For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Through Alien Eyes
A View of America and Intercultural Marriages
  • Elena Popova
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Through Alien Eyes . A View of America and Intercultural Marriages
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What do you think of those Russian brides? What do they think of YOU?

International marriages bring a substantial number of newcomers to the US and contribute to the transformation of the basic institution of society — the family. When men are from Mars and women are aliens, the marital dynamic can be quite dramatic.

A Russian-born journalist, Ms. Popova shines a blinding light on some of the amusing and amazing oddities that are revealed when an outsider takes a blunt look at how we live.


About the Author

Elena Popova holds a master’s degree in journalism and has worked as a staff writer, film director, book contributor, and TV personality, writing for Russian and European media and directing documentaries on ecology, science, and culture.

Ms. Popova writes principally on topics in international affairs, social issues, education, and current events. She resides in the Pacific Northwest, where the combination of the ocean and volcanoes is an irresistible attraction.

About the Book

The American dream has been part of world mythology for generations now. As the land of opportunity, America still entices people from around the world to taste it for themselves. Marrying an American has been one of the most...

The American dream has been part of world mythology for generations now. As the land of opportunity, America still entices people from around the world to taste it for themselves. Marrying an American has been one of the most popular means since single Irishmen or Italians looked for brides from the old country in the nineteenth century. Since the end of the Cold War, East Europeans are one of the latest waves to give it a try.

Some come here, marry, and live happily ever after. Some discover the country (or the man of their dreams) is different from what they were expecting and find the cultural leap a bit too much. Given the contrasts, contradictions, eccentricities and peculiarities (add to that the pain of leaving one’s homeland, difficulties with a new language, etc.), many relationships stumble.

One question stands out to a newcomer: Why are so many Americans stressed out and so unhappy despite their signature smiles? “We knew that everything the communists told us about communism was a lie,” the Russians say, “but we didn’t realize that what they told us about capitalism was true.” How much difference is there between “Soviet propaganda” and American “spin”?

With the eye of a keen observer, the author humorously highlights inconsistencies and ambiguities in our culture. She crisscrosses the country from deep in the heart of Dixie, where even food is a matter of right or wrong, to the environmentally conscious Northwest where one might drive to the recycling center in a military-style SUV just to drop off last year’s electronic gadget.

The America that foreign wives experience is a land that the natives have not seen for themselves. Adaptation to the new life demands moral courage and profound compromises. One cannot avoid the melting pot; it will choose for her or him what will be retained and what will be lost. The dream of America does not always have a storybook ending.


Introduction

In traditional Russian manner, foreigners are always allowed to go first, so I will begin with some observations of the American lifestyle. This story is not simply and solely about alien women’s issues, but just as much about Americans and America, including things that usually are left unsaid. “One of our...

In traditional Russian manner, foreigners are always allowed to go first, so I will begin with some observations of the American lifestyle. This story is not simply and solely about alien women’s issues, but just as much about Americans and America, including things that usually are left unsaid. “One of our greatest needs as a nation is to understand how other people see us.”

I definitely am “other people” — I try to keep that fresh eye even though I am a naturalized American now. I trust the recipients of these views are ready, and I hope that I can claim that “special kind of vision afforded to those on the outskirts of society. From the vantage point of the outsider, it may be easier to see beyond limited cultural assumptions and analyze American culture more critically.”

I realize that Americans are not used to criticism, unfortunately for the nation as a whole, and hence some comments may not be accepted lightly. I was advised to steer in the comforting direction of cute self-irony, making an entertaining memoir about foreigners’ laughable adventures in the US instead of stepping on American toes, for “self-doubt is not in style with Americans at the moment,” as one literary agent mentioned. But I was aiming for “a truthful book, not the sort of thing that wins friends,” as Tom Clancy put it. Let’s see if I’ll be allowed to do that.

As if to make my vantage point even more intriguing, I was anchored in the South, which is a country inside the country, if I may say so. In the deep South, it feels like the Civil War was lost just yesterday, Yankees are called foreigners (this made me feel better), traveling to the neighboring county for a couple of days awakens homesickness in a true local, and a trip abroad is considered as a dubious and dangerous adventure. Speaking about her first trip to Europe with a church mission, a young blonde, a daughter of a Southern preacher, recalled a dumpster with construction debris that they discovered in the backyard of the Grand Opera in Paris and used as a background for taking their European pictures; the other memorable thing was the unsatisfying French food — she seriously missed the hearty Southern breakfast: you can take a girl out of South but you cannot take the South out of the girl.

The longer you live in the South, the more you become attached to its everblooming nature, the ever-shining sun, the picturesque homesteads, and the religiously mown lawns. Stress, the inevitable companion of more dynamic lifestyles, starts looking less and less attractive in comparison with simple, cozy country living.

My broad impressions about the US and Americans, together with a much treasured discovery of the country, are based on my prenuptial experiences. I was quite a world traveler before I got married. Sometimes I joked that my life “before” was like scenes from National Geographic episodes: I talked to British royalty, teased Yeltsin, chased bears (not beers), videotaped a volcanic eruption from a helicopter in synch with a NASA satellite to create a 3D model, walked on the ocean floor in a hard suit, and so on.

When I first came to America, the story about our arrival was on the first pages of The Seattle Times for two consecutive days — we managed to earn a celebrity’s measure in the news, and even ten years later the newspaper did not miss a chance to mark the anniversary of our unforgettable advent. All that commotion occurred because the Russians were coming in a special manner — our notorious Aeroflot flight could not find the airport. It is still unknown to the public what happened in the cockpit, but in the cabin we sure were worn out after descending several times very low above the highway — were we going to land there, squeezing our way into the traffic? — and then climbing again. There was no panic, though. Probably the forbearing Russians thought that it was a typical American way of approaching the runway. So when I talked to the immigration officer, I was far more worried about the rebellious situation in my stomach than about the obligatory positive impression one has to make when crossing the US border. The officer was nice, but his questions seemed endless, and when we had finished with the mandatory inquiries about the purpose of my visit, he came to some more piquant ones.

“Are you married?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

... Though I wasn’t one of those wide-eyed, brazenly brave — or blind, if you wish — mail-order brides from the former Soviet Union whose first visit abroad was the trip to America to join their brand-new American husbands, my cosmopolitan experience did not safeguard me from a completely different set of problems related to making a home — and a family — in a foreign country. And I should have known better about the choices and consequences.

There is a Russian joke that tells of a recently departed man who was choosing between heaven and hell: heaven seemed a tad too boring to him, but hell was a rattler — fountains with champagne, easy women, casinos.

“Hang on — I’ll finish my paperwork and be right back!” the man told his Black Jack partners. But when he came back, he couldn’t recognize the place: his card partners were screaming in hellfire.

“Hey, where is the casino, the girls?” the man asked Satan.

The devil flashed his devilish smile, “Dude, don’t you mix up tourism with immigration anymore!”


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Categories

Pages 280
Year: 2008
LC Classification: HQ1032.P67 2008
Dewey code: 306.84'50973--dc22
BISAC: SOC007000 SOCIAL SCIENCE / Emigration & Immigration
BISAC: FAM030000 FAMILY & RELATIONSHIPS / Marriage
BISAC: FAM037000 FAMILY & RELATIONSHIPS / Prejudice
Soft Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-639-0
Price: USD 22.95
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ISBN: 978-0-87586-640-6
Price: USD 32.95
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