From blogging about people of different cultures, I’ve learned that there’s always another side to the global stories we see on mass media. It seems like all I see on the news lately is negative coverage about Russia, especially concerning politics. This got me thinking: why don’t I find out the real story from someone who’s actually from Russia?
This brings us to Dr. Igor Makienko, an Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Nevada, Reno. In his Marketing class, he frequently discusses cultural differences in marketing between Russia and the United States. For example, one class session, Dr. Makienko told us that in Russia, it’s considered very strange behavior for a cashier to smile at you at the store. By the 1990’s, smiling started to become more of a norm behavior in Russia, but it was still far behind the US. However, even now, it’s not appropriate to smile to strangers on the street. On the smiling culture in Russia, Dr. Makienko elaborates “If you don’t know people, why would you smile to them? Keep your great feelings and emotions for your friends and relatives. If you smile to everyone people may think that you are crazy person.” On the contrary, in America, smiling is an integral part of behaving politely. Dr. Makienko often brings Russian promotion materials to class to further demonstrate cultural disparities.
Dr. Makienko earned five degrees, including his PhD in Business Administration and multiple Masters degrees. He is from Sochi, Russia= perhaps you’re familiar with Sochi from the 2014 Olympic games. Growing up, Dr. Makienko never imagined himself living in America.
So: what does a well-educated Russian say about life in Russia and the current state of politics?
The Russian perception of propaganda, marketing
“I remember one TV program where they interviewed a homeless person from the US. The person from the US they showed on TV was homeless and he was complaining about his life. But his message was not really effective for Soviet propaganda because viewers paid more attention on the jeans he was wearing and thought – ‘Yeah, you are complaining, yeah, your life may be really hard, but at least you have jeans, and I cannot afford purchasing such jeans.’ The Soviet Union didn’t sell jeans or chewing gum so you had to get them from outside. If you managed to purchase chewing gum it was….like starvation for jeans and chewing gum. Isolation created these crazy things. Chewing gum, they didn’t sell chewing gum in the Soviet Union. They even spread some stories that if you use chewing gum your jaws will be bigger, because it’s a capitalist product.”
“What is interesting – when first foreign companies came to Russian market in late 1980’s and started advertising, Russian consumers had very skeptical attitude towards these ads. In the “deficit” society it was really hard to explain to customers why you need to advertise your products. If they are good, people will buy them without any advertising. Only bad products need advertising to persuade customers to buy them.”
The only skill that can help you is the ability to learn
Do your own research, rely on mass media as a supplement only
For older Russian generations, it’s hard to change Soviet beliefs and adjust to new reality
I often find myself incredibly frustrated with the endless arguments that accompany politics. After speaking with Dr. Makienko, I feel a renewed appreciation for the democratic process of the US and ability to refine decisions together. Another important takeaway was not to judge the people of any country by their government. Although there is valid criticism of Russian government, it’s important to remember the circumstances that later Russian generations lived in. By continuing to learn from people who are different from us, our cultural understanding grows. We can separate love of people from criticism of government.
What was your take away from the perspective of someone who grew up in Russia? The comments are yours.