Suffice it to say, things are complicated right now between America and Russia. The massive country has emerged as one of the most important players (and antagonists) in U.S. politics, but most Americans, especially those too young to remember the Cold War, know little about it beyond Putin, Pussy Riot, and probable hacking. Russia doesn't show up at the top of bucket-list destinations, it lacks modern pop culture exports, and the most-watched TV depictions of Russian people right now are on
The Americans — a fictional story about Russian spies living in suburban Virginia in the '80s. Are we totally off-base here? And what do they think of us?
We traveled to St. Petersburg in March to get young women's thoughts on U.S.-Russo relationships, and whether they’re optimistic for the future or as cynical as the headlines assume. In the process, we encountered a wide range of viewpoints about our president; our pop culture heroes; and how Trump, the media, and propaganda have contorted what the American Dream, might, and exceptionalism look like on the other side. As for what Americans get wrong about Russians — the women's answers were more likely to include bears than espionage.
Editor's note: The interviews were translated from Russian and edited and condensed.
Svetlana from Moscow, Russia "We see America through Hollywood movies, and we think that it is a super progressive country. But in real life, the people have a flock mentality. They suffer from obesity, don’t have any ambitions, and no one cares about healthy lifestyle. People who’ve been there can say that there is no normal food — everyone eats burgers and drinks Coca-Cola. You can always find clothes in the smallest sizes on sale, which is good for Russian girls. There is a lack of culture and social development. "Trump is a controversial person, but I think he will be a magic blessing for America. At least he is open to Russia — Russia is now the biggest player on the world stage not only because of our size, but also because of our influence. I think everything will get better, because now we're standing at the edge of possible war or conflicts, and I think that Trump is not interested in that, which is good. Although he acts and behaves aggressively and scandalously, he does not look like an aggressor. I hope that he has a clue."
Rita from Sochi, Russia "America is a great country, without a doubt. They have the best universities, highest salaries, Burning Man, In-N-Out, and Beyoncé — it's impossible to not be cool when you have those things. Some Americans think that we have bears as pets, drink vodka for breakfast, and dance ' Prisyadka' on the Red Square every Saturday. That’s not true — we live much more fun lives. Just visit Russia and see everything for yourself."
Valeriya from Smolensk, Russia "All over the world, there's a trend: a gap between formal politicians — like Putin, Merkel, Hillary, and so on — and informal politicians, like [Putin critic] Alexei Navalny, who is against corruption and was rather popular during 2011 protests against the government. A lot of people liked him. He wore Converse and jeans, and he was close to the people. You could meet him on the street; he took the metro. I think this is one of the reasons for his popularity. "Trump is part of this trend. He doesn’t wear informal clothes, but people associate him with a person who tells the truth, who is sincere, and is tired of ‘behind the scenes games.’ They treat him as sincere, because he says things as they are. I like the phenomenon of the informal politician trend. But I think he’s just a trend."
Yulia from Serpukhov, Russia "Everyone [in Russia] was surprised that Donald Trump won this election. There are some reasonable aspects of his agenda — health care for instance. There are also some awful things, like the wall at the border of Mexico, to be paid for by Mexicans. That's crazy. It’s the 21st century; this idea makes me crazy. Also his behavior isn’t presidential. He’s quick-tempered and impatient. I don’t support the Russian president, either. I don’t agree with Russian policies like actions in Crimea or Ukraine. I think that both countries are similar; they violate the border of other countries."
Anastasia from Perm, Russia "America is a great place to travel to and get inspired. There are so many talented people from different fields who work and create great stuff we use and enjoy everywhere in the world — from Silicon Valley startups to Hollywood movies. We are kind of surrounded by American culture and we can’t underestimate its impact on our lifestyle. American companies like Uber or Airbnb have not only made our lives in Russia a lot easier, but they've also created work. Some of my friends in Perm now have an ability to make some extra money by working for Uber in their spare time. "In my opinion, Trump is the perfect representation of the 'American Dream.' He is rich, he is famous, and he proved the fact that you can be whoever you want to be — even the president of the U.S.A. In addition, I am good with him, as long as he continues giving me American visas."
Ekaterina from Oryol, Russia "I used to idealize America and thought that it was a country where everything was possible. It's still partly true: For example, I could never imagine that Trump could become a president, and look at him now. I think he is a modern villain. He could be the perfect evil character in a superhero movie. I don’t like him at all, from his appearance to his behavior. But I don’t know him as a president — he hasn’t had a chance to show himself yet. I know why people in Russia are attracted to him and admire him so much. He represents the dream of the average male Russian: not good-looking at all but has a model wife, is rich, and is not afraid to show it off. People who got their wealth from corruption and have to hide it are jealous by the way that Trump can say: 'Yes, I’m rich, deal with it.' He can afford to sling mud at the journalists and that all looks like 'the real man' for average Russians. "I’ve been to America once, and the country is inspiring. But I wouldn’t move there — I love my country more. As a journalist, I have an opportunity to get information through different sources and have seen all the advantages and problems, like discrimination and social inequality. My image of America is a bit different than the average Russian's. People receiving the information only from our media may think that every American is a spy, and trying to ruin our country."
