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Last Updated: Friday, 27 June, 2003, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Do we know each other?
Russians and Britons know very little about one another, according to a double opinion poll commissioned to mark the Russian president's state visit to the UK.

Nearly four out of 10 Russians had nothing to say when asked for the first thing that came into their mind about the UK.

And five out of 10 British people said they didn't know who was the president of Russia.

The Russian best known to Britons was Stalin (who was actually a Georgian) while another strong leader - Margaret Thatcher - was the Briton most often named by Russians.

In general, both nations seem prone to think in stereotypes.

Britons thought of snow and fur hats (25%) Communism (21%) and deprivation (13%) when asked for the first thing to come into their mind when Russia is mentioned.

Russians were less united when asked what Britain meant for them, but 16% mentioned the weather - which is renowned in Russia for being wet and foggy - and 9% thought of members of the Royal family or politicians.

Martial arts

Apart from Mrs Thatcher, the Britons Russians were best able to remember were the Royal family (16%), Winston Churchill (9%), The Beatles (6%) and Tony Blair (6%).

American author Jack London and former US President Theodore Roosevelt also crept on to the list.

Apart from Stalin, Britons thought first of Mikhail Gorbachev (29%), Lenin (25%) and Vladimir Putin (15%), with tennis player Anna Kournikova (2%) and Ivan the Terrible (1%) lower down the list.

Some 45% of respondents were able to name Mr Putin as Russia's current leader. A small number - 2% in each case - named Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-1991) or Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999).

A third said they didn't know how well or badly Mr Putin did his job, while 13% said he was a good leader, and 8% said he was good for Russia.

Another 8% noted that he was KGB-trained, and a small number mentioned his skill at martial arts.

Nearly 60% of Russians knew nothing about Queen Elizabeth II, while 51% had no idea what the typical Briton was like.

British 'gentlemen'

However, more than twice as many Russians associated Britons with positive qualities (13%) than negative qualities (6%).

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia - it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
Winston Churchill, 1939 radio broadcast
Eight per cent said Britons were just "ordinary people" like any other nationality, while 7% said they were "gentlemen".

British people said they thought of Russians as poor (24%), hardworking (11%) and warm and friendly (10%).

Both sets of respondents thought their own country contributed more than the other to world culture.

But both countries put culture top of the list of things they wanted to know more about each other.

The surveys were carried out in Russia by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) and in the UK by Mori at the end of May and the beginning of June.

We asked you: What is your image of Russians, and if you are Russian, what is your image of British people? How well do you feel the two nations know one another?

You wrote:


Russia: great country, beautiful countryside and cities, wonderful ironic sense of humour, fantastic repertoire of classical literature and music. A callous political-military-criminal elite pursuing a brutal war in the North Caucasus with daily unaccountable atrocities.
Matthew, Scotland

As Tsar Alexander once said in reference to Napoleon takeing over Europe: "England and Russia will stand alone". His words will be proven true once more, only Britain and Russia will be able to withstand and resist the EU superstate.
James Winter, USA

I have spent a lot of time with both Russians and Ukrainians and have experienced them as very cultured, intelligent, and above all very hospitable and friendly. For those who want to learn more about Russian culture, I can recommend that you should watch "The Barber of Siberia", a film by Russia's best director, Nikita Mikhalkov.
Ester Angel, UK

Let's hope that Russia can join the Western world but supplying nuclear power to Iran is not a good starting point.
David Green, England

As time goes on, I believe the Russians will be viewed with ever greater respect by the British. I hope that more Russians will have the opportunity to visit the UK as well.
Jonathan B, London, UK

Once Britain certainly was a nation of great culture, however during my visits there the British appalled me by their conformity, the shallowness of their public and private debate and their lack of interest in what they call the "high-brow stuff" - not to mention their lack of manners, deceitfulness, ignorance and sheer vulgarity. Moreover, the quality of everything meals, accommodation, clothes, public services, transport and journalism is so poor that I cannot comprehend how the locals put up with it. At the same time, they are obsessed with measuring others by their own yardstick, naively assuming that some alleged similarities between them and foreigners may flatter the latter.
Aleksandr, Novosibirsk, Russia

The Russian people are our friends, and President Putin is one of the few intelligent, responsible world leaders, and I think we should trust him.
JMK, UK

Let's make travel and tourism easier by scrapping the visa requirements.
Max, England

I have felt safer in Moscow than in London. I hardly saw any drunks in Moscow even though beer is cheap, but in London you see them everywhere. Also, Russian people are very clean and take great pride in their appearance. Maybe we British could learn something from this!
Howard D., England.

