Living In Russia Made Me Realize Just How Utterly Helpless And Needy We, Westerners, Have Become


St. Petersburg, Russia — As a guy who’s been around Russians and Russian-speakers pretty much all his life, I should be pretty comfortable living in Russia. But after living here for several months, “comfortable” is certainly not the first word that comes to mind when describing the experience.

There’s no problem communicating; I have no problem understanding or speaking the language. I also have no problems getting around. I don’t feel unsafe. It’s just instead of feeling like a local, I feel like an outsider. And for the longest time I couldn’t nail down the culprit.

Russia is different from pretty much any other country I’ve gotten to know over the recent years. It’s radically different from places like Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Denmark, Bulgaria, Spain, Romania and, of course, America. Even some of Russia’s western neighbors, the Baltics, consisting of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, where I’ve spent about a year traveling and living, feel like a world apart. There’s just no comparison: compared to any of those countries, Russia’s culture is downright direct, blunt and unapologetic.

The land of “figure it out yourself”

Consider an experience I recently had while trying to purchase a public transportation recharge card (similar to London’s Oyster or New York’s MetroCard) in one of St. Petersburg’s metro stations. Buying one of these cards is an extremely confusing process; there isn’t a single card to buy, but actually 5-10 different cards, each with its own set of benefits. The metro card machine only sold a specific kind of card. I wasn’t sure which one of the ten cards it was selling; all I knew is that it would work with the metro. I purchased it. On the platform, I came up to a guy and asked him if I can use this card on all forms of transport or just certain ones. “If it’s a universal card, then yes,” was his curt reply.

It’s certainly a given that when something is “universal” it has multiple uses. I know what the term “universal” means, and I didn’t need to be told the word’s definition. Instead, what I wanted him to tell me is whether the card that I was holding in my hand can be also used on buses or trams. I wanted him to look at my card and explain how the card works. If I would’ve presented the same question to someone on a New York City subway, I’m pretty sure the person answering might go to great lengths to explain to me in greater detail how the system works. Not in Russia.

The same thing continued to happen in other settings. While ordering food at one of many “stolovayas” (self-serve restaurants), I pointed to a meat dish and asked what it is. The guy said that it’s meat, and looked at me as though I asked the dumbest question in the world. I replied that I knew it was meat, but wanted to know what kind of meat, how it was prepared, etc. His curt reply: “boiled meat.” In America, a dish like that might be described with twenty adjectives, but in Russia it’s simply called “boiled meat.”

Moreover, it’s one thing when someone understands your question, but expect a different reaction when someone doesn’t. In the latter case, the reply would almost always be, “I didn’t understand the question.” Period. No request for clarification or additional information. No hand holding. Unlike in America, where they’ll work hard at trying to infer or guess what you’re saying, in Russia the burden will always be on you to reformulate the question and try again.

Holding hand

The land of hand holding

There are two ways to look at the cultural divide. The first is that Russians are a bunch of inconsiderate assholes who don’t want to help people. But that’s a mere justification for your inability to understand and connect with the culture.

For the longest time I was confused why the cultures are so radically different until it hit me that Western culture is all about hand holding and Russian culture is about figuring out everything yourself.

I realized this when my Russian roommate, the same one who rented me the room, began telling me how she’s flabbergasted at all the things that prospective renters ask and request of her. She noted that Westerners usually wanted to check every little thing and love to inquire about additional services. They would endlessly confirm whether the apartment had beds and towels. They would ask a million things about the city, things that can be easily researched online. Then, they would ask for “additional services” like airport pickup. As far as my roommate was concerned, she was simply offering a room and a bed and how you get from the airport is your business—not hers. Russians don’t ask these kind of questions. They simply rent a place with a bed and find a way to get there from the airport.