Maria from Saint Petersburg, Russia "In my view, America is a country of freedom, in all forms. Americans don’t care about others’ opinion. Everyone lives, looks, and behaves as they want, and they are not judged by anyone. Here, we have a lack of that freedom. "When it comes to Trump, Not enough time has passed yet to make any conclusions about how effective his politics are. But as a person, I like him. He is not trying to persuade everyone to love him, and he doesn’t play the role of a great humanist as Obama did. Trump does whatever he wants when the whole world is obsessed with tolerance. That tolerance is becoming a real threat for society. For this kind of society, there is no way back, but Trump has a chance to prevent America from a European scenario."
Marina from Chuvash Republic, Russia "When I read American mass media, it seems that all of Russia is politicized and everything is under Putin’s power. I don’t think so. I know some Americans, and compare their stories with our life — it’s the same. I think that we all overestimate the role of politics in our lives." "I think it's interesting that America is a democracy, but they have parties that can be in power for many years. Hillary Clinton comes from a family of another past president, and I thought Trump could be a fresh start. He’s a representative of business in America, and is at least someone who isn’t from the political elite. I don’t think that he’s as terrible a person as some feminists and mass media say about him. I cannot understand the feminist marches against Trump in other cities outside of America. America is not your country, and Trump is not your president, so what are you fighting about?"
Anna from Moscow, Russia "The whole world, not only Americans, associates Russians with vodka and bears. And that is offensive, because we have a great culture; talented poets, artists, and writers, with whom we can be associated. "I was on [Donald Trump's] side. A year ago, I talked to my friends about him. Now I'm happy that he won."
Elvira from Armavir, Russia "A lot of Americans are apolitical, and so am I. They work, study, and create for themselves. [Some] Americans wouldn’t do a thing just for just an idea — I would call that 'healthy egoism.' I've noticed that young people spend money, live for their pleasure, party, watch cheap comedies, and see themselves as 'not mainstream' — materialism is popular in America. "In Russia, there's a popular meme that says, 'Blame everything on Russian hackers' — we use it as a joke for mundane accidents, like when we spill our coffee."
Kate from Shumerlya, Chuvashia Republic, Russia "I imagine America as a country with a highly developed political culture. In Russia, it's much lower. I also associate America with a strong spirit of self-determination. We are pretty similar, but the difference is in media propaganda. In the U.S., media supports democratic principles, and it’s every man for himself. In Russia, we rely more on help from the side, from the government, from bosses, etc."
Lisa from Saratov, Russia "I think some Americans are really sure that we own bears, wear shapka-ushanka [fur] hats, and play balalaika [instruments] on the streets. I think American media constructs that impression because it’s useful for their politics. America is one of the biggest and most powerful countries, but so is Russia. I have a positive impression about Trump, because he wants to establish good relationships between our countries."
Lyubov from Nizhny Novgorod, Russia "I think about America as a phenomenon — in a relatively short period of time, the state has produced outstanding people, architecture, and culture. I definitely want to visit it. "Trump is a very complex figure; opinions about him are polarizing. But what I can say for sure is that he is a man of marked individuality, and does not leave people unmoved."
Naran from Ulan-Ude, Russia "Honestly, Americans don't have wrong impressions of us, except the balalaika and bears [stereotype]. But, I have heard that they can’t stand the taste of our [meat-based gelatin] aspic. Also, they think that Russian women are the most beautiful on the planet." "Donald Trump is a successful businessman. He is exactly what America needs — the perfect leader for the current situation. But he totally needs to stop eating so many carrots. He's too orange."
Olga from Moscow, Russia "All American presidents were rich, except for Obama. Trump is a multibillionaire, and in the country of capitalism, if you are rich, you’re considered a winner. I have seen his interviews and can say that he is smart. He's certainly not stupid. He knows what he does, and for whom he does it for. I am not sure what his goals are. Obama had an image of democracy and freedom — and talked about the environment, supporting migrants, etc. But now, America is not in its best shape. Trump is honest in his statements, and the people like that."
Tatyana from Moscow, Russia "Many Russians want to move to America. America is really desirable for our youth, because of all the career opportunities. It's a pity that the political situation there is not cool. Personally, I wish I could visit the country — as a student, I'm interested in new technology and inventions. But it seems like Russians are not welcomed there. Even though our country is big and diverse, it's mainly viewed as negative." "Donald Trump is funny, and I have read that he has a nice family. He makes a good impression. He's a man with a strong position, an interesting life, and rules from a confident political position."