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Friday, 17 July 2015

"It's okay. Nobody likes Russians".

During dinner in the posh area of Bloemendaal (Bloomingdale), I got the question that I should have prepared for but which I forgot to do: “And, Leon, what do you think of us, Russians?” The question by the Russian wife of my friend, caught me off guard. While still struggling to find a diplomatic answer, she said the words that still linger in my mind: “It's okay. Nobody likes Russians”.

Her breaking the ice, allowed me to tell her how my opinion has shaped over the years. In the late 90’s or early 00’s, I visited the Turkish Riviera several times with my family. At our arrival, I was surprised to notice a mixed Russian and Turkish front desk staff at Turkish hotels. In fact, that was the least of my surprise.

It was appalling to see how the Russian guests treated the Turkish restaurant staff, like they were bad dogs. Equally appalling was the sight of middle aged, and apparently very wealthy Russian men accompanied by very young women who didn't get any attention as these men were always busy on their phones. Some Dutch guests even claimed that they had noticed two Russian female hotel guests who were also working as prostitutes in the hotel.

Each day, the Russian guests attacked the lunch buffet right after its opening and took half of all the food towards their own tables and subsequently left most of their food untouched. The rest of the buffet was for all the other hotel guests. Obviously, the other hotel guests adjusted to this Russian behaviour by joining the buffet immediately after its opening. Apparently, a queue means nothing in Russia as the Russians just forced themselves into any (half) open spot within the queue.

After this experience, I vowed never to visit any hotel that accommodates Russian guests. In fact, nowadays hotels even advertise that they do not accommodate Russian guests. A former colleague once told me that Russians bought these Turkish hotels for money laundering purposes. They expected that Turkey would enter the EU and adopt the Euro. Actually, I think he was right.

When I come to think of it, the only persons who are still quite positive about Russians, are writers like Tom Clancy and John le Carré. Their novels feature a very different kind of Russians than the ones who we meet on vacation: charming, intelligent, sophisticated, stylish and well-mannered. Unfortunately, I am not at all familiar with the great Russian writers like Chekhov, Nabokov or Tolstoy but somehow it seems that their memories have been erased by our present experiences.

Today, it's a year ago that Russian freedom fighters/rebels/terrorists in East Ukraine shot down passenger flight MH-17, travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, and killed/murdered 298 human beings. Neither the various Russian spin-doctor versions of this tragic event, nor the Russian refusal to bring the perpetrators to justice, makes it easy to “like” Russians.

Actually, I am now wondering if the statement by my friend's Russian wife (“Nobody likes Russians”) could help explain present Russian behaviour. If you're convinced that nobody likes you then a paranoid and victim like behaviour may well result from that belief (or Belief??).

“It's okay. Nobody likes Russians”. Actually, it's not okay at all. However, it’s also like a chicken and egg dilemma: what comes first ??