Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm not a Russian Mail Order Bride!


Helena Khazanova

One would think I know all about Russian girls in New York because that is exactly what I am: a Russian girl living in this monster of a metropolis. People often ask where I am from. “Moscow,” I reply with certainty and without hesitation, despite fifteen years spent abroad. The look of surprise always registers in their face. “No accent, I know,” I feel compelled to finish the thought for them in order to avoid another obvious comment, a conversation that I can predict word for word. But it follows anyway, and the next question is why.

“Why are you here?” they ask, almost surprised, as if I am the only person not born on this island. They look on, eager to hear another heartbreaking story about bleak, cold weather, everlasting snows, and bread shortage, garnished with an intricate and hopefully slightly illegal crossing of the Atlantic. Black and white images of Ellis Island flash in their minds, and faces of harassed dirty immigrants contrasted by their own childhood that is suddenly basked in a warm glow reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.

“Sorry,” I let them down. My story is not thickly wrapped in darkness and despair. Instead, it is disappointingly ordinary. “Well, my parents moved here because my father worked for an American company,” I begin my speech that I have told enough times that I no longer need to concentrate on what I am saying. “They live in the city and Southampton,” I continue. “I went to school in Rhode Island. No siblings,” I add for some reason. So far nothing too scandalous.

“So, your parents are here?” they ask, shocked at another proof that I am not, in fact, a prostitute in disguise. “Yes,” I say. Somehow they feel cheated out of their small victory.

It’s not offensive really. I guess I am just used to it. But no matter where I come from, today, in New York, I am only an observer. I watch in awe as this new breed of Russian girls dash wildly around Manhattan in four-inch stilettos as if they are still at a local collective farm, rounding up all eligible men like a herd of cattle. Yes, sometimes the ill-fated reputation is well-deserved. Permanent fixtures at every chic and expensive restaurant their faces look somewhat devoid of expression and can be compared to say, a genetically engineered peach. Good to look at, perfectly colored, firm and completely inedible. They sit on their well-chosen dates with silence hanging heavily off their forks and vacant smiles on their plump and glossed lips. But although they look blank, their minds are crunching numbers faster than any investment banker.

Unfortunately, to many in New York it seems highly unlikely and very suspicious that a girl from Russia could be just that: a person from a place with no baggage attached. Stereotypes run rampant; a model from a small town who was selling vegetables in the snow-covered market to survive; some beauty whose main goal is to marry a billionaire but who is still having trouble reading; a designer-clad girlfriend of a shady businessman with wads of cash stuffed in her purse.

Somehow lately the image of the Russian “girl” has undergone a very significant and swift transformation. First it was associated only with something Americans strangely like to refer to as babushka (which, in fact, does not mean a scarf or any other headpiece but a grandmother). This babushka is usually represented in their mind as a poor girl swathed in rags, slightly hungry and pale, looking wistfully at the brightly lit store window, too embarrassed to go in.

Then came the age of the mail-order bride: a girl who does not possess any command of the English language but is nice-looking, timid and compliant. This was an image that made a proud husband think himself a knight on a white horse and not some loser from the Midwest in a white Subaru.

But with the iron curtain swinging wildly in the wind of political change during the early nineties, the seemingly largest resource of the former Soviet Union spilled out into the world: women. They are literally everywhere. Mainly stationed in leading epicenters such as New York and London, they traverse the globe to the best beaches, ski slopes or just anywhere that starts with a “St”. They are beautiful, tall, ready and willing but behind the sugary facade they are tough and uncompromising.

They come from different corners of the enormous country empowered just by their ability to get out, something that was forbidden to their families for generations. Behind them is a dirty country road, remains of an old factory sticking out against the big sky as a skeleton of some prehistoric beast, bleached white concrete with weeds growing timidly in between the cracks and long forgotten objects that suggest an everlasting, destructive human presence: vodka bottles, condoms, candy wrappers. In these places, being beautiful does not really matter and does not have the capacity to change your life.

