Russians are tough. History— and an unforgiving climate— has taught them the need for self-reliance and fortitude many times over, and the message has clearly hit home. Allied to that toughness is the mitigating counterbalance of a very dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. Where Westerners cherish motivational speeches and posters, Russians often find immense humor in dark, satirical mirror images of our inspirational themes. My favorite Russian “demotivational” poster simply illustrates a children’s playground. The central feature of the playground is a slide. At the end of the slide is an immense pool of stagnant, slimy mud. This is clearly intended to teach small children to adjust at a very early age to the disappointments they will inevitably encounter later in life.
Russian tastes in food naturally fit the harsh climate, but, as is the case in many markets, international brands and tastes are gradually becoming accepted, especially among younger Russians. The areas of taste that are uniquely Russian may be diminishing but are still important. Beef Stroganov is possibly the most famous dish, but my personal favorite is borscht. I love the unusual, almost primeval, earthy note of beetroot, and this dish highlights it to perfection.