Many long conversations take place at the kaleetka, калитка, gate.
This past year we welcomed new neighbors to our summer village of Zaloz’ye... Gennady and Tatiana next door, Alecsei and Galla just across the dirt road from our property. I still have no idea what any of them specifically do for a living. No one would be so forward as to ask.
In America, when someone moves in, it’s expected that newcomers will be greeted, and all will introduce themselves and mention what occupations they have, and tell something about their history. Comments may be at times even self-promoting, and include a lot of information about interests and enthusiasms. This type of chitchat doesn’t happen here.
Most personal details are learned indirectly from the gossip circuit. Slowly over years a portrait is filled in, but with missing pieces. Gregarious Russian is an oxymoron (unless a lot of drinking is involved) and they do not considered Outgoing a good personality trait.
People arrive and leave throughout the summer usually with no helpful tipoff as to their plans. Information is more likely withheld then offered, secretiveness trumps openness.
Russians will not ask what I as an American would consider friendly questions. But, then again, I’ve never been put on the spot by uncomfortable interrogation... except about money. Many Russians think it’s OK to ask about pension or salary amounts.
A front window of the veranda looks out on the gate, fields, and Lake Vselug.
Last summer Gennady was alone, his wife still in the Moscow environs. I suggested that we invite him sometimes for supper, explaining to Larissa that this is a normal impulse in much of the United States in such a situation.
When we broached the idea with Gennady he put on a wry face. Larissa said Americans like to invite people if they are alone. His answer, with a negative shake of the head, “This is Russia.”
People like to chat by the gate. It’s a social step to get some neighbors to come inside the fence. Not many visitors take the next step and take off their shoes to sit on the veranda, perhaps for tea with pastries.
Valla came here to live with her husband’s family around 50 years ago.
Few come in the main part of the house, and not many once there will sit down if asked.
In past years our neighbor across the way, Valla, was our guest occasionally for my New Jersey style spaghetti dinner, or a meal cooked by Larissa. She lived here intermittently since the 1960s, selling last summer. She is circumspect when she feels it necessary, but also has a social impulse.
Most Russians have warm feelings under layers of reserve and subdued exteriors. I miss the easy give-and-take more prevalent in the States until I consider that some American behavior is superficial, more verbal than based on commitment. When a Russian smiles at you, you know it’s from the heart.
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What’s your experience with new neighbor greetings? Do you agree with my comments about Gregarious Russians, friendly questions and Outgoing? Can you miss a lot in life by being too reserved?