I love language and psychology, and I had a book about cross-gender linguistic differences on my reading list for a while that I finally finished: You Just Don't Understand by Deborah Tannen.
The book was written by a sociolinguist who studies the differences in the way people talk and how that impacts their relationships and work. She found that the differences between men and women are as vast as the differences between cultures across the world.
Her book featured analyses of transcripts of children speaking to each other, and I enjoyed this type of primary source evidence.
The main themes and my takeaways from the book are the following:
I found the book to be a bit long and drawn out, and many of the points sounded too much like generalizations. I would've preferred more quantitative information as well as information about the differences within men and women, as I felt like within each category there is a large range by which each person differs from the gender stereotype. Nonetheless, I didn't find myself disagreeing with her points, and I enjoyed the collection of stories and ways she mentioned the book's lessons can be applied to work and personal situations.
I recently discovered Leninade soda, and it was the highlight of my day. The soda was alright, but the bottle design was hilarious -- so many little nuanced jokes and plays on words.
My wife also recently found Russian Guy/Girl Problems (and their respective Facebook groups: M/F), and we laughed literally for 45 minutes straight the first time we reviewed those sites. (We later contributed a handful of our own nuggets of wisdom.)
There's just something so funny in our experiences that are so different from mainstream American family lives. Laughing at ourselves about these differences unites us together and helps us feel like we're not alone in fending off bags of food from our parents or extra jackets to wear. I believe that every culture has these little "weirdnesses," and I'd love to hear how other cultures might be similar to or different from Russian in their attitudes towards food, children, dating, etc. I would bet the similarities outweigh the differences.
So off the top of my head, here are my top 10 "common" Russian experiences ("problemi") that resonate with me most. Not everything I list is my own personal experience or representative of my family; some of them are, and some of them are more general impressions I get from talking with friends. Leave a comment to share your own experiences (or your reaction).
1. Exotic food. The top concern of any day, any person, any babushka. What did you eat today? Everyone eats these foods at least weekly; how could you not?
3. Hyper-involved parents. Until you are 100 years old and both of your parents have passed away, you can expect your phone to ring at least 3 times per day with urgent inquiries into your health, location, recent food consumption, and plans for all of the above for the next 2 hours until the next call. I know people who are 50, 60, 70 years old and whose parents are still calling to see if they got to their destination safely. This is obviously charming and well-intentioned, and it warms my heart to feel loved. But sometimes, it's a bit too much (like when your mom texts you on a date asking you if you brought a jacket).
Every detail of your life becomes a source for panic. One of my favorite worries is the skvaznyak (draft), like when there's a window or door open and some slight breeze coming through the house. This can sometimes be cause for the loudest yelling you've ever heard.
4. Super strict laws on relationships. Sure, they'll entertain your fancies to date people you want to according to higher-level traits like "personality," but this is all a sham; all that matters in the end is that you date someone of the same ethnic background and without question religion. Oh, and you must get married soon and have kids.
5. You can have any job, as long as it's lawyer or doctor.
6. Your mother's only happy if you're fat and hot. (Feeding you enough and ensuring you are warm are the top concerns of every mother.)
7. Clothing should be nice, upscale, and certainly not raggedy or "street"-looking. After all, you never know who you'll run into from the "community," and you can't embarrass the family. We even have a saying for when we see each other: "nashi lyudi v Hollywoodi" (our people in Hollywood -- but it rhymes nicely in Russian). Oh, and don't forget to take a jacket (even if it's 100 degrees or you're in Las Vegas).
8. Family respect is as important as if you're an Italian mafioso. Daily phone calls to all family members and weekly visits are the norm. Every time you visit someone, you fix their VCR programming, internet, and check their mail and bills. That's just what family members do for each other. Oh, and they make you sit down for "chai" and eat. The "You're not hungry and you're vegetarian? OK, I make you lamb" part from My Big Fat Greek Wedding is exactly what I'm talking about.
9. Don't you dare break a superstition. Too many to keep track of; I keep learning new ones every year I had never heard of. Here's a sampler:
As I mentioned in prior posts, I had a great time at an Anderson event last month where Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, spoke to us as part of his Delivering Happiness book tour. I wondered why a big blue bus ("blue's the new yellow") was parked in front of UCLA, and I quickly learned about Hsieh's Happiness Tour during his talk.
He had written his book as a way to teach about Zappos' culture and mission of generally delivering happiness. It sounds hokey, and he acknowledged it, but his passion and belief in the importance of corporate culture was infectious (infectious enough to make me buy a signed copy of his book that night which I can't wait to read).
Tony's basic message was that corporate culture is everything in determining a company's success, not just a side element that's relegated to the HR department and which determines how much people like working there. He claimed that companies that have superior, more intact, and concretely defined cultures will almost always outperform those without. He explained that they hire and fire putting culture at an equal level as skill and work ethic and will fire talented employees if they don't fit into the culture.
He also encouraged the audience to request a free copy of Zappos' culture book, which is an annual collection of their employees' testaments to and personal experiences of the corporate culture. In addition, he offered us a free download of the audiobook Tribal Leadership, which backs up many of the lessons Tony was teaching that night with research studies.
I greatly enjoyed listening to the audio book over the last few weeks in my car (way more productive than listening to music, though I did intersperse some music here and there -- the radio is so much better if not listened to every day). I liked how the authors of the book compared companies at different stages of "tribal leadership" or corporate culture and showed through many vivid examples how companies can move from one stage to another.
The authors described 5 core stages of tribal leadership, where a tribe is a group of 2 to 120 people (but could grow beyond that) who align around some common goal or interest:
(I sort of had to fudge the percentages above because I didn't remember them exactly, but those are approximately what the authors claimed from having researched thousands of companies.) I really liked this frame of mind, and I could see myself squarely as a Stage 3 operator most of the time (like most type A/overachieving personalities). I've felt what Stage 4 feels like at times, and I want to be involved in teams that can be operating at Stage 4 more often.
The book also describes the "epiphany" that brings one from Stage 3 to Stage 4: realizing that meaningful results cannot be achieved alone or through micro-management, and it is through teamwork and leveraging other people that large impact can be made.
I'd love to speak to people firsthand (other than Tony and Tribal Leadership's authors) about personal experiences of the different stages and what worked for them and their group in transitioning from one to the other. This seems like the crucial thing to understand and probably a skill gained more through experience than simply reading about it.