Thursday, March 27, 2008

Russian literacy

Recently while riding in the metro I sat across from an elderly gentleman. He was not very well-dressed, with mismatched clothing and old sneakers. But then he reached into his bag and pulled out a book, and this book was carefully contained in a plastic book cover. The way he handled the book, you would have thought it was his most treasured possession (maybe it was a library book?). And then he began to read.

The Russian Federation actually has an almost 100% literacy rate, and is a few ranks higher than the U.S. (the country of Georgia has 100%! found on Wikipedia...).

At any given moment when I look around in the metro, probably 75% of the passengers are reading. Maybe it's not all classic literature-I see plenty of tabloids around. But, the people all pull out their reading glasses, produce some reading material, and dig in. Even if it's rush hour and we are all squished up against each other, you can feel a little shift in the crowd as someone reaches into his/her bag and pulls out a book.

I only take a book with me if I can spare the weight. Sometimes I have to make do with reading my students' textbooks. But usually I have trouble concentrating, or trouble balancing while hanging on to my purse with one hand and my book with the other. It's a skill I'll have to work on.


  1. I found your blog b/c I was looking for missionary blog from Russia! I love this's sooo true. I don't know if I could balance either. We went over to St. Peter about a year ago.

    Thanks for blogging,
    from Texas,

  2. Elizabeth - you write SO well, and notice the most interesting things. One of the things I noticed in Russia was akin to this, matter how poor people appeared, they did not seem downtrodden. Everyone seems to have more of a sense of "mattering", perhaps. You know, here in the states - certain people (and people in certain professions) walk about and do their jobs with expressions on their face that seem to reflect inferiority. The girls that do the checkout at the grocery, for example, all seem to look haggerd and miserable as if to say, "I am ignorant and deserve this menial job." It is something I never saw in Russia! The woman scrubbing the floor would give us a look as if to say - "You wouldn't dare interfere with my clean floor - WOULD you????" And everyone seemed well-spoken, too.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Karen!

    That's an interesting observation, Annie. I wouldn't say that many Russians seem to enjoy their jobs, but they do seem to take ownership or authority or something like it. I'm not sure exactly how to describe it. I think there's also a "please the customer" attitude in America that I don't see much of in Russia. In a big city like St.Petersburg, workers who deal with a lot of customers daily don't seem to pay a lot of attention to individual customers, and the stress seems to make them defensive. In the U.S. workers are generally trained to be cheerful and polite so that the customers will return. I don't even tend to realize if they are proud of their job or not since they tend to direct attention to the customer.

  4. You are right! It is as though the customer is there to please the worker, now I think of it! I was always a little nervous buying things as I was afraid I would be able to "do things" fast enough, or well enough....either find my money, count it out, wrap up my purchase, or whatever... But I sort of put a positive spin on that, I guess.


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