Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Perspective On Freedom

I thought it appropriate that my son returned home on the Fourth of July after studying abroad in Russia for seven weeks. He should have some new-found appreciation for the freedoms this country has to offer, I thought.

But hearing his stories in the week since he returned home, I feel it was I who gained a new perspective on the meaning of freedom.

Scott said Russians in general do not hate Americans, but nor do they envy them. Why not? As he described his experiences over there, I think I began to learn the answer.

Every time Scott says he rode in a Russian taxi, he instinctually reached for the seatbelt. And each time his Russian driver stopped him, saying, “You don’t need that.” Of course, here in Michigan they have checkpoints where police watch drivers and passengers to make SURE they’re buckled in. If not, they’re stopped and ticketed.

So are they better drivers in Russia? Not really. In fact, after being told “you don’t need that” by one of his Russian hosts, Scott was taken on a thrill ride in a private car around the expressways of Volgograd, at excessive speeds, bouncing over the pavement and weaving in and out of traffic. “I thought I was going to die,” Scott recalled.

Aren’t there traffic laws and police to enforce them in Volgograd, I asked. Well, if so, Scott didn’t notice. It seemed like controlled anarchy on the streets there. One driver pulled a U-turn right in the middle of a busy intersection in the face of a stream of oncoming traffic.

Scott also told of going to a pub with his 16-year-old “Russian sister.” She drank openly there, even though the official drinking age is 18. Drinking laws? “They’re apparently not enforced,” Scott said. Contrast that with a law recently passed in Tennessee which requires EVERYONE to show identification upon purchasing alcohol, even a 70-year-old.

When Scott visited a Russian cinema, he was surprised to see Russian men carrying in a couple beers under each arm. By the way, there are few Russian movies. Nearly all movies shown at the cinema are American-made. No restrictions on the import of American culture? I thought everything was government controlled in Russia.

Then there’s the flourishing Russian black market, prostitutes openly hanging out at the local hotel where the American students were staying (reportedly the Michigan State University professor in charge of the study abroad program had an agreement with the hotel manager to keep the ladies of the evening away from the MSU students) . . . even dogs roam free in the streets.

Huh? Where’s the oppression? Where’s the heavy handed government totalitarianism.?

My father said he knew of some visitors from Russia who were anxious to leave America. Too many laws, too many restrictions. They longed to return to Russia. And freedom.


Anonymous enforcer said...

Sound's like my kind of Country. They have there freedom's but spying isn't one of them.

7:40 AM  
Anonymous squirrel said...

This country is getting VERY controlling and I think mostly because of excessive lawsuits the laws are changing to "protect us". There are other reasons i'm sure too.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Matty said...

That is really interesting! I love to read how people live in different countries.
Is it true that vodka is drank at every meal in Russia? Also, how did Scott manage to shower? Or do they just have bath's? Did he finally get his clothes washed? do they have washers and dryers or is that just for the rich?
How did he find the food? was it bland? Would he willingly visit Russia again? Did he take a lot of pics?
What did he enjoy the most in Russia? Do they have as much crime there as we do in Canada or the States? Was he free to go anywhere he wanted? were the streets safe at night?
After 7 weeks, I would have Scott answering my questions for 2 days straight. Yes, I am very curious about life in other countries.
What did Scott miss the most about home? and how did he like his Russian family? was he not shocked that his 'Russian sister' of 16 was allowed to drink? Are parents there more permissive with their kids than we are? Are drugs as rampant there as they are here?
Also I agree with you Dave, I thought that Russia was a very hard country with strict laws and no freedom for their people.
Drinking in movies? 16 yr old kids in bars? no seat belts? doesn't sound harsh to me at all!
I would love to hear more about Scott's experiences whenever you have to time or inclination.
Have a great week!

7:24 PM  
Blogger Spidey said...

Welcome to the Soviet Union. You are living in it. I am surprised that it has dawned on so few people that America is one of the least "FREE" nations on earth. The only places that are more repressive than the USA are Iran, Libya, Cuba, China, etc.

6:30 AM  
Blogger Carine said...

How interesting to hear what another culture/country is like from a young person. What we considered our idea of freedom is obviously not anyone elses! Nice to hear what others think of our freedom.
even if it's to show us it isn't what we thought

8:13 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...


I'll answer some of your questions here, in case others are interested.

Scott's Russian family drank very little alcohol, though it's true that Russians love their drink, vodka included. His family lived in a middle class Russian apartment, small by our standards but with all the conveniences you would expect--shower, washer/dryer, TV, phone, even a very nice computer. The water main break was a one-time, short term problem.

I want to do a separate blog on the food which, yes, is very different from what he was used to here. He very much wants to go back, particularly after he learns the language better. It sounded like they have less violent crime, like murders, and he felt safe walking around at all times of the day and even the night in some parts of Volgrad. He was free to come and go. He was warned not to carry large sums of money. Pickpockets are a problem.

He did take lots of pictures, but mostly of buildings and statues, and the quality is not great. I will try to put a few up some time. He got along ok with his Russian family, but since he didn't speak Russian that well, that was an issue, particularly with the mother who expected his Russian to be fluent (he was their first American exchange student; most Russian families have done this multiple times and know what to expect).

I know he missed American TV, high speed internet, his friends, his family. I think he enjoyed experiencing the culture of a foreign land there the most. All the new experiences and stuff. He kinda knew what to expect, though, because they had orientation prior to leaving (so he knew about their lax drinking laws).

