Culture Shock: What Happens When Your Russian Fiance Comes To America
If you bring a woman from overseas to America, you will see that there is a substantial adjustment period while she is getting used to all the advantages that America has to offer.
Typically, she will be terribly homesick for her country, her language, her culture, her friends, her family, and her former life as terrible as you may think it is.
It is not that she does not appreciate what you are trying to do for her. It is just that she is homesick for the comfort of what is familiar to her. We all evaluate circumstances by our prior experiences.
The way an American experiences Russia is by comparing it to America and noticing the differences. The way a Russian evaluates America is by comparing it to Russia and noticing the differences.
We all assign labels like ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ or ‘better’ or ‘worse’ to circumstances as they differ from our prior experiences. It is normal and you should not be surprised if your Russian wife thinks many of the things in Russia are ‘better’ than the things she experiences in America.
The only way for her to get through this period of homesickness is for you to be the kind of husband that she left Russia for.
When you have an argument, and you invariably will, one comment you will almost certainly hear from her is that ‘she gave up everything to be with you and that you have an obligation to her to make her happy because of this.’
You may not think that she gave up very much, but as far as she is concerned, she gave up her entire world, and she is right. Are you surprised that many Russian wives go home to Russia when their marriage to Americans does not work out? Especially if they have not been in America very long.
The only thing that makes it worthwhile for them to stay in America is because they have a loving husband and a happy family life. If they feel loved, they will stay in America will all of its perceived faults. YOU are the reason they are going to America and YOU are the only reason they will stay.
The good news is that your fiancé will eventually get over her culture shock. The bad news is that it may take up to a year or more.
For the first six months that my wife was in America, she had varying degrees of culture shock.
She was constantly comparing what she experienced in America with her previous life experiences.
In her mind, everything here was different, unusual, and difficult. Even if they were sights or experiences that she enjoyed, they represented something that she had to adjust to.
Lynn Visson stated in her book, ‘Wedded Strangers,’ that Russians make the world’s worst émigrés.
Russians like things to stay consistent and be reliable. Even if that consistency is misery, they prefer that misery to the unknown. They don’t like change. To them, change is bad. That is their experience.
They are pessimists. They don’t look to change with positive expectancy. They dread change because they expect the worst, because in their experience, change frequently is worse.
Look at the experience of their country since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Almost all Russians feel that things were better under the old system because life was consistent. Life was predictable. It was reliable. It may have been hard, but circumstances today were usually what they would be tomorrow.
America represents fast paced change to her. Everything is different: the language, the people, and the culture. Even the house where she lives is unfamiliar to her. She has to learn about all the strange appliances and buttons in the house.
This whole experience makes her feel like she is free falling. My wife complained that after a day of speaking English, her ‘head hurt’. She couldn’t understand what people were saying to her. She couldn’t understand what people were saying on the television.
After a while, things become more certain. She begins to understand the pace of American life. That doesn’t mean that she embraces it wholeheartedly. She will compare America to life back home.
She may say things back home were better. You look at her like she is crazy. You may even think she doesn’t appreciate what you have done for her.
Frequently, other Americans will say to her, “How do you like America?” When they get a lukewarm response from her, they may think that she is ungrateful. After all, Americans think that everyone should kiss the ground when they arrive.
What she is saying is that things are different and unusual to her. She is still getting used to things here. She still wants and craves familiar things from home.
Your wife may beg you to return home for a visit after six months or a year.
If you can afford it, let her. On her return, she will be telling everyone about what America is like.
She will be the reigning celebrity because she has been to America. Russians are very curious about America and relatives and friends she hasn’t talked to in years will come out of the woodwork to speak to her.
She will tell them about the differences between America and Russia. She will brag about the things that you have bought her and provided her. She will tell them about all the wonderful things America has to offer.
She will enjoy the ‘white’ envy that her friends and relatives will feel about her life. They might even say that they feel sorry for her, but secretly they will be jealous. That is their way of displaying sour grapes and cloaking their envy.
At the six-month point from her arrival in America, she will be ambivalent between America and her country. She could go either way.
When she returns to the old country, she will remember all the things that were a pain in the neck about life there. When she is in America, she only remembers the good things that she misses from the old country. But a return visit will adjust her perspective.
While she is there, she will think about all the good things she has in America. Most of all, she has you. While she may be ambivalent between life in Russia and life in America after she has been in America for six months, she will return to America because that is where you are.
Her trip home has been good to put things in perspective for her. She has passed a major transition period whether she knows it or not.
I don’t recommend a trip home before six months. If she has only been in America for two or three months, she has not had a sufficient amount of time to adjust to American life.
From a practical standpoint, she won’t be able to return home under the terms of the fiancé visa for at least four or five months after her arrival in America, because of the immigration and visa requirements.
After she has been in America for a year and a half to two years, a trip home will remind her that she has made the transition from Russian to American. She will realize that her life and her future is in America and not Russia.
In her heart, she will always be Russian. But in her mind, she has experienced life in America and she realizes her future is there.
As my friend Mitch says, “Once they get here and drink the water, their life changes.”
About the Author: John has been successfully married to a Belarussian wife for over five years. He has traveled extensively through Russia and other CIS countries. He will tell you why you should consider Russian women, how to meet them, how to bring your special woman home, and how to survive married life.