It’s no accident that in America things are usually much smoother and more predictable. The reason is there are various people whose exact job is to make sure that you’re always helped every step of any process. When you go shopping, there’s always a friendly store assistant nearby, that, if, he or she is not following you around, will come running to you the moment you solicit their help. When you’re a booking an accommodation, there are always extra services available such as airport pickup, late check-in, etc. If you’re feeling bad because your girlfriend dumped you and ran away from the milkman, don’t despair: there are dating coaches who you can always contact and talk to. There are also motivational “master classes” for building confidence and drive.

In fact, a huge chunk of America’s revenue is from such services. What is a service? It’s another word for holding your hand, while gently guiding you into achieving a certain task. The more someone else has to do, the less you have to do, and the less you have to do, the less capable you become. That’s why we, as Americans, are conditioned from an early age to seek assistance and help instead of independently figuring things out ourselves.

If you’re someone who grew up in the West, you may naturally not realize this and take all this for granted. That’s understandable; I was completely oblivious to this until I started traveling and living abroad.

In this light, I view Russian culture as void of all harmful additives that have, over the years, seeped into Western cultures. Russian culture is a perfect example what happens when you leave people alone to fend for themselves instead of guiding and training them every micro step of the way.

And what you get are direct and unapologetic people. Russia is alpha. Everything about it is. The men are alpha. The women are alpha. Strangely enough, when I first wrote about Russian culture, some of the responses alluded to the fact that Russian men are beta. That’s something I could never understand. Russian men are completely anti-beta. They’re as far away as possible from beta. Of course, there are guys who are needy and desperate, but the percentage of such guys in Russia is much lower than in the West; you simply can’t survive in Russia if you’re needy and desperate. You either go out and carve your piece of the pie, or you die of starvation. Betas, lazy sheeple, and others like them don’t survive here.

The questions that I’ve been constantly asking myself: What shapes the people to be this way? Why are Russians so blunt and direct? Why are they so unapologetic? Why don’t they smile? A simplistic answer is that it’s the environment. But that’s too easy; the answer is usually a complex concoction of different things.

One reason I believe Russians are this way is because of their constant struggle. Most of the 20th century they lived under brutal totalitarianism—and even things before then weren’t much easier. Even now, they are still living in a difficult environment. And the government, instead of duly helping its citizens, is busy lining their own pockets.

Combine all that together and what you get is a dog-eat-dog, cutthroat society where everyone is on their own, trying to carve out their piece of the pie. The really successful ones (the oligarchs, etc) are the true alpha males (not to be confused with guys who call themselves that because they picked up a drunk slut at a club) who got there because they had the guts and balls to grab what was duly theirs. In that sense it’s more capitalistic than the beacon of capitalism itself: United States of America.

Having experienced both sides of the fence, I ask myself which side is truly better: the carefree life full of constant hand-holding or the stressful life when you’re on your own. I think each side has its advantages and disadvantages. Adversity is always the best teacher, so if you learn to work for something instead of obtaining it for free, you’ll always appreciate the struggle more. The bitter the struggle, the sweeter the reward; in fact, living in Russia is already forcing me to become more resourceful and capable because I simply cannot rely and expect others to come out and help me.

I can’t fathom how different my life would have been if I had actually grown up and lived all my life in Russia. Everything would turn upside down; for instance, instead of Russia feeling foreign, America would feel foreign. Maybe I wouldn’t even be as introspective as I’m now: everything would simply be an action, everything would be second nature. As far as I know, there’s no such thing as the “manosphere” in Russia (although that may change as the culture becomes more Westernized and starts absorbing more “services” in the future).


Addictive sweets

Hand-holding is like eating sweets; initially you may like the taste, but you can certainly live without them. But after doing it for some time you become addicted to them, and gradually, it even becomes difficult to continue living without them. Instead of getting diabetes or cavities, you develop something else that’s just as grave: a severe case of helplessness.

A man must be left alone. He should experiment, try new things, figure out what works and what doesn’t. But he can’t do that if he’s constantly being helped, assisted, trained, guided and told what to do or what not to do. He’ll become fragile, helpless and powerless. He’ll cease to be a man. That’s what the West has become.