Having visited Russia many times ( the first in 1943) I have always found the Russian people warm, generous and fun loving and curious about the world outside Russia.The same people when they put on their uniform, or when the discussion was turned to business or official matters, were cold and chauvinistic - until the inevitable offcial dinner with its generous ( overly generous) helpings of vodka once again turned them into warm friends. One can only feel sad about the stolen years under Stalin when they suffered so much, and grateful to them for their self-sacrifice which saved Western Europe from years of slavery during World War II. They are a great people and have much to give to the world.
Reginald CharlesWillard., Spain

All the Russians I've ever meet have been warm, friendly, intelligent and cultured. Russia has produced some of the greatest music and literature of all time. Anton Chekov was the best short story writer ever.
Howard, UK

The Russians oppressed my Lithuanian ancestors. The British oppressed my Irish ancestors. Maybe the Brits and the Russians are made for each other after all!
Thomas, USA

Here in Finland, many people say that the only good thing to come from Russia is the occasional warm wind. (And cheap CDs)
Stuart, Finland (UK ex-pat)

I am happy to see barriers being broken down, now perhaps some myths on both sides will be cleared up. My thanks to the royal family.
M Clark, a Scot in the US.

Russia is a country with a large number of people who have the very technical skills and education that the UK seems short of at the moment, namely mathematicians and engineers, so the sooner there is more freedom of movement and employment, the better for both counties.
M.Garrington, UK

For me Britain means London and the Queen, fish and chips, castles and Scottish clans, Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw, Gainsborough and Lucian Freud, the Vicar of Dibley and Monarch of the Glen, Bridget Jones and Stella McCartney, Darcy Bussel and Colin Firth
Julia, Russia

We Russians, like all human beings, can be rude and tough. However, whenever the Beatles is mentioned, our hearts get warmer and smiles wider. I guess Putin was a big Beatle fan back then when he served in Germany. Take a look at his picture with Macca. He is all smiles. I was lucky to meet Sir Paul here in St Petersburg. Great Man! God Save the UK!
Sergey, St.Petersburg, Russia

I love the Russians! They brought us vodka!
Joanne Budd, UK

I think Russia is a hardened place with a people used to cruelty. From the Tsars, through Stalin's purges through to mafia culture and Chechnya today; this is a people accepting of suffering as part of normal life
Gareth, UK

My experience of Russians is entirely positive. I have found them hospitable, kind, warm hearted, welcoming, polite and friendly. They are lucky to possess a rich cultural heritage, ranging across Fine Art to Folk Arts, including music, literature, Painting, Sculpture, Dress and Dance. In fact, the list is so vast like the experience of the Russian Steppe these few sentences cannot do it justice! I have great memories sitting in a circle on a warm clear September night under the Kuban stars with my Cossack relatives enjoying conversation, vodka, cucumbers, sausage and water melons. We are a lot closer to one and other than you might otherwise think.
Simon Porter, UK

I studied Russian at university and had the opportunity to spend some 6-9 months, in St Petersburg mainly plus Voronezh. I absolutely loved it. For the main the people were friendly and above all genuine. They are hardworking people, who have experienced tough times, but continue to persevere and make successes out of what they can. As I have lived in Russia, I know Russians are very entrepreneurial. The Russians probably have a better understanding of what the UK is like than vice versa, because they take take the time to learn and understand, rather than simply believe all that they read in the press.
Sonia , UK

Russians are brave, heroic and admirable people - they saved Europe from Hitler and could've saved the world from Capitalism.
Francis Huddy, United Kingdom

I would rather have Russians as friends than enemies any time! They are nice, tough and very friendly people
M Firth UK
Since we have been open to another world for a little bit more than 10 years, there is little surprise Russians think of Britain in stereotypes. When you are at school, first you learn about uncertain English weather and Shakespeare, a teenager knows who play in Manchester United and Liverpool and who the Beatles were (info from the parents)... An average Russian in the street nowadays, if he says something about Britain, is never negative. The elderly remember World War II, the middle-aged think of Led Zeppelin (their favourite band) or bottles of Worthingtons beer. One needs to go to the UK to get a true-to-life picture of the country, it is really worth doing that.
Valery, Russia

In my experience very few of us know anything about Russia, and those who do are divided into those who have an unreasonable hatred for the country and those who have an inexplicable attraction to it.

