Russia has always been so wild and eccentric for Europeans that the expression “crazy Russians” came into use in the West. The lifestyle, habits, mentality of Russians – all this not only surprised but also shocked foreigners.
Although the French humanist Louis Le Roi (1510-1577) included Muscovites among the “first and most glorious peoples of the world” on the grounds of power and strength, he noted their strange commitment to autocratic rule based on the sacralization of the monarch’s personality and the lack of rights of his subjects.
The fact that the Russians are ruled by tyrants was written by another Frenchman, the royal historiographer Andre Teve (1516-1592). Comparing the “dukes of Muscovy”, whether Vasily III or Ivan IV, with the tyrants of Africa and Ethiopia, Teve noted that they enjoy “absolute power, both over the bishops and over others, disposing of the property and life of every one according to their whims.”
For Europeans, it was completely incomprehensible why Russians love and honor their rulers so much, believing that the will of the sovereign is the will of God. European diplomats were amazed at how even the most prominent Muscovite representative would call himself a serf of his tsar to the extent that he was also a servant of God.
Learning into a burden
With the light hand of European travelers to the Moscow state of the 16th-17th centuries, the Russians were entrenched with the offensive and largely unjust nickname of “barbarians”. “Either unlimited power made the people barbaric, the roofing barbarians of the people generated such power,” the French aristocrats reflected.
The writer Francois de Belfort (1530-1583) was indelibly impressed by the moral image of the Russians. “Militant savages, drunkards, libertines, deceivers, bribe-takers who are ill-disposed towards women, poorly educated, adherents of slavery, mistaken Christians,” – such as seen by the Parisian intellectual of the Muscovites.
The judicial system of Russia was exclusively surprising foreigners. They believed that the real laws here were replaced by the opinion of the judge. But most of all, they were struck by the venality of the servants of Themis, who were capable of starting things in any direction. The corporal punishment of criminals was horrified by the European envoys. According to them, a quarter of the allotted blows would be enough for them to go to the other world, while the Russians showed extreme indifference to this.
For one hour weights with “Russian barbarism”, foreigners who visited Russia in the XVI-XVII centuries, set ignorance, claiming that it is especially cherished. “They hate teaching, and especially Latin. They have no schools, no universities. Only priests teach young people to read and write, which attracts few people, ”we read in the memoirs of a French diplomat.
Europeans readily and almost always respectfully wrote about the Russian army. All authors agreed with the unpretentiousness and stamina of Russian soldiers. Foreigners who became acquainted with the arrangement of the Russian army were struck by a considerable number of units, which in their combat effectiveness even exceeded the best guard units of the European armies.
The ambassadors were surprised that, being poorly prepared for the next war and not adequately provided with food and shelter, the Russian army survived very well in extreme conditions, as the soldiers knew how to get food and find shelter on their own.
The Danish envoy to Russia, Yul Yust (1709-1712) enthusiastically described how Russian dragoons knew how to fish. Settling down by a small lake and having obtained a net, they swam, acting with their feet and with one hand, with the other drawing a net. “The ability of Russians to find themselves on a trip under all circumstances arouses involuntary surprise,” said Just.
The case of diapers
Many foreign authors paid attention to Russian power and daring. The French mechanic Claude Chappe (1763-1805) explained this by the fact that in Russia they do not know the multitude of clothes and the bandages that fetter the movement, which swaddles children in France.”They, according to Schapp, not only harm the development of muscles but are the main reason that in other countries of Europe there are a large number of freaks, while in Russia they are rare.” For this reason, residents of Russia are less prone to ailments, the Frenchman said.
According to foreigners, physical education, which is practiced throughout Russia, contributes to the strength of the body. The Italian nobleman and ethnographer Allesandro Gwanini (1538–1614) recorded how “Muscovites boldly go out onto a wild bear without any arms and grab it by the ears until it falls to the ground exhausted”.
The French writer Astolf de Custine (1790-1857) admired the dexterity and skill of the Russian peasant, “who knows no obstacles to the execution of the assigned order. Armed with an ax, he turns into a wizard and regains cultural benefits for you in the desert and in the forest. ”
Without any shame
Almost all Europeans who came to Russia met with the Russian bathhouse. She made an indelible impression on many, she was horrified by some. First, in clubs of red-hot steam, whip themselves with wet rods, and then also rush into the ice font. It was too much for a visiting guest.
The German scientist Adam Olearius (1603-1671) noted in amazement how Russians can endure unbearable heat, then run out onto the street, pour in icy water or wallow in the snow, wiping it with soap.
The Czech traveler of the second half of the 17th century, Bernhard Tanner, who decided to visit the Moscow bathhouse, experienced a different kind of embarrassment. “According to our custom, we came covered, thinking that they wash here just like in our area, but from the first step we noticed the difference,” Tanner recalled. – The door, we saw, was open, the windows were not locked, but it was still very hot in the bathhouse. As the Muscovites saw us covered, and without any shame, they were completely naked – they burst into laughter. ”
It was astonishing to foreigners that men and women in a Russian bath can wash together, and also without hesitation, run naked outside and plunge into an ice hole. For them, it was a real exotic. It was only in 1743 that the Russian Senate banned the joint washing of men and women in trading baths by special decree.
Drink to victory
Today the myth that the Russian nation is the most drinking in the world has already been refuted. For example, WHO statistics claim that Russians are noticeably inferior to the Balts in this component. But in olden times, it was apparently different: the Russian addiction to strong drinks was noted in almost every second essay about Russia.
An English diplomat at the Moscow court, Giles Fletcher (1548–1611), wrote that when they start eating, Russians usually drink a glass of vodka, kissing each other at each sip, then they don’t drink anything until the end of the table, but then they get plenty of drinks so that after lunch with they can’t talk about anything. “To get drunk every day a week they have a very ordinary thing,” – said the Englishman.
Foreigners were always surprised that the reason for a drink in Russia could be the most trifling, and the process that began with the “honeycomb for health” often developed into grand booze, which dragged on until late at night. However, in the morning everyone was sober like a glass. How do they do it? – foreigners could not understand.
Another striking fact is the excellent health of the Russians. Jacob Reitenfels, the pope’s ambassador to Moscow in 1670-73, was puzzled how the people of Russia calmly endure the severity of the local climate and are not at all afraid to go out with their heads open in the snow or rain. “Children of three or four years old, often in severe frosts, go barefoot, barely covered with linen clothes and play in the yard, running to run. The consequence of this is the famous hardened bodies, ”the papal envoy believed.
French captain Jacques Margeret, who had been in the Moscow service since 1600, wrote that Russians, with the exception of nobles, did not know what a doctor was. They are reluctant to take pills, hate flushing agents. “If common people get sick,” continues Margeret, they usually take vodka in a good sip and fill it with a load of arquebus gunpowder or a crushed garlic head, stir it, drink it, and immediately go to the steam room, so hot that it’s almost impossible to endure, and stay there until they don’t sweat for an hour or two, and so they do with any disease. ”
Bath, vodka, and garlic – the three main Russian doctors called Danish diplomat Yul Yust. These completely unnatural things for a foreigner could have lifted almost any patient in Russia from the bed.
The envoy of the Roman emperor at the court of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, the Austrian Adolf Lizek, witnessed how a Russian doctor healed a feverish embassy bailiff overlaid his head, arteries, chest and sides with large ice floes, although the warmth of his whole body was not enough to melt them. What was the diplomat’s surprise when on the third day the bailiff stood up as if nothing had happened.“That’s what it means to knock out a wedge with a wedge,” concluded Lisek.