What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Because Russians have lived and continue to live in such an unforgiving environment, they’re are nothing but survivors. Charles Darwin would be proud.

Since my arrival to St. Petersburg coincided with economic sanctions from European Union, I couldn’t help but inject this topic into various conversations with the locals. And the tone of their responses was almost always defiant: “We have many more problems than not being able to buy some fancy French cheese in the supermarket,” was the typical reply. After spending time living here, I really can’t disagree.


John K November 4, 2014 - 7:19 am

Very good article. It’s not just the USA where people have become so dependant. Try living in the UK. Everyone expects “the government” to do everything for them. If anything goes wrong in their lives it’s not their fault. It’s always likely to be the government that’s at fault. And all you will find is plenty of other people in official organisations, or in the media that will back up their view. It’s all “there now, of course it’s not you, it’s probably the government, or definitely someone else, but not you”. I work for a local authority and I’m frankly sick of the patronising attitude we have to adopt towards people. You aren’t allowed to tell people to go and stand on your own two feet and do something for yourself. No sorry, that would be unprofessional.
The Russians are tough. They have had to be after centuries of living in a very harsh climate and having to overcome many problems and issues, not least the centuries of oppression the people have suffered under one regime or another. I too feel their attitude is refreshing when compared to out limp wristed western way of doing things and ways of interacting with people. I may be a miserable old git but I’m sick of all the smiling. Actually people from the US are worse at this than Brits. It’s just so false.
The USA, I feel struggles with a great paradox in that they were a pioneer nation built by genuinely tough people who had to carve out a nation from nothing. With their views on their gun laws and cowboy hats it’s obvious that many hanker for those pioneering times. The reality is that the US has become the most “convenience” based society on earth. Americans are now soft, though many do not seem to see this, or I feel want to recognise it. Equally Britain has become worse in it’s own way. We were a nation that once dominated the world and in the era of empires and colonialism just about kicked everybody’s arse. I’m not in any way defending imperialism or colonialism, bye the way. The point is that it took tough people to do what they did. The original American pioneers came from the British Isles. Now Brits (and the Irish for that matter) are just lardy weaklings, big on talk, short on substance. In particular they do not have any mental resolve. The Brits of today could not compete with their forefathers who conquered much of the world. They definitely couldn’t even compete with those of any a generation or two ago that fought WW2. Point is that it’s all due to the overbearing hand holding.
Our western societies are the result of many decades of excess and easy lives. The Russians have never, never had this. In many ways I think they are perhaps too hard. All that dog eat dog can be counterproductive. For the individual and the society as a whole. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Actually if it doesn’t kill you it can still severely disable you sometimes, physically and/or emotionally.
I still like that there is this refreshing alternative to the western way of things. I wish you best of luck in Russia. Don’t let it make you too hard. I think it’s an experience that a great many of my countrymen and yours would benefit from.

John September 14, 2016 - 3:14 am

John, as a Brit I must correct you about the empire stuff. One of the biggest misconceptions is we “conquered” places, we didn’t.

The East India Company was the main reason why we ended up with so many colonies. Much like today, our systems were much more efficient and prolific, hence allowing us to govern often through mandate. Our land forces were small but strong; our real strength was always the navy which came to prominence after EIC started making big $$ overseas.

EIC is behind everything from India rule to Boston Tea Party. Even the USA’s initial flag was based on EIC flag.

MARTIN STANDAGE February 2, 2017 - 3:25 pm

I couldn’t agree more that you have to be hard to survive in Russia!Perhaps as westerners we have a big misconcept about what we expect the country to be like and expect to find something like Germany or Scandinavia but a bit further East with some different culture etc?Most of the territory though is in Asia rather than Europe and even Moscow does not feel like Europe in many ways.Although it is a novel,”Archangel’by Robert Harris often describes modern Russia very authentically regarding some aspects of life there:in one discussion between two of the leading characters who are both foreigners, they say how previously there was the Tsar and the aristocracy and then the rest of the people,then the Communist party and the rest of the people while nowadays the people who rule Russia are those with the biggest fists and the rest of the people are as down-trodden as always!!Perhaps they have a slave mentality and expect to be abused by whoever has power over them?

wizardprang November 4, 2014 - 11:35 am

The first pic made me chuckle. The patch on the jacket spells “HOMO” backwards.

