Sunday, April 25, 2010

The scowl and the smile: Two different perspectives on life as seen through the wrinkles of old women in Moscow.

After living in Moscow for a year and a half, I have noticed a general divide in the older generations.

There’s the бабушка (babushka) that everyone knows, the pushy, grumpy woman who is always yelling at one person or another about how their ignorance or inconsiderate actions are torturing her. She complains of how she doesn’t know if her heart can take much more of whatever minute thing has occurred. Every little thing drives her crazy and deepens the lines in her permanent frown. The world revolves around her and everyone is expected to bow down, clear the way or politely squeeze their way past her, if she is taking up the whole hall while spreading her gossip about this person or that. The lines in her face cause everyone to further entrench her in her stereotype. She has become bitter over years of not being treated with “respect” and seems to think all younger people are idiots. Unfortunately, this old woman is the more obvious one in Russia. She is the stereotype of бабушка – the one that everyone knows.

Fortunately, this grumpy old woman isn’t the only option. There’s another way of looking at the world, which is friendly and easy going. This бабушка laughs at her insane counterpart and with a smirk or laugh brushes off things that would send the other woman into a full on tizzy-fit. She smiles at couples groping each other and making-out on the metro and doesn’t mind waiting for the next train if the one she wants is full – just steps back and smiles. When she gets into a wagon, she does not feel entitled to a seat – even though the announcement says she is, but people usually get up for her anyway because she wears a permanent smile. She appreciates others’ happiness and is the woman to ask for directions when lost because she has time and enjoys life. The lines in her face show years of laughter and jokes, and she inspires others to become more friendly. If someone assists her, she may reward that person with an interesting or funny anecdote, and the gleam in her eye will cause people to look around for the humor she finds in the world. Of course, her friendly demeanor shouldn’t be mistaken for weakness. She is not weak and can push and take care of herself, but usually she chooses to go with the flow of people.

Both types of women are strong and shouldn’t be messed with. Remember that they have lived through ups and downs, certainty and uncertainty. They have probably suffered the loss of a loved one due to alcoholism and learned that there’s no sure way to guarantee health, security or money. The two perspectives boil down to one that regrets all she has lost and the other which appreciates all that she has.


  1. Since I'm nearly of the age of some of those Babushkas, this was a good essay for me to read for my 52nd birthday. Thank you Kimberley. I was telling your parents earlier this month how impressed I have been with your blog postings, you are a gifted writer.

    Cousin Candi

  2. Thanks for the compliment! I enjoy writing - I just should make time for more of it :)

  3. Hmmm...The pessimist vs. the optimist. "The two perspectives boil down to one that regrets all she has lost and the other which appreciates all that she has." I think we have those well. I wonder what kind of бабушка (babushka) I am perceived as. I bet it depends on my day!
    Yes, I enjoy your writing very much too. Thanks!