|Tsar Nicholas II (left): he did it his way|
(and look what happened!)
Readers who think that the only obstacle to communication with foreigners is their lack of ability to speak another language should reflect on the interesting series of national clichés presented in a book by Richard Lewis and entitled, When Cultures Collide.
It is a study of the negotiating styles of businessmen from 25 countries all around the world. You can read a summary of it, with some interesting diagrams to illustrate Mr Lewis’s conclusions at this link.
There are some modern clichés, usually involving gangsters and/or variants on the theme of Mr Putin’s approach to Western leaders like George W. Bush when he once (with some justification in Dubya’s case) said it was like dealing with “mad people wielding razor blades”. Another cliché which is becoming equally dated is that of the Russian oligarch whose approach to a deal echoes that of Stalin, who simply counted the tanks. “How many divisions has the Pope?” the Great Leader and Teacher famously said when asked in 1935 whether it might not be a good idea to encourage toleration of Catholics.
But it is not my sense that either of these represent mainstream practice in Russia, either today or yesterday. Some Russians undoubtedly admire brutality in others but they are rarely brutal themselves, unless they feel they have an overwhelming numerical and material advantage, as oligarchs or OMON do in Moscow, or the army did in Chechnya or Afghanistan. It is more usual to encounter a negotiating style which some people would call foxy, “oriental” or “хитрый”, and other a “subtle” or “perfidious Albion” approach.
In that respect, I think the Anglophile Tsar, Nicholas II, gave us a more authentic example of the natural Russian method when his tutor, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, recorded him in 1899 as saying, “Why are you arguing? I always agree with everyone and then do things in my way.”