I fall into the latter category. I visit Russian friends in Siberia at least once every year. Both they and the country frequently drive me to distraction, and I know that despite 14 years of annual visits I will never fully understand either them or their nation . At the same time, I love the country, adore the people, and get an instant buzz from hearing Russian spoken out loud.

Russians: Miserable people in fur hats waiting in a long queue for bread
Jonathan Court, UK
The Russians also understand the British sense of humour, and have a very dry wit of their own. They are generous to a fault, and will accept anyone (including me) at face value. I have never felt compelled to put on an act in Russia. There, you can be poor, uneducated, ugly, and still be accepted. Forget all the long-standing and erroneous stereotypes. We have a great deal in common, and the sooner our countries set their past misunderstandings and apprehensions aside and become friends, so much the better. We'll all benefit!
Rosemary Hill, Switzerland (UK national)

I think that Russian people are great. They are friendly and polite and nothing like the stereotypes that the media has created.
Sharan, UK

Does anybody remember James????....James Bond?!!
Josephus, USA

Mmmmm....sexy accent....
Mark Harrison, England

The Russians? Apparently, almost as ignorant as the British!
Paul, UK

It was notable that British soldiers in Iraq behaved in a more civilised way than American soldiers towards the local population, and did not wave the Union Jack at statues of the toppled tyrant
Dmitri, Russia
I'm glad that the Russian people are now experiencing more and more freedoms that all people in the world should be able to take for granted. In time, with further economic reform towards Western-style capitalism, Russia will become a major economic power and this can only benefit both us and ordinary Russians. We should also always remember that it was the Russians above all, that endured great sacrifice in defeating Nazism, with 20 million dead, and for this we should always show friendship and respect to the Russian people. It is a shame that the communist ideology got in the way of this for so long after World War II.
Scott, UK

I know an Englishman and he wears a fur hat and loves vodka. I also know a Russian man and he owns two horses and loves cricket. For different people different reactions are available: to laugh, to disbelieve, to get angry, to do nothing. I prefer to do nothing. (Yawns)
Mishka Maracasov, Russia

Russians and Britons undoubtedly have differences in manners, and some habits, but our souls are definitely similar. Only here, in Oxford, I met the girl of my dreams. And she is British.
Maxim Bouev, Russia

I spent a year in Russia which was part of my degree course and have been back twice so far. It is a beautiful country which, like any other, has its idiosyncrasies. What we must remember is that while Russian salaries may be smaller they reflect the generally low cost of living there.
Katrina Flanagan, UK

English: Cold, stuck up bunch, with bowler hats and umbrellas - doing the "silly walk"
Alexey, Moscow
According to the Russian stereotype British people are either cold snobbish gentlemen, or ladies with good manners. Russians think that it always rains in the UK and that there are lots of pets. (British people like their pets more than other people.)
Tanya, Russia

Whatever makes anyone think that Russians are very different from people in every other country on earth? Is this just licensed racism?
Mike, UK

I've lived in England since 1998 and am constantly appalled at how distorted the view is the average Brit has of my country. It seems that the media incessantly propagate an image of inescapable poverty, drunkennes and ever-present banditism. A travel guide to Moscow stated that "vodka is a popular drink; although tea is also frequently drunk". More positive reports are needed and there's plenty of material for that: the Russians are well-educated, aware of global affairs and many of them occupy high-ranking academic posts in the UK. The standard of living is gradually improving and has never, frankly, been crippling. The public transport serves its purpose much more reliably than it does so here and the health service, which is still free, is much more efficient than the NHS. It would do both countries a world of good if the censors lifted a ban on positive news from Russia.
Paulina Hurwitz, UK

