Saturday, February 8, 2014

Americans should obey Russian rules while visiting.

The opening ceremonies in the Sochi Olympics held a few entertaining moments. The German team came attired in rainbow colored uniforms to protest the anti-gay rules imposed in Russia. And the Olympic rings failed to open completely, leaving the ring that is traditionally red unopened. Was this a failure of Red communism or the failure of pink to bloom in Russia.

All this hoopla about the no gay-propaganda during these olympics demonstrate a basic difference between Russian and American culture. Americans culturally are individualistic while Russians are collective. While both countries have minorities, Americans believe that anyone can become whatever they want so there is a feeeling that everyone should be given a fair shake. Members of minority groups can protest and be awarded equal rights in this country. From religious freedom to the civil rights movement to the current gay marriage question, the majority has yielded to the minority and granted equality.

Not so in Russia. There the culture is that the majority is paramount and that minorities can be quashed. Gay rights marches are met with protestors who feel free to disrupt the demonstrations with support from the police, government and church. Putin stands behind this policy that the majority shall not be bullied by the 'obnoxious minority.' That is the Russian way.

Is this right? Not from an American perspective. We all believe in equal rights for all. But we are not Russians. They look at our system and scoff that we should cave our feelings to the minorites that are 'destroying our culture.' It all depends on one's perspective.

It is not our place to criticize other people's cultures, just as we bristle when other people criticize ours.

But what happens when an international event like the Olympics takes place in a country where rules differ from those at the visiting country? I believe the host country should make concessions to the visiting countries' tastes such as providing food and lodgings acceptable to them but they shouldn't to change their way of life completely. Part of the allure of traveling is to experience different cultures.

While traveling I try not to be the ugly American. I take off my shoes in Japanese restaurants and businesses. I refrain from drinking alcohol in Muslim countries. I'm respectful in other religions' temples. I don't stick my thumb up when hitch-hiking in Italy.

The American athletes are guests in a country with certain rules. While they shouldn't actively discriminate against gays, I believe they should respect the rules in Russia and not actively propagandize for gay rights during the two weeks they are being hosted by a country with that rule.

It is fine to send Billy Jean King as a representative to Sochi, but if she starts raising banners and encouraging homosexual behavior, she is breaking the local laws and being that ugly American. Just behave. We don't allow Russians to drink in public when they come here, we should obey their laws while in their country.

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