Phil Sheridan March 8, 2017 - 3:58 pm

It’s actually “OMON” in Cyrillic. Troops of the Ministry of the Interior.

They’ll smash your skull open on the slightest of pretext and there will be precious fuk all you can do about it.

yoyo November 17, 2014 - 3:42 pm

I was one of the guys who made the comment that most Russian guys are beta. I still stand by that comment. I am of Russian origin, but grew up in the West, so that is my experience, but I will agree that the current Russian “culture” is alpha. It’s the law of the jungle out there and a dog eat dog style of life and only the most ruthless rise to the top. The reason why it seems that there are more alphas in Russia is that the current conditions there don’t allow betas to rise to the top. There are no rules, only the rule of the strongest. You start a business and within a few days you have guys on a Mercedes with tinted windows drive up to you and ask for protection money.

Most betas fold under those conditions and so the conditions in Russian society don’t allow them to rise to the top. In Western society there are rules and that’s why betas can rise to the top. They start their own company or work for someone else and they aren’t afraid of having some mafia dude come up and ask them for protection money or some corrupt official asking for a bribe. I am Russian and I am beta, and I prefer living in the West. Most Russians do too, that’s why you see people emigrating from the country and not the other way around. Russian culture is great, literature, science…etc. But the current state of society is not: corruption, lawlessness, everything is disorganized, you need a “bumashka” for everything and if you don’t know the right people, you are fucked. And why are “Western” influences going to keep on penetrating into Russia? Because most people don’t want to live in a system where the strongest can do whatever they want. They want a nice beta society, just like exists in the West.

Plus I don’t really like this alpha, beta division anyways, doesn’t truly reflect society. Even the Russian “alphas” or whatever (the guys who don’t give a fuck) aren’t real alphas, because most of them have a chip on their shoulder…

MARTIN STANDAGE February 2, 2017 - 3:32 pm

There are about ten thousand Russians living here in Cyprus where I am, by no means all of them are shady characters with dubious mega-money etc.The reasons they left was exactly as you posted and because they wanted a better quality of life in a fairer and safer place, even though work opportunities for non-E.U. nationals here are very limited.Having lived and worked in Russia I can understand what motivated them to leave but unless you have done that it is very difficult for a foreigner to understand it!

Rock August 19, 2016 - 4:21 pm

I lived in Russia for 2 years and worked in a Russian company with Russians…

Modern Russia is not alpha, its bully mentality alot of the time and the outcomes of those who have been bullied for years and their criminal microagressions or perpetual grumpy bullshit. Because being a pissy cashier is the only power most people can can assert.

Russia is largely counterproductive because Russia government and people make things difficult for no reason.

Why do they make things difficult? Because on every level…people want to feel that they somehow have control because in reality they are scared like a bitch. Largely because they are so attached to the material and fear death.

Russians always talk hard or act hard but I’ve never seen a Russia make a true stand of principle. Instead they play chicken with anyone and everyone until they find out they have met a bigger wolf and then they back down, until they can find a way to backstab, and if not they just tumble back into serfdom.

I used to admire Russia and Russians but having lived it…now I admire Kavkaz more.

If Russians are so hard then why do they?…

– Let their old people starve?
– Pimp out their sisters to muslims?
– Have a hopelessly low birth rate?
– Give away their working class jobs to illegal immigrants?
– Steal from their own nation and people?
– Conceal real outcomes to shelter inefficient business?
– Constantly try to pass the blame on others?
– Cry like a bitch when you actually escalate on them for real?
– Show no mercy for the weak and constantly disrespect if thry can get away with it?

