Thursday, May 20, 2010
American countryside and Russian “dacha”, a cross-cultural comparison
“So similar and yet so different.” This is a countryside-dacha comparison in a nutshell. They are both the same thing and serve the same purpose, providing city-dwellers with an escape from a busy urban life. Nevertheless, Russian and American views of suburban living cannot be more different!
For practical and very logical Americans countryside is a place of tranquility and relaxation. While for not-so-conventional Russians “dacha” has a multidimensional application. For example, it can be another place where you work from dawn until late evening, another realty that boosts up your social value (How? You don't have a dacha?!), another hot gossip spot for grandmas (it's so much easier to be uptodate in a smaller venue than in a city.) To the defense of Russians, first “6 acres” were distributed by the communist government in 50s, 60s, and 70s and back then you had nothing, so if you were given something you took it even if you didn't need it or couldn't afford to developing it. That is how for millions of Soviets and later Russians dacha became another place of work. Even when they were leaving their work where they were building communism and better future, they kept on building better future in their countryside, hoping that someday they could finish these ambitious projects and finally relax. For some, who could not afford hiring construction workers (this is the absolute majority), such projects are still on, and only now more and more people are starting to hire workers instead of doing everything, from building a house to planting tomatoes, all by themselves. As a result, nowadays “on the dacha” instead of the sound of peace and serenity, you are more likely to hear the sound of a saw, construction work, and complaints on how much work there is still to be done. Classic!
Such obvious reasons to buy a dacha as to have a source of fresh air and a picturesque and healthy place for kids to grow up for Russians seemed to come behind the ones listed above. Then again, many Russians in 50s and 60s have just made it in the cities, their parents still living in rural areas, so there was a place to send your child for the summer and there was no such appreciation of and no imminent need for fresh air.
Americans, on the other hand, buy countryside houses (and houses in general) when they expect to have children. By then, they are usually rather well-off and can, at least ,afford a credit from a bank. In this manner, an average country house in the US has all the appliances as the main house or apartment. That is, a washing and drying machine, a TV (the good old 100+ channelles), gas (duh!), bathroom and toilet in the house ( Can it be anywhere else?!), and, of course, Internet. Meanwhile, even 10-15 years ago, most of the Moscovites didn't have Internet or computer in their city appartments! Toilet, 100 TV channels, a washing machine, and Internet still seem pretty crazy to imagine even in the suburbs of Moscow. But, let us go back to Americans. What do they do in the countryside? Relax and enjoy the nature, and that's it! After all, that's exactly why they bought a country house, isn't it? No need for annoying neighbours and their dramas, it's so much better to invite friends over-the house can comfortably fit more than one family! It's not a problem to have a BBQ or cook in the countryside, because kitchen is exactly how it is in the city, with gas and water and even a microwave. American countryside is exacly what it is supposed to be, a place of tranquility, an escape from work and busy life. In Russia, people still buy gallons of gas for their dachas and get water from a well. The latter, of course, very nature-friendly, but it does make cooking process much more demanding and long.
The funny thing is that city dwellers in Russia, 99% of whom live in small apartments, need dachas and fresh air so much more than Americans, many of whom communte to work from suburban areas where they live in big houses in rather quite areas. If Americans suffer from a daily commute to work, Russians, on top of it, suffer from a weekend commute to dacha! Here, I speak mostly of Moscow and the 4 hours drive to our dacha that is 50 miles away! 8 hours there and back of plain torture, how worthless it seems when you spend only 2 days in the countryside! In the end, in US everything serves its own purpose and nothing else.That is how, in Russia, the search for a better place and better future (aka the tranquility of the countryside) turned out to be so never-ending and complicated that many Russians forgot why they had dacha in the first place, some of them even forgetting from which grandmother they inherited it.
P.S. The descriptions of both American and Russian countryside living are given solely from my experiences and my point of view. The suburb life in Russia is just now starting to slowly change to a more comfortable and relaxing way of living... at least from what I've heard.