It is always interesting to observe how the mental characteristics of the people of different groups and geographic locations occur differently in similar situations. This is about how in the airport we can easily distinguish the line to a Russian flight; this is about how usually, based on the style of driving we try to guess if the driver is a man or woman; this is about why we still believe that Germans are never late. In short, this is about stereotypes, to which we always grumble, but under the pressure of which we invariably lose.
While spending a lot of time in gyms lately – in Moscow and some European cities, I perforce compare, find parallels and note the differences between the behavior of “ours” and Europeans are in such a commonplace (it would seem), but in the still quite specific circumstances as heavy physical labor.
Some of those differences, as I see them, can be considered to be a direct result of socio-political superstructures that exist in our societies, and some—as a natural reflection of mental peculiarities, at which you can certainly laugh, but I’d rather were seriously reflected upon.
The one-person team
In Moscow, even when attending a group workout, you do not depart with the feeling that there is only you and your athletic challenge–everything else is just white noise. Even within the group, everyone remains separated.
Most of the time you don’t even know the names of other group members, although you can meet in the gym several times a week. You may not even say ‘hello’ when meeting… Hardly will you hear and hardly will you say words of support when seeing that someone is squeezing out the last cherished miles of rowing. Once I couldn’t resist and told a guy: “Go-go, you can do it!’, and I can’t say that he was pleasantly surprised.
The gym in Moscow is an altar of the capital’s modern individualism.
In Europe, people greet each other by necessity, whether it’s “сiao,” “salute”, a traditional double smack on the cheeks, or–what I particularly prefer–with a handshake. To support each other morally during sports activities is as normal as saying “bon appetite” before eating.
Here, you don’t start a new round before all members of the group are finished. Here, you will be asked to put exercise equipment in a line, so that you, just like synchronous athletes, will sweat all in a row.
Here, someone will definitely say “Allez, allez!”, “You can do it” or “Good job”, and when training is over, everybody will give each other a good old ‘high five’.
Once during the work out a person came up to me to show off his newfound blister. “Look!” – with indignation, he handed out his long-suffering hands. I was taken aback.
To me, as a child of the post-soviet era, it’s not easy to adjust to such an amazing philanthropic tune, but to deny its charm is simply meaningless.
Old men do not belong here
In each European gym (even better: not just gym, but a CrossFit box) I’ve met characters, which in Moscow would each be called a “babushka”. Only here they are not “babushkas”, but mature women in their fifties who are not in a hurry to die. I look at them and think: can I imagine any of my acquaintances or relatives of the same age in their place? I cannot. And this is sad.
Of course, not only older women, but also men actively care about their health and body. In the group there is always a gray-haired gentleman who fulfills the program on an equal basis with young people. Age here is not a reason to pity yourself.
In the gyms of Moscow I have never met people over fifty. And none of my Russian-speaking friends at this age exercise regularly. If ever…
Be a true man, dammit!
In Moscow, everything is very severe, in general and in particular. The guys in a gym all as one with the heroic faces and tightly clenched jaws thrust weights, dropping beads of sweat on the rubber floor, without uttering a single sound, alluding to the fact that what they do takes them a lot. Oh, please! Hero here and hero there, and it’s not even irony. Against the backdrop of loud music in Moscow’s gym you can hear only the rumble of iron, but hardly a human groan.
European gyms, at least those in which I happened to be, are full of sound. Groans, iron, heavy breathing, exhilarating, and sometimes even the sobbing pf popular curses. Men are not afraid to seem weak and do not hesitate to admit that they are exhausted. They simply have nothing to be afraid of since no one will come up with assessing their personality by the number of push-ups. They make sounds issuing their emotions and naturally accompanying physical strain. When not used to it, this can be truly impressive—not so much the sound but rather more the way of being open and free.