From Russia ... Featuring Sofia Marie @ Teens Live for Jesus

It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's  So Your Character is from The Czech Republic ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts is as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

Photo Credit: Jerome Kayl
Sofia Marie is a 19-year-old who used to live in the European part of Russia, but who now is exploring the expansive world of college in the United States. She loves running, reading, writing, acting, and spending time with friends. One of her dreams is to become a high school teacher who is always there for her students. Sofia Marie’s blog, Teens Live for Jesus, includes devotions, quotes, discussions on music, and over 75 book reviews for Christian fiction and nonfiction.   
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What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
I think the first thing one has to remember when writing about or talking about Russia is the size. Its 17.1 million km² (6.6 million mi²) far outruns the next contestant, Canada (10.0 million km² or 3.9 million mi²). Although that does not determine everything, it is important to note that stereotypes or even truths about one part of Russia can have almost no relevance to a different part of the vast country. 

As for celebrations and the like, New Years is by far the biggest one. Schools make a big deal out of it, having kids prepare a performance weeks in advance. Adults get some time off. Many stay up until midnight, “greeting the New Year.” Sadly, many adults get very drunk as well. May 9th is also a great celebration of the victory over Germany in World War II. 

Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Again, the country is amazingly huge, so different parts have different flora and fauna. I live in the part of Russia where you can see all four seasons clear-cut. The winters are colder than in many different places, but nothing like Russia’s northern corner. We often get to about -20ᵒ C (-4 ᵒF) in the winter and +20 ᵒC (68 ᵒF) in the summer. The 30s in either direction are a bit extreme for us. Russia has many forests, which are beautiful. Rivers also abound. Again, this is for the “middle” of the country. Russia’s northern and southern realms are vastly different, containing cold and warm seas, mountains, and more. A huge landmark is the Ural Mountains.  
St. Petersburg


Ural Mountains
Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Russians eat a lot less than the United States, often because of insufficient money just to spend it on food. Soup is often the first part of the meal, followed by potatoes, rice, or the like, and possibly finished off by a salad. The portions are typically smaller than American ones. Russians do love their soups and salads, and you can find a great variety of both. Meat is usually a side-dish and almost never the main course of the meal. Baked goods are very plentiful and absolutely delicious. 

Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
Having lived in Russia for the majority of my life, I often mistake Russian idioms for American ones and vice versa, and it turns out hilarious. One of the most used, at least in the educational setting is “Повторение – мать учения,” translated as “Repetition is the mother of all learning.”  Another unique phrase is “добровольно-принудительно,” which speaks of the way that some things are supposedly based on a volunteering, but people are very highly encouraged. So, it’s not volunteering anymore, really, even when it’s called that.  

Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
School starts either at 8 or 8:30 a.m., about the same time that adults start working. Most schools only go until about 2 p.m. However, Russia has school days 6 days a week with only Sunday being its weekend. After that, one might hang out or go for a walk with friends for some time before coming home and doing homework. Most schools have different class schedules every day, so that influences homework as well. Teenagers spend a lot of time on their phones, especially the Russian version of Facebook called “vkontacte.”

How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Environmentally, Russia is colder than most of the United States. It is most likely similar to Canada since it is about as north as Canada is. 

The political situation is an interesting one, for sure. Two topics I would recommend investigating as you’re writing about Russia is the influence of WWII on the mindset of modern Russia, and Putin’s presidency. The second is a touchy topic, and I would advise getting input from several sources before making a definitive opinion on it. 

Culturally, Russians do a lot better job at including grandparents and extended relatives in their everyday life. This includes grandparents’ help with the children as well as the adults caring for their elderly parents. 

Interestingly, Russians are very focused on the negative. Both in school and in everyday life this mindset rules: “Why praise him – he will become too proud. I better point out his mistakes. If I don’t point out his mistakes, who will?” Russians are also a lot more conservative than America as far as topics such as abortion and homosexuality are concerned. 

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
Way back when Russia adopted orthodox Christianity, which is still the major religion in the country. However, as in the U. S., many simply claim to be Christians because of their nationality and do nothing to pursue a relationship with our God.  

WWII: One of the most influencing things that has happened to Russia. People still celebrate the victory over Germany and mourn the people who gave their lives. Although Stalin was governing his own country with terror, that is often neglected as people focus on the “high moral ground” that they have over the Nazis. 

Russia’s experiment with communism was also very influential. Many of the older generation lived a great part of their life under communism, and even the middle-aged adults had their childhoods during that era. Although acknowledged as a flawed system, many still think back on it well. In my opinion, a lot of that is subjective thinking. If you look at the facts, some things are so horrid they shouldn’t have existed. 

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
A lot of American media portray Russia as mafia territory as if that is incredibly rampant in our country. It is not. I know Jackie Chan’s Skiptrace is a comedy and is hardly to be taken seriously, but it exemplifies this. Also, for goodness sakes, if you need to have someone speak with a Russian accent, please ask someone who knows what they are doing, or, even better, is Russian. Otherwise, it’s the most butchered sound in the world, and I, for one, lose a lot of respect for the movie.  

What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
I really enjoyed Jill Williamson’s book The New Recruit. Although she also has the “mafia” storyline, it is central to the series overall and not done simply because of the setting. She seems to have done a great job of researching the country before writing about it. The incorporation of Russian words is nice and not overdone. 

Who are your top three favorite fictional characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
There is an amazing Russian movie about WWII: “Звезда,” or Star. Lt. Travkin is such a great character! He’s a spy, who’s about to go on a mission that may end the German’s tight grip on the territory. However, it is going to cost him a lot!

I have watched embarrassingly little of Star Trek. Still, at least in the modern version, which is all I have watched, Pavel Chekov is a great guy. He breaks the stereotype of Russians being the foes, which I am very grateful for. 

I have not seen all of Natasha Romanoff, but I do enjoy watching her as well. I actually haven’t watched too much of Marvel, but I might sometime soon! 

Thank you so much for having me, Victoria! It has been an honor to guest post!

Thank you, Sofia Marie, for this very informative post! Come back next week for a post all about Hungary!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com. I'm especially looking for Cuba, Venezuela, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, and Iraq.

Do you have any characters from Russia? Did this inspire you to write a Russian character or set a book in Russia? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Sofia Marie? Be sure to thank her!

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