My hairdresser is Estonian. A few months ago, as she was cutting my hair, she told me all about how Russian babushkas are the best babysitters in the world. “They’re the most loving people you’ll find.” When I was in her chair a few days ago, she said that Russians “are like cockroaches.” You can squash them, she said, “but they’ll just crawl back out of their filthy holes to make life miserable for the rest of us.” Oh and one other thing. She didn’t actually say “Russian,” she said “Ryssä”.
They might both start with “R”, but there’s a world (and about 70 years) of difference between a Russian and a Ryssä. Until a few months ago you wouldn’t even expect to hear the junttiest of junttis using that word. But recently I’ve noticed lots of well-educated, highly-cultured and otherwise very liberal people using it. A lot.
There’s an old saying here that “where there’s a Ryssä there’s a problem”. And that’s true. We do have a problem. P-U-T-I-N.
The word is back in our vocabulary today because people are scared. And angry. Just like they were over 70 years ago when Russia invaded Finland and the term Ryssä was quite literally politically correct.
But there’s a big difference between then and now. The people who are using the word today – like my hairdresser – have over 20 years of recent experience with a totally different kind of Russia. Yes, they’ve invaded Finland in that time, but only to fight us for bargains on UGG boots and Dolce & Gabbana clothes during the sale seasons. We were friends. At least that’s what we thought.
It’s sad to see how quickly old wounds can be ripped back open again. And the harder Putin works to alienate Russia from the rest of the world, the easier it is for us to let the term Ryssä creep back into our vocabulary. But we shouldn’t. It’s an ugly name rooted in hatred. That’s not who we are. And that’s not who the majority of Russians are either.