“MOSCOW — After 20 years of opining on weighty bilateral issues like NATO expansion and ballistic missile defense, the political analyst Nikolai V. Zlobin recently found himself trying to explain, for an uncomprehending Russian readership, the American phenomenon of the teenage baby sitter. In Russia, children are raised by their grandmothers, or, if their grandmothers are not available, by women of the same generation in a similar state of unremitting vigilance against the hazards — like weather — that arise in everyday life. An average Russian mother would no sooner entrust her children’s upbringing to a local teenager than to a pack of wild dogs.
But of course much in everyday American life sounds bizarre to Russians, as Mr. Zlobin documents meticulously in his 400-page book, “America — What a Life!” […]
With the neutrality of a field anthropologist dispatched to suburbia, Mr. Zlobin scrutinizes the American practice of interrogating complete strangers about the details of their pregnancies; their weird habit of leaving their curtains open at night, when a Russian would immediately seal himself off from the prying eyes of his neighbors. Why Americans do not lie, for the most part. Why they cannot drink hard liquor. Why they love laws but disdain their leaders. […]
He is not the first Russian to engage in this exercise. In 1935, Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov, Soviet satirists, embarked on a road trip across the United States. Their book, “One-Story America,” described its residents’ earnestness (“Americans never say anything they do not mean”) their provinciality (“curiosity is almost absent”) and the ubiquity of advertising, which, they wrote, “followed us all over America, convincing us, begging us, persuading us, and demanding of us that we chew ‘Wrigley’s,’ the flavored, incomparable, first-class gum.” […]
[Zlobin] devotes many pages to privacy, a word that does not exist in the Russian language, or in the airless human mass that forms when Russians wait in line. Americans, he reports, prefer to converse at a distance of at least four feet.
“I suppose that in a typical Russian line, your average American would lose consciousness,” he writes. “Any touch to an American is taken as a violation of his personal space, so in the U.S., as a rule, people do not take each other by the elbow and do not tap each other on the shoulder if they want attention, they do not embrace each other like brothers.””
Book Translates American Minutia for Russians | NYT