“MOSCOW — After 20 years of opining on weighty bilateral issues like NATO expansion and ballistic missile defense, the political analyst Nikolai V. Zlobin recently found himself trying to explain, for an uncomprehending Russian readership, the American phenomenon of the teenage baby sitter.
In Russia, children are raised by their grandmothers, or, if their grandmothers are not available, by women of the same generation in a similar state of unremitting vigilance against the hazards — like weather — that arise in everyday life. An average Russian mother would no sooner entrust her children’s upbringing to a local teenager than to a pack of wild dogs.
Mr. Zlobin is rather withering about drinking vodka with Americans, recalling an occasion when he split a bottle with a friend and did not see him sober for four days. (He makes exceptions for Americans of Irish and Scottish extraction, as well as certain impressive young women, “as a result of emancipation.”) Though Americans are slovenly in their outward appearance, he said, it is “completely unacceptable” to show up at work in the same outfit two days in a row. They are amazingly loud in everyday activities, but muted in their expressions of joy and grief.
“You can’t suddenly show up at a friend’s house in the middle of the night with a bottle of vodka, to talk over your problems and seek support,” he writes. “Russians solve problems when they reach a critical point — that is our national style. Americans try to keep things from getting to a critical point.””