“Stop being foolish! YOU guys got rid of Gaddafi, now you’re upset your ambassador to Libya has been killed?!”
This was the text an acquaintance tweeted at me following the tragic death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, as well as two security specialists, during the attack in Benghazi.
Perhaps a few years ago, I may have gone ahead and banned this person on Twitter. But I’ve been an American in Russia for long enough now, and I know the score. To many of those who know me, I am a symbol of my government – for better or for worse. When the United States is in the headlines, I best be ready to engage my Russian friends on the subject of everything from foreign policy to the price of oil.
Americans with Russian heritage, such as myself, are especially in demand when it comes to dinner party conversations (or furious Twitter exchanges) following a major news event involving God’s Country (and yes, I mostly use the phrase “God’s Country” in an ironic fashion – and yes, I am pretty tired of explaining this usage every single time). This isn’t just because we speak Russian. We are “Americans by choice” – those who reached the United States’ shores escaping either the Soviet Union or the dreadful aftermath of the Soviet Union’s demise. Our responsibility for our government’s actions is seen as greater.
I could whine about all of this – but it could be much worse.
Consider, for example, dealing with the label “American woman in Russia.” Oh yes, it’s a thing.
A few weeks after I first moved to Moscow, I went out with some new friends to a pub, only to be stuck at a table with an unfriendly American dude and his equally unfriendly Russian girlfriend.
“Get ready to not have a personal life!” The American dude told me grandly. “No American woman has ever had sex in Moscow!”
“Er, I don’t think that’s entirely acc…” I began, but his girlfriend cut me off.
“Even though you look Russian, and speak Russian, you have most likely been changed,” she explained helpfully. “And you’re probably really unfeminine now. Trust me, it happens. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. “
The couple inspired a kind of morbid curiosity, and I decided to keep talking to them.
“What exactly have I been corrupted by?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Feminism? Consumerism? Take your pick, really,” the American dude grumbled. “The U.S. is in a tailspin. We’ve elected a frickin’ Muslim to the highest office in the land. It’s why I got a job overseas.”
Just in case, I decided to stay quiet about the fact that I had voted for Obama.
“But hey, at least you’re not fat like most American girls!” the girlfriend chirped.
“It’s because she’s tall, honey,” the American dude said, drunkenly patting her on the head. “It’s because she’s tall.”
Although my pub encounter was in many ways extreme, as well as fueled by massive amounts of alcohol the charming couple had drunk, the general sentiment behind it was not that unusual. No matter how many times Britney Spears shakes her derriere on television, or how many sweeping shots of Megan Fox’s breasts are engineered by the likes of director Michael Bay, regular American women in Moscow are not often regarded as dating material.
“It’s because we’re not doormats,” an American friend who used to live in Russia wrote me in an e-mail recently. “Russian men expect their women to be doormats. Sorry, that’s just a fact.”
What Russian men usually expect is for women to be expert manipulators, actually. A woman, especially a young woman, who asserts herself directly is usually seen as “difficult.” Of course, all bets are off once a woman ages and is no longer considered fertile – it’s why Russian babushkas have their deservedly fierce reputations.
Despite the dire predictions of rude American dudes in pubs, I, of course, ended up swiftly marrying a bearded Russian dude and bearing yet another “oppressor” in the guise of a baby boy. The latter oppresses me by waking up at 7 a.m., the former by dragging me to the theater all the time.
“You married him because in your heart, you’re not really American!” say short-sighted people whose entire concept of multiculturalism boils down to “scary women in burkhas imposing Sharia law in Western Europe.” But the heart has its own agenda – it wants what it wants.
And while American blogger and photographer Jennifer Eremeeva refers to her Russian husband as HRH (Horrible Russian Husband or Handsome Russian Husband, depending on her mood), I have yet to come up with a snappy acronym for mine. “I know! I know!” Someone recently suggested over Twitter (I’m beginning to loathe Twitter), “How about CAIR? Crazy And Irresistible Russian! Awww!”
“Referencing the Council on American-Islamic Relations? Really?” I wanted to write back. I then chose not to.
Last week was not the week to make jokes about Americans and Islam.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Trendwatching in Russia is an extreme sport: if you’re not dodging champagne corks at weddings, you’re busy avoiding getting trampled by spike heels on public transportation. Thankfully, due to an amazing combination of masochism and bravado, I will do it for you while you read all about it from the safety of your living room.
Natalia Antonova is the deputy editor of The Moscow News. She also works as a playwright – her work has been featured at the Lyubimovka Festival in Moscow and Gogolfest in Kiev, Ukraine. She was born in Ukraine, but spent most of her life in the United States. She graduated from Duke University, where she majored in English and Slavic Literature. Before coming to Moscow, she worked in Dubai, UAE and Amman, Jordan. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Russia Profile, AlterNet, et al.