9:24 AM  
Blogger Matty said...

Thanks Dave,
That was very interesting. I look forward to hearing about the food in Russia...what's available..is meat a daily staple...is it expensive to shop there..and did he enjoy the meals? Can you get canadian meals in Russian restaurants?

10:12 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Very interesting, Dave. Gradually throughout the years the rights of the individual have been eroded...same has happened here in Oz.

3:41 PM  
Anonymous Kristy said...

VERY interesting. Of course, Russia is in a state of extreme flux at this point in history. Who knows where they'll end up...

4:17 PM  
Anonymous jan said...

We just have too many lawmakers with too much time trying to figure out what kind of law they can write to get their names in the papers.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

I still think I would rather live here.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Babette said...

Kudos to SPARTAN professors for protecting the morals of SPARTAN collegians, who are perhaps GREEN behind the ears!

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Deb said...

That's interesting Dave. I have a writing buddy who moved from Russia several years ago. She never went into any details, just said that "I wouldn't wanna live there."

3:34 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...


I didn't want to imply that life is better in Russia, particularly for women. A female student from Scott's group noted in an on-line journal that women seem to be abused more often there. She herself was openly groped in one of the nightclubs and said that American students witnessed women being physically manhandled, often by their boyfriends or husbands. One MSU professor witnessed a husband/boyfriend physically assaulting his wife/girlfriend at a hotel. When the professor tried to intervene to stop the assault, he was prevented from doing so by a hotel guard, being told to "mind his own business."

So, Deb and Lucy, I don't think you'd want to live in Russia either. My point with the blog is that I feel that "freedom" is often relative depending on your point of view.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

During the days of the USSR things may have been a bit different from what we hear Dave.

5:31 AM  
Blogger simply me said...

Hey I bet you're happy to have Scott back around...
I know many people who travel around the world and the all come back saying the same thing, "Americans don't know how to live". Europeans say we don't get it. Maybe they are right.
I love that you've shared this, for I love to travel and hearing about other places gives such insight.

6:08 AM  
Anonymous deeker30 said...

So he was hanging out with a sixteen year old russian babe? So I'm guessing there are no laws for that kind of stuff either???

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Gabe said...

Ah yes The Land of the Free. They say that having such a high drinking age here is the reason America has a problem with "binge drinking". In other countries, kids are introduced to alcohol early and grow up with the mindset that alcohol is a casual drink like coffee or tea. In America, kids are told to stay away from alcohol that it is bad, and then when they turn 21 and are in college, they explode onto it like a kid at a candy store. They abuse it and drink it only to get completely wasted and end up alcoholics down the road.

I never understood seatbelt and helmet laws. Laws designed to protect yourself from...yourself.

Pretty soon smoking will be banned everywhere. If they are going to ban smoking in a bar, they might as well ban sneezing and coughing. Why they are at it, ban outdoor grilling. That smell and smoke really bother me. "Freedom!!!!!!" - William Wallace

12:51 PM  
Blogger Nankin said...

On the other hand, in Russia you have to pay the police to stay out of jail. Here you go to jail for trying to pay the police.

2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been to England, France and Italy and often dreamed of living in Paris, the French Riviera, Milan or Tuscany. Know what? I can get the same exact feel and things here in the good old USA. The laws here also protect us and defend us.
Thanks Dave, for a great post on your blog. I also like to hear how others live in other countries.
There are over 15 mil undocumented people living in America (the gov say 12 mil). You have to ask yourself, why? Why do people flock to this country?

7:28 AM  
Anonymous schnoodlepooh said...

that's very interesting. i wonder where is the oppression that we hear about? or is it just propoganda? maybe the US is the country that is not "free".

i have never travelled anywhere other than canada and mexico, so i have nothing to compare. it's interesting...

3:27 PM  
Blogger desertfoxx said...

USSR = United States Security Restrictions. Since 911 Any thinking person can see this...

10:54 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

How "free" are we, really? In your last post, you wrote about Google Earth. If that's what we can see on our computers, can you imagine what Big Brother sees on his??

...One of the reasons I will never have a navigation system in my car. I don't feel the need for the government to have to know my every move...I'll stick with Rand McNally, thank you!

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think the enforcer is boozing it up. i know i have met "gabe". matty ask's alot of great questions, is she a P.I.? she should be. out here the fighting sioux have been hunting and fishing to provide for thier families for centuries while women attended to thier young, the white man came and said we can improve that. now whats the question? great blog (tjt)

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi - I'm English and live in the Volgograd area - really I wouldn't want to go back to Europe and certainly not live in the USA.

The questions posted like "do they have meat" and "how do you shower" show a deep lack of knowledge and understanding of the rest of the world and to me are quite offensive.

The food here is great (not like the processed rubbish in US/Europe), the people are friendly, the streets are safe and the weather and nature excellent.

I dont miss my high speed internet and all the trappings of that socienty I left - here it is a people place, sit at home with your PC instead of swimming in the river, relaxing at your Dacha or mixing with people generally and you are seen as a weirdo.

Yes, there are restrictions here and I would not expect a US teenager on an escorted tour to see them or even understand them and yes because of them life is hard - but on balance, all things considered I prefer it here.

As to wife beating in public - that made me laugh out loud - really ... and there are no bears on the streets either :)

Thanks for reading and do come here some day - it is the last free place on earth with real people.


1:38 AM  
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11:05 PM  

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