I've spent some months in Russia, starting with a two-week cultural exchange in 1991 when I was 14 years old, and I love the country. There is a real dichotomy between public and private Russia, in my experience. On a personal level, Russians you meet and visit are amongst the most welcoming and friendly people in the world; hospitality and charm seem to be national character traits! Customer Service in Russia stinks, in my experience, however. The same wonderful people turn into horrors when they arrive at work! I have a horrible memory of a couple of days in Moscow trying to sort out a visa registration problem; there were constant repeats of the phrase, "This is not my problem. This is your problem".
Amanda Jones, London, UK

We should seek to do more together - ignorance leads to suspicion, mistrust and worse
Mike Noble, Englan
Russians: Miserable people in fur hats waiting in a long queue for bread.
Jonathan Court, UK

For me Britain is country with great history, culture and traditions. The most interesting books I've read about Britain are Churchill's "Birth of Britain" (I don't know its exact title in English) and his memoirs about the Second World War. I would like to visit it on my holiday, but prefer to visit countries where Russian tourists don't need visas. And the last one, special for Jonathan Court: probably, your stereotype is more closely related to propaganda of the Cold War than the real life of my country?
Anna, Russia, Moscow

The Russians have a far better transport system than us and last year saw Ken Livingstone travel there to learn a thing or two from their tube system... Miserable people in a long queue for bread? I don't think so. That was a long time ago - where have you been Mr Court?

My one concern about Russia is the attitude towards sex & HIV which clearly requires reform. Drug addicts can be arrested for simply buying clean needles from a pharmacist - this is clearly wrong and only serves to perpetuate their Aids problem.
Michael Galvin, UK To Jonathan Court: I've just been to Glasgow and drove through Maryhill, Easterhouse and Rutherglen. Pretty scary places but I tend to concentrate on more beautiful things. Provided you can afford a return ticket to Russia I would be more than happy to show you some of Russia's better sides...
Vladimir Yakovlev , Russia

To Vladimir Yakovlev: As a resident of "scary" Maryhill, i`m sorry i missed your visit! Next time you`re in town we`ll clean the place up for you...
David Sproat, Glasgow, UK

I have been learning Russian on and off for a couple of years, it is a wonderful language and the Russians I have met have all been very friendly people. I would love to visit the country and learn more about the culture.
Helen, UK

No comment.
Pavel Medvedev, Russia

From bbcrussian.com: For me Britain is the country chosen by all our presidents for their first official visit, starting with Gorbachev. Why is this? Also, Britain is my country's ally in World Wars I and II, and simultaneously the main builder of the post-war "cordon sanitaire" around Russia. It is also the the country where football was born, and the country where English is spoken correctly. Among recent world events, it was notable that British soldiers in Iraq behaved in a more civilised way than American soldiers towards the local population, and did not wave the Union Jack at statues of the toppled tyrant.
Dmitri, Russia

No matter what the topic somehow the US is always brought into it. Can't you people establish your own identity and place in this world? Also, I would like to know if Dimitri was in Iraq to do an analysis on how US and UK troops behaved.
Michael G, USA

I'd trust Vladimir Putin anytime over George W Bush.
Colin, Netherlands (English)

I have just finished reading my first Dostoevsky novel (Crime & Punishment). Although it was fiction I was enthralled by the descriptions of Russian culture and cities. Will definitely make a point of visiting Russia over the next few months. On to Trotsky now!
Michael Jones, UK, London

Being Russian and having spent few years in the UK I can say that the mutual stereotypes are generally wrong. Russians know British from the works of Sir Conan Doyle and might expect them to drink tea at 5 o'clock and live in constant foggy and rainy weather. At the same time, Britons generally know Russians from anti-Soviet propaganda and American movies where they are represented as half-drunk gangsters who speak a Russian language I never can understand. The thing which surprised me most was British sarcastic sense of humour which I thought had died with Jerome K Jerome...
Alexey, Russia/UK

The trouble with we Brits is we forget the extreme bravery of Russian people during both - and especially - the last World War. Their country took the brunt of Hitler's wrath giving us a real chance at defeating him. Politics, as usual, got in the way of two countries who should always remain friends. I would rather have Russians as friends than enemies any time! They are nice, tough and very friendly people.
M Firth, UK

