07 February 2011

Americans, Russians, Egypt, and "Risk"

No original thinking from me in this post. Instead, I’m highlighting a recent opinion piece  Russian-language maven Michele Berdy wrote in the Moscow Times. Berdy is not just “a Moscow-based translator and interpreter,” as her byline notes, but also a pretty insightful cultural observer. As an inside-outsider in Moscow, she seems able to see life in Moscow and Russia in interesting and enlightening ways. And all the better for word geeks like me, her socio-cultural-political observations are couched in explorations of the nuances of the Russian language and what those nuances suggest about the character and habits of its speakers.

In her 4 February piece, “Risking Life and Limb,” she recounts a curious juxtaposition in the stereotypes of how Americans and Russians treat risk.

“As I’ve watched events unfold in Egypt, my mental storehouse of differences between Russians and Americans got a new load of evidence. American tourists on a luxury cruise ship docked near Luxor said they were comfortable, had plenty of food and were in absolutely no danger, but yet demanded that their government immediately airlift them out — at the taxpayers’ expense incidentally. Russian tourists splashing around the Red Sea not only didn’t demand immediate evacuation by their government, they refused to leave.”

She recognizes these factoids don’t necessarily say anything definitive, but suggests they might just turn some stereotypes on their heads: “self-reliant Americans” vs. Russians who crave “cradle-to-grave” state aid. It could be that Americans and Russians have “vastly different expectations of what our governments can and should do for us.” Or it could be that we have “different notions of acceptable risk.” (I think it may also have to do with the demographics of people who might be on a luxury cruise ship docked near Luxor, but that’s just me.) Berdy then goes on to explore the different types of risk that inhabit Russian consciousness, as reflected through the different linguistic expressions of it.

But that’s not my point here. I just like dwelling for a while on the implications of the juxtaposition she highlights.


  1. PS. Still trying to figure out the vagaries of formatting in Blogger. Sorry for the extra blank lines...

  2. It seems both you and Berdy assume similar levels of risk for both the Americans and the Russians. But Americans are much more lucrative targets for any protesters/regime loyalists/terrorists/nutcases who want to get headlines or strike a blow against the Great Satan. The security environment has gone to $hi+ in Egypt, which is home to plenty of extremists who have targeted Westerner tourists before. I've seen a few anti-US signs being held by demonstrators on BBC. After all, the US has supported Mubarak for about 30 years. That's why Washington is so nervous, remember what happened to the US-supported dictator in Iran, and US citizens who got caught up in that? I'm not aware of any Russian tourists ever being targeted in Egypt, and I haven't heard any Egyptian pundits complaining about Moscow meddling in the region, either. Maybe this is an example of sound risk assessments by both Americans and Russians in Egypt.

  3. Anonymous: You make a good point. I guess I was just focusing on the irony of the comparison. But certainly the situation is more complex than a simple comparison between two small sample groups. Thanks for the comment.