I’ll admit, I became a harder man living in Russia but in the end it was a waste of time.

I travelled to Chechnya and Georgia.
These are also hard men and also have suffered, yet they are kind, open, respectful, and full of mercy. They also protect their sisters.

True alphahood is to be strong and to be just.

A system of bullying and thiefhood is not alpha.

Having enough strength to be respectful and merciful is.

Yaroslav April 13, 2019 - 9:45 am

I’m russian. I grew up in Russia. I live in Russia. And i do not agree with your opinion. As i can see from your comment you know nothing about Russia after you have there for 2 years. Well, let me comment it:

> – Let their old people starve?
Where are you from? Tell me, please, how many jobless people here? Count it thoroughly and then think about situation at your own door.
I’m sure it is not so good as you imagine.
In russian family children respect parents and never let them starve. We dont expect this from goverment. It would be good if goverment work better. But we have what we have for now. So your statement is a lie.

> – Pimp out their sisters to muslims?
WTF you are talking, man. This is a bullshit.

> – Have a hopelessly low birth rate?
Shame on you. What have you been doing in Russia for 2 years? Have you red at least one good book about russian history and events that occured in our country in 20 century? Do you know only about vodka, Stalin, Gulag?

> – Give away their working class jobs to illegal immigrants?
Because we can. And this countries were part of Russian Empire and Soviet Union. More than 80 nations live in Russia.
Tell me, why Apple and others outsource to China? Money. Just a bussines nothing personal. So, how much working class people lost their jobs when companies started outsource manufacturing to China?

> – Steal from their own nation and people?
Wow, as always.

> – Conceal real outcomes to shelter inefficient business?
I would like to point you to a Boeng 737 MAX case. for the sake of effective bussines Boeng massacred a few hundreds of people who lost their lives in two recent crashes.

> – Constantly try to pass the blame on others?
It’s a cliche. Russians more then anyone can take responsibility.

> – Cry like a bitch when you actually escalate on them for real?
Calm youself. Firsty, you are rude. Secondly, if you try escalate on someone it’s just mean that you are a bully. And you are trying to tell us that we are bullies. This is hilarious.

> – Show no mercy for the weak and constantly disrespect if thry can get away with it?
Well, i’ve commented it in previous section.

> I travelled to Chechnya and Georgia.
> These are also hard men and also have suffered, yet they are kind,
> open, respectful, and full of mercy. They also protect their sisters.
Good for you. But it’s Caucas not Kavkaz. And there live more than 80 tribes. What you have seen just a public display. So i think you know nothing about true character of caucasian people.

Her September 24, 2016 - 1:45 pm

Whoa…”rock,” I’m a female and reading your reply is such a turn-on. You describe true, sexy, powerful masculinity. Dahmn!

Peter November 16, 2016 - 10:58 pm

Actually most of this information is true about russians and Russia. I’m from Russia. If you want to be happy somehow in this country you must put away special russian mentality from yourself. Because this russian mentality won’t let you be happy. Russia is, perhaps, one of the most difficult countries to live in. I always say: if you want to live in Russia you must be a survivor and warrior. So the only one way to be happy here – don’t let anyone share their lethality with you. All real russian mentality was killed and ruined by the Soviet period. Now we don’t have true russian lethality – it was replaced by soviet lethality. And it force everyone to suffer here in this country.

MARTIN STANDAGE February 1, 2017 - 3:37 pm

I fully agree with Peter!

Chris December 21, 2016 - 2:32 am

We must be living in different Russias, or maybe it’s just that my language skills are REALLY limited so I get special treatment, but I am offered help all the time in Saint Petersburg. From visa issues to figuring out metro stops, as well as a time in Moscow where a local saw us lost on the metro and escorted us where we were going, Russians are constantly offering to help me and my family out.

