Saturday Diary / A Russian in Pittsburgh: When you fall in love, you exclaim, 'We seem so very much alike!'

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When you are strangers, you start thinking, "We are so very different!" When you fall in love, you subconsciously start looking for similarities, exclaiming, "We seem so very much alike!"

That's pretty much how I felt in coming to the United States, convinced before leaving my home in Russia that Americans are very different from Russians, that America is a complete opposite of the Russian Federation. But it turned out to be quite the reverse. Maybe I just fell in love with Pittsburgh and its people, and therefore subconsciously started looking for similarities?

I was surprised when I entered the newsroom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month, a visiting journalist on a one-month fellowship. It was as if I had arrived in the newsroom of my beloved Moskovsky Komsomolets -- the Russian newspaper where I have worked for almost 10 years. Even the desks looked the same!

Then, thanks to my colleagues at the Post-Gazette, I visited many different places and shadowed reporters on different assignments -- in courts, prisons, law firms, hospitals ... Again, I discovered a lot of similarities with Russia. You too have many illegal immigrants. Your prison authorities also try to stop the illegal use of cell phones.

Another surprise to me was that Russia and America, located so far from each other, are much alike in small things. We wear clothes of the same brands, we drink coffee in cafes with the same names, we use the same electronic devices, we talk about the same issues.

However, there are things that we Russians could learn from you. And you, in turn, could learn some things from us. With your permission, allow me to begin.

I was amazed at the first editorial meeting at the Post-Gazette to see what people were reading on the newspaper's website. Numbers were displayed on a big screen, and I could see how many people were viewing each article at each moment. The vast majority were reading sports news. My colleagues confirmed that this was not an aberration -- the most popular stories are about sports.

You guys are so lucky! You do not understand how lucky you are. Russians mostly read articles about murders, robberies, fights and corruption. The worse the crime, the more page views. In many ways, Russian journalists are at fault. We race to get sensational stories and give them the most prominent spots in our newspapers and on our websites.

I was amazed at how Americans stand up for their rights. Every case of injustice that happens with an ordinary citizen gets covered it seems.

I attended a press conference about the death of a veteran named William Nicklas, who died after contracting Legionnaires' disease at the VA hospital in Oakland. In Russia, no one would have paid attention. People would have said, "He was 87 years old; he lived long enough."

In Moscow not long ago a 40-year-old man died near the doors of the Scientific Research Institute of Surgery, which operates as a hospital. Security guards had refused to let him in and doctors coming out of the hospital had told him that their shift was over. They advised him to call 911. By the time help arrived, the man was dead.

Take the case of Jordan Miles, who was beaten by Pittsburgh police officers. There was a lot of argument as to whether his beating was justified. In the Russian city of Kazan, policemen have tortured and killed detainees. And there are many similar incidents.

As they say ... feel the difference.

I think if we Russians stood up for the rights of ordinary citizens as you do, such horrendous events would not happen as often, if at all. Alas, we are too patient. And we live in a permanent condition of stress because we do not know what to expect the next day.

As for what you might learn from us: cuisine!

No offense, but honestly, you eat all sorts of crap/rubbish!

During my stay, I was unable to have a truly delicious lunch. Many of your cafes do not even tempt the appetite. Ours are much more welcoming and beautiful.

You often eat on the run or at your desks, staring at your computer screens, forgetting that food is a precious gift from God. Don't you have half an hour to disconnect from everything and eat in peace?

And your diet is filled with bread, with rolls and bagels! You even have them served as a separate dish. Maybe that's why so many people here are overweight?

In Russia, we love borscht, vegetable soups, salads. Have you ever heard of sauerkraut? It's very good for you, especially in the winter.

I also think you should be happier with what you have. Some Americans complain that interest rates on bank loans can range up to 7 percent or so. In Russia, our rates get as high as 25 percent -- yet we do not despair!

Americans should learn more about what's happening in the world. To me, it seemed that you are solely interested in life in the United States. You know little about Russia. Many still believe that bears walk the streets of Moscow and that the Russians have nothing better to do than drink vodka. (I prefer whiskey, by the way.)

Finally, Russians and Americans are connected more closely than commonly acknowledged.

One day, an American colleague brought an artifact to the newsroom -- a fork he had inherited from his grandfather that was approximately 100 years old. It turned out to have an inscription in Russian. Perhaps his grandfather once lived in Russia, too.

Another colleague, after a press conference, told me that his adopted daughter was Russian. He adopted her when she was 14 months old. She is now 14 years old. He showed me her pictures on his phone -- a beautiful girl. He said she is very nice and clever. It seemed as though he was thanking me for the happiness his family acquired from my country.

I learned that a Russian musician was playing at one of your Christmas concerts (I think that this happens often) and that Russian professors teach at the University of Pittsburgh. Not to mention Evgeni Malkin!

And when I asked one Russian how he feels about his life in America, he replied, "In America, I feel at home."


Eva Merkacheva visited the Post-Gazette last month under the auspices of the International Center for Journalists, which sponsors many training and exchange programs.


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