The Low Slag Heap

I just read a quote by Peggy Noonan:

In Iraq this year I asked an Iraqi military officer doing joint training at an American base what was the big thing he’d come to believe about Americans in the years they’d been there. He thought. “You are a better people than your movies say.” He had judged us by our exports. He had seen the low slag heap of our culture and assumed it was a true expression of who we are.

This has been my experience in various countries. The USA exports a lot of filth (by movies, music, popular culture, etc.), and others have judged Americans by it. We need to keep this in mind when the US is criticized by other cultures. In many cases the USA is not very attractive when judged by our cultural exports.

This is also one more good reason for mission trips: people in other countries can experience a different kind of American, an American who follows God and acts in love. In this way we may, in small part, act as peacemakers between cultures.

The best thing we can do is love the Lord deeply and be the people He wants us to be. Sometimes He may then send us to other cultures be a witness of His loving-kindness. He always wants us to be a witness in our home culture.

Another kind of anniversary

Another note from Stoneworks missionary Liz Hulley

This week, Russia celebrates 20 years of….McDonald’s!

I would like to leave the fast-food (health) debate for the moment and comment on the culture implications. This kind of anniversary is interesting when looked at in the light of what was going on the world at the time.

1990: I was almost 8 years old and probably didn’t know that the USSR existed. And I barely knew what McDonald’s was, as I wasn’t raised on fast-food.

Meanwhile, in Russia, an interesting “cultural” exchange was taking place. I enjoyed reading the accounts in Monday’s local paper (Metro) about people’s memories of the first McDonald’s opening in Moscow.

They speak of the lines, the intrigue, the scent of a new kind of food. People who had worked as servers describe the pressure they felt, then the relief as the idea took on.

I don’t know exactly which characteristics of American culture are represented by McDonald’s cuisine: Convenience? Mass-marketing? Consumerism? At any rate, in some ways this was a little crack in the cultural barrier. Something that could be “shared”?

An interesting excerpt from Metro (Feb.1, 2010).

How many hours do you have to work, to buy a Big Mac?

-in 1990: 2 hours, 10 minutes
-in 2010: 30 minutes

-in 1990: average salary was 297 rubles a month, a Big Mac cost 3 rubles, 75 kopecks

I asked a friend recently what her favorite restaurant was, and she said “McDonald’s.”

I suppose it is cheaper than other establishments in St. Petersburg, but it is still considered “eating out,” not something most people can afford to do regularly.

What the Russians Say About Us

Here are excerpts from  a very interesting article; you can read the entire piece here, at The New York Times:

What do Americans not understand about Russia? On the eve of President Obama’s arrival in Moscow, The New York Times asked readers of its Russian-language blog at

Here are excerpts from their responses, as translated by The Times’s Moscow bureau, each introduced by the user’s Web nickname. Some readers gave details about themselves, which were not independently confirmed.

SKABLYAN: The Russian character is founded on contradictions.

Inwardly, we understand that in the contemporary world we have not much to be proud of. Therefore, we seek moments of greatness in our history and protect them reverently. The very same can be said of the Soviet Union.

The facts show that during the U.S.S.R., the standard of living of the average citizen was, to put it lightly, low.

However, paradoxically, the same U.S.S.R. was one of the poles of international politics, and therefore we can’t throw out that heritage and call that era a black spot in our nation’s history. Denis, 27, Moscow.

TIKI2TAVI: In Russia, familial and friendly connections are stronger, mistrust of authority is stronger and we value work less.

In practice, this means that we take loans from our friends and relatives more often than from the bank, we go to them instead of the psychoanalyst, we deal with a drunk neighbor without calling the police, and many go on while at work. Continue reading

You know you’ve been in Russia too long when . . .

I saw this a few places and wanted to post it myself. Not everything applies to me, but those of you who have spent much time in Russia will understand —

You know you have been in Russia too long when . . .

· You are impressed with the new model Lada or Volga car.
· You don’t think things are that bad right now.
· You say he/she is ‘on the meeting’ (instead of ‘at the’ or ‘in a’ meeting).
· You answer the phone by saying ‘allo, allo, allo’ before giving the caller a chance to respond.
· When crossing the street, you sprint.
· In winter, you choose your route by determining which icicles are least likely to impale you in the head.
· You hear the radio say it is zero degrees outside and you think it is a nice day for a change. Continue reading