Between 1995 and 2015, Lisa Dickey made three trips all the way across Russia, and in that time, a lot changed — politics, the economy and especially technology. But as Dickey recounts in her new book “Bears in the Streets,” the misconceptions that Americans and Russians have about one another mostly stayed the same.
The book draws its title from a line Dickey heard from many Russians in 2015: “You Americans all just think that we have bears wandering around in the streets here.” And, as she pointed out, even if some Americans do think that, we have lots of wild bears, too.
“They feel like we don’t respect them,” she said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “They feel like we don’t pay attention to them. Now, of course, we’re paying attention to Russia all the time, and I think that makes them feel — and this is a gross exaggeration to say ‘everybody’ — but I do think there is a certain segment of Russian society that does feel like, ‘Now you can pay attention to us again, just like you did when it was two superpowers.’”
There, as it does here, the media plays a big role in shaping how regular people think about the outside world. Most of the people Dickey interviewed on her trips got their news from Kremlin-controlled TV and — although she didn’t take Donald Trump seriously enough to ask about him in 2015 — she did get some interesting feedback on America’s presidents.
“They kept saying, ‘He’s so awful, all he does it lie, you can’t believe a word that he says,’” Dickey recalled people saying of Barack Obama. “And then someone said, ‘It’s never good for Russia when a Democrat is in office.’ I said, ‘All right, did you like George W. Bush?’ ‘Ugh, no! We hated him, too!’ Then I said, ‘Are there any presidents that we had that you liked or admired?’ ‘Ronald Reagan.’”
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Just as Americans are now alarmed by Russian hackers’ alleged interference in the 2016 election, Dickey said the Russian people were suspicious of how America’s media was purportedly trying to undermine them. She remembered an unexpectedly contentious trip to the movie theater to see “The Martian” — in which America turns to China for help in getting Matt Damon off of Mars.
“[A friend] said, ‘I cannot believe — who would ever suggest that you would ask China instead of Russia?’” Dickey said. “He was so offended by that. And he was convinced that the American government forced the filmmakers to make this choice, just to screw with Russia.”
And even among the people with the greatest access to outside information — like a rapper named MC Pavlov or a cosmopolitan young woman who had the means to travel the world — anti-American sentiment was intense.
“She almost immediately leapt into telling me why the Russian press is more free than the American press, why the Russian people are more free than the American people and that 9/11 was an inside job,” Dickey said of the wealthy young woman. “I just said to her, ‘I’m not the hugest homer about my country, we’re not perfect, but I’ve got to tell you, you’re really wrong about this.’”
“Although, look what’s happening with our press not being able to film the press conferences at the White House, and everything is ‘fake news,’” she added. “We’re definitely moving down the path.”
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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.