Russian girls want what everybody wants; a good life and they want it badly. I guess they just don’t go to the trouble of hiding it. True, there is a lack nuance in their approach as they are offensively shameless about it. A style quite opposite from their American counterparts who want it just as much, but pretend they do not by modestly feigning indifference (which, in their minds translates to good breeding) and then turn into domestic monsters the second they have a ring on their finger. Yet, a lingering and unwavering impression remains; complete and utter obsession with money.

Saying one is Russian in New York gives off a subtle whiff of negativity and indignity. However, isn’t it giving Russian girls too much credit in the originality contest? As if no one else ever wanted a diamond or two, as if obsession with money, especially someone else’s, has not been plaguing people since the beginning of time.

New York is a city that indeed does not get much sleep. Here our tastes are erratic and there is clearly an obsession with ‘the new’. Spoiled and neurotic, we are in constant search for the next best thing. And guess what? Russian girls are ‘in’. Modeling agencies are practically bursting with various Natashas, who are rapidly succeeding Brazilian bombshells and sprinting towards the finish line of lukewarm celebrity. Not too many men would object to having one on their arm either. But for some reason, insinuating that a Russian girl, no matter how pleasant or gracious, is most likely a whore in disguise has become “a thing to do”, almost like bashing France.

But like it or not, even when this trend is gone the Russian girls are here to stay. And in the city that is a graveyard of failed dreams they will most likely be successful in finding what they are looking for – be it money for some or a white picket fence for others.

Maybe at the end of the day, girls are pretty much the same. They could be from Minsk or Minnesota and want the same thing just wrapped in different packaging. And who is to say what the American Dream really is if not to get your own Prince Charming with all the right trimmings?

— Helena Khazanova

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charming!!! :)

October 1, 2008 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger Raisa said...

you tell them girl! С удовольствием хотела бы познакомиться.

March 15, 2009 at 2:08 AM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

You make me miss NYC :( I have some Russian friends and you so hit the nail right on the head. I believe I like them partially because of how direct they are about their ideas and intentions. I wish more people were like that. Thanks for writing this you're beautiful.

May 5, 2009 at 3:13 PM  
Anonymous sebastien said...

Very instructive !
In the same time as reading your text, I was checking my own vision about Russia and russian girls. And when you spook about the fact that americans see eternal bad weather in russia, I smiled because some years before, I saw a documentary about cruises in Russia. It showed the beautiful houses of St. Petersbourg light by a marvelous sunlight. I was really a bit shocked (in the good way!).
I mean, I'm open minded, I traveled a lot. But when you have seen, especialy in your childhood, houndreds of movies (american but also european) only showing russia with bad weather, despite, in my head, I perfectly known that sun shine also in Russia, my affective part of little boy was shocked.(It's good to precise that I'm not american but from Switzerland, french speaking part).
About russian girls, here (at least for me) there is a bit the vision of mail order bride and prostitution but it's not the most important part. And there is not vision of poverty like you describe. The most important part is just a big lack of any knowledge or idea. Quite nothing at school. No movies, no songs,...
And russian community is one of the most invisible in Switzerland.
My only two real contact with russian women are by dancing tango. The first one was in the tango's course , She was really nice and gentle but I didn't add a lot of contact with her. The second one is my most beautiful moment in tango. It was one of my first "pratica" (small tango dance party) in a park. I was a poor beginner with four or five poor basic moves and she already danced for six or seven years at least. I invited her and she accepted (I danced one or two salsa with her years before this moment). I just thought about one dance but she made four dances with me before dancing with others despite the fact there were good dancers alone. And she took care about me as well as three years later l often thought about her with a lot of tenderness et respect.
I'm really not rich, no good situation, not Brad Bitt and not even good at skiing :-) But she took care about the poor frog I am with this russian touch I had never seen before, helped me to grown up. You do the same with your text. Thank you.

September 24, 2009 at 9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Russian girls , they are so hot !!

June 15, 2011 at 4:34 AM  

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