During my travels in the former USSR I have always found the people to be extremely kind and friendly and much more hospitable than British people. It is sad that a culture such as Russia is not as well understood as some of the others here, as it has so much to offer. However perhaps this is not surprising when one considers that we have only recently started to treat other as allies rather than enemies in the last few years.
Ian, GBR

You mean Brits know of people outside England?
Amoroso Gombe, Kenya

I work as a teacher in Russia and the results of the polls you mentioned, mirror results from my own classes, when asked the same sort of questions.

Sad and predictable really. A poor reflection on both countries and their respective awareness of culture and politics in the so-called "information age". Both countries harbour a lamentable distrust of foreigners - surely this is something that pomp and ceremony alone cannot correct. Isn't it about time for a rethink, especially with regard to our education system in Britain. Isn't it still much too eurocentric? Isn't it still much too anglocentric?
Ashley , Russian Federation

I'm sure they try very hard but I get the impression they are miserable pessimistic and dowdy. This seems to have been proved as Aeroflot stewardessess are taking lessons in smiling!
Karen, England

For me Russia means music: Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Shostakovich. It summons up images of chill winds whistling across the vast and icy steppe. A land with some really different cultural determinants from our own, including the Russian Orthodox Church, but people with the same, perhaps a greater, determination to survive impossible odds.
William, UK

To Karen from England. Facial expressions are used to express emotions in Russia, not to be polite. So when someone smiles at you, you better believe its real.
Andrej, Canada/Russia

For 450 years Britain has close ties to the Russian people and nation, this week's state visit to Britain by President Putin is a clear indication that those links are just as strong today. Britain is the second largest investor in Russia at this moment, if you discount the return of Russian finance from Cyprus.

I think it would be a positive gesture on behalf of President Putin to allow visa-free travel to British citizens and I fully support him in his efforts to achieve visa-free travel between Russia and the EU. I urge our politicians and the EU to break down this barrier to our freedom to travel.
Graham Armstrong, England

English: Cold, stuck up bunch, with bowler hats and umbrellas - doing the "silly walk".
Alexey, Moscow

Too much negative propaganda has been used in the Cold War era. Russans were supposed to be poor and "evil". Too many American films are anti-Russian, and this certainly changed the whole perception. James Bond always fought some Russian conspiracy. What we must remember is that this time has passed. Russia is a country to which we must turn, and treat as a real friend and ally. Closer to us than USA. Both geographically, historically and culturally.
Nick, London, UK

Nick, Why do you believe Russia is closer to you than we Americans? I am shocked! We have been through it all together!! WWI, WWII, The Cold War, we speak the same language (albeit your dialect is more refined!) I hope yours is not the prevailing view in our motherland.
To Nick:, USA

Visiting Russia four years ago, my friends and I were amazed that there were not miles of queues for bread and other essential items. The people of St Petersburg were dressed just as fashionably as the people of, say, Manchester, and most of them were actually smiling! I think this is an example of how little we know about the Russian people. I mean - would any British people have guessed that Russia would produce a lesbian pop sensation?!
Fiona Burn, UK

Manchester has fashion? I know a lot of Russian people, their fashion sense is far better than the British. I would like to see a unbiased TV programme on the True Russia today, and see how it compares instead of all the negative aspects that are always shown.
Darren, UK

On assignment in Finland, I had the opportunity to watch Russian TV via cable, and was amazed and astounded to see the same adverts for the same products as we have here in the west. They even have the same TV shows - like Millionaire, Weakest Link, and Wheel of Fortune - all syndicated productions no doubt. Their favourite TV diet appears to be variety shows with strong musical content.

They seem to be a happy people with exactly the same aspirations as everybody else in the West - my pre-conceived ideas of food shortages, misery and deprivation were very wide of the mark - and I have to wonder to what extent were a result of decades of anti-communist propaganda. We appear to have much more in common with the middle-income Russian lifestyle than with several other European races I could think of.

We should seek to do more together - ignorance leads to suspicion, mistrust and worse.
Mike Noble, England




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