Why Russians are different  

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Or at least, why my Russian is.

One thing on which Alex and I differ hugely is in our tendency to ask others for help. He finds it truly amazing when I need help or advice, know where to get it, but don't want to ask for it. "Why?" he asks, and the cultural gap between us opens up and almost sucks me in.
"I just don't like to," I say, feeling a bit feeble.

Russians ask - well, in fact more or less demand - help from one another all the time. I think it's somehow a result of the whole Soviet thing. Not because they were all sunny, happy, communal and co-operative communists but rather because, as Alex explains it, under that system your chances of survival were just a lot less if you didn't have mutual support from friends, family and neighbours. They simply grew accustomed to needing one another.

I decided earlier this year that I very much wanted to combine embroidery with some of our prints (I once almost did the Creative Embroidery degree at Goldsmiths College - another episode in my patchy and eventful past - under the amazing Constance Howard) . I have found a way of getting the most beautiful hand-embroidery done for us, but I also want to try machine embroidery - a very different look that works especially well with metallic threads. One of our Russian friends then announced that he had bought a professional embroidery machine (he does make-up and costume for films). "Is there any chance he might let us try it?" I asked Alex tentatively, only to get a blank look and then, "Well, of course." In fact a beautiful bag embroidered with a splendid gold crest and Alex's name arrived from Moscow not long after - our friend is, apart from his nationality, simply a generous person.

Of course we will also be expected to help when we're needed - and we do. But the point is that there isn't the self-consciousness or anxiety involved in asking for quite major favours that I was brought up with.

A bit of that kind of Russian attitude is a great thing in a small business. Ask and give - you really are stronger as part of a co-operative network.

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