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Commentary

Visiting Russian Journalist: Do you only eat sugar for breakfast here?

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Ekaterina Salivanova
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My Michigan is…

I am Ekaterina Selivanova, a journalist from Russia, who spent two weeks at MIchigan Radio in Ann Arbor as part of the International Center for Journalists’ Journey of Shared Discovery for Russian and American Journalists program. I’d heard about Michigan before. Detroit — a bankrupt city — had welcomed me since Eminem and Trick Trick's 2005 song. But had I heard anything else? I don't think so!

Actually, Michigan and Russia have lots of things in common. The Michigan House of Representatives wants to ban any “false” altering of data in a blockchain (a blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Bitcoin would be an example). Do they realize blockchain data is impossible to falsify?

I don't know if Michigan lawmakers realize that’s actually the main point of blockchains. Maybe they are trying to copy the goals of their Russian counterparts who asked the Telegram messaging app — a company largely focused on security—  to hand over its encryption keys. Of course, this request was literally impossible due to encryption designed with algorithms that make each code unique.

In Russia, often before going abroad, I was told that I shouldn't start conversations about politics because it could sound impolite. "Westerners are so easy to wound, better avoid politics," people said.

I never had to start these conversations, because Americans usually started asking me questions about Putin and Trump in the first 30 seconds of our acquaintance. And no one ever seemed to be offended. The mess going on in politics is widely discussed in all the homes I visited. People asked me, “What is it like to have the same person ruling the country for more than 18 years?”

In Russia we say "My house is my castle," and it is the most accurate sentence I could ever describe of my impressions of Ann Arbor and Michigan. You decorate your porches both with the sweetest things from HomeGoods or TJMaxx, as well as political posters about mayoral elections and expressing support for the Muslim community, LGBT rights, or protests against Line 5. Unfortunately, Russians don't use the external part of houses for self-expression, especially the political kind.

Another piece of travel advice for me was: "Brace yourself, it's hard to find good food". That's a weird thing to hear about the USA in Russia, considering the ban on importing European food that the Kremlin imposed during the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine. The first days I spent with my host family, I thought that advice was false. They served fresh organic food and sometimes healthy desserts. But then came the time to see the world.

My first question while traveling through Michigan has become the favourite joke of my colleagues from Michigan Radio: "Why are there so many dead animals on the roads?"

They explained that it was just deer that the state can't afford to pick up them up anymore. Well, as a Russian, "can't afford" sounds familiar, but basically my question was, "Why don’t the people who hit those deer pick them up for dinner?"

One day I entered a coffee shop and asked for a sandwich to go with my latte. They said they don't serve sandwiches until lunch time, so for breakfast visitors were supposed to eat sugary cookies and tarts. The only thing offered for breakfast without sugar was a boiled egg.

Working in an office in Russia, I often hear my colleagues go "to grab a coffee,” but in Michigan I saw people going to grab a one litre cup of a drink that was sparkling, coloured and sugary. And they finish it without any additional food and with the help of a plastic straw.

Plastic straws? Don't get me started...

I see that many Americans are trying to be more ecological, but it’s so easy to follow quick fixes that make us believe we are doing good things. Like using compostable straws. They will not compost themselves if you put them into regular garbage. You should have a compost bin to let them go naturally.

It reminds me of Russians who think that Putin is bad, but at least he is not taking photos with Kim Kardashian. In America, democratic structures mean Trump won’t be in power forever (so I guess that means that, unlike the straws, he's compostable). Is Putin also compostable? I don't think so, but Michigan, please, watch your straws.

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