Martin Standage February 1, 2017 - 3:35 pm

I would agree that Russians behave the way they do because the way their country is run makes them that way to survive.I lived and worked there in 2005/6 and if anything it is much worse nowadays?I love and respect my friends there and am sorry for them but unless people get together and demand changes then I fear it will only deteriorate.But having said all that, I don’t regret going and learned a lot from my experiences there.

Yaroslav April 13, 2019 - 9:58 am

No, it is much better =) Come and see for yourself

Phil Sheridan March 8, 2017 - 4:08 pm

Concur with most of the comments.

Lived and worked there on several stints. Mid 90s, early 2000s.

The old satire newspaper The Exile, described it perfectly…..”A savage land that eats its children. ”

I get that the whole infatuation with things “alpha” is a backlash against western femo-marxism.

But I hear that phrase batted around a lot by people who have never truly beheld pure “alpha” in the wild (James here a notable exception).

I’ve seen it. Mass rape. Mass graves. Authoritarian rule. Not very pretty.

No fan of femo-marxists or their cuck lap-boys, but the other extreme is just as toxic.

matt jackson March 9, 2017 - 3:11 pm

Again, Great article James. And some interesting comments as well.

Sizzle April 20, 2017 - 10:27 pm

Интересно, но капельки не объясняет почему люди из других относительно-брутальных культур ведут себя совершенно по другому

Ivan May 15, 2018 - 11:32 pm

Каких других брутальных культур? Кругом одни сосунки да хипстеры, которым борода нужна чтоб хоть чем-то от баб отличаться.

Ryan November 2, 2018 - 9:40 pm

China, brazil, mexico, congo, somalia, the middle east – all brutal.

eeeee April 12, 2018 - 2:48 pm

But that is also why those countries are poor: They have not figured out that division of labor is more efficient.

Nicole March 22, 2019 - 3:38 pm

I’m so confused. I grew up in America and I travel to Russia (Moscow/StP) three to four times a year and I’ve never found Russians to be “rude”, or blunt, or any at all different from what I’m used to.

roman soiko May 15, 2019 - 10:16 am

i am a muscovite and I had to fight institutional ableism from the healthcare and educational system all of my life
yet I managed to teach myself the six un langauges I am the state winner of new jersey in geography bee I am a published writer I received my highe reducation in Canada and I got my doctorate in law from oxford
In fact I wrote the dissertation in 106 days HOW WORL Dpeace can be achieved
my email is
I send to you and since it’s Oxford it’s in English I built myself through my own blood
college and graduate school and phd was not easy for me and my dream job a lawyer at the international criminal court (one reason I was forced to learn the languages of the UN I had no choice) I faced ableism in usa and Russia but sitting in a grim psychiatric hospital I taught myself Chinese I found a Malawian girlfriend and yes I learned Chichewa ndiyankhulo Chichewa she will be chairwomen of the council of ministers of the African union all she needs is Portuguese an absurdly easy language

I Disagree July 20, 2019 - 9:44 am

I don’t believe we should encourage cultures that are clearly the product of trauma. My childhood was extremely traumatic. I sincerely doubt most people can relate. My father raped my sisters, sexually molested myself and my brother, beat us all, frequently. He was sentence to prison after being convicted of 25 cases of rape (to my sisters and mother’s friends) and was accused of several counts of murder. My last memories of my father, were him trying to shoot me.
Do you think this made me tough? Sure, if someone challenges me I will fuck them up but the lasting effects of this on my personality have been destructive to all areas of my life. I have seen many psychologists to try to erase this trauma that has ruined all of my relationships. I have tried alternative therapies and finally I am beginning to decrease the PTSD I suffer from. Here is where I strongly disagree with your article. When I meet someone that carries the trauma I do, I instantly know it. Dysfunctional oxytocin, elevated stress response, lower levels of compassion, polarised thinking and above all an unwillingness to show weakness or be vulnerability. You may respect a pathological culture born from war but having had to work with Russians recently. I can say this. Their culture is pathological and they need help.


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