16 Feb 4 Common misconceptions about Eastern Europe, that are wrong
Eastern Europe, although not so familiar to many, is a very colorful and exciting region that consists of many (and I mean MANY) countries – greater and smaller that are all somehow connected by some similar features and yet each of them is unique. Many of Eastern European countries and their cities are still hidden gems for tourists who rather prefer spending their holidays in more popular Western European places.
Many travellers avoid the region because of some odd misconceptions – many of which were created during the Cold War as all the Communist states were “advertised” as poor, grey and depressive in the Western part of the world. Because of that, people often don’t visit Eastern Europe as they think that the grim-looking Soviet ghost is still there – and they don’t even realize how joyful and rich these places are.
Here are some common misconceptions about Eastern Europe and its people to those who are sick of standard destinations and would like to see something a bit more different.
1. There’s no West in the East
This must be something where so many of us are wrong. People like to believe that what makes Eastern Europe truly “Eastern” is that it lacks “West” in it. We are so used to comparing Eastern European countries to the West that we have started to think that there must be huge differences between these regions; that Western Europe is the sophisticated one – the birthplace of all the famous paintings, all the iconic movies, all the genius writers and all the grand architecture.
Many people don’t realize that there is plenty of Western European influence in the East and vice versa, but if we look closer at the history of the region, we can surely see that there were grand German, Austrian and even French influences in many (if not all) Eastern European countries.
If you travel to the South of Ukraine (close to the Romanian border) you will see plenty of Austrian architecture there (a town of Chernovits is a beautiful example). And did you know that Riga, the capital of Latvia, is actually absolutely full of the most wonderful Art Noveau buildings? Hotel Neiburgs – a lovely boutique hotel in Riga – is just one of the many many samples of this very Western European style of architecture. Who would’ve thought! Many Eastern European cities and towns were built after the German or Austrian model.
2. It’s basically Russia
I cannot even count the times when some people have told me that to them Eastern Europe is a post-Soviet region. Many cannot even name or recognize separate countries and they believe that people in all of these countries probably speak Russian because USSR was just one big Russia, right?
Well could not be more wrong. Did you know that Estonian language is actually similar to Finnish and.. Hungarian? Or the fact that Latvian and Lithuanian are the only two remaining Baltic languages in the world (and they have absolutely nothing in common with Russian)? Or that some theories claim these languages have roots in India? Or that they all have various dialects? Yeah, I thought so.
Many Westerners don’t realize that Eastern Europe has a very long history of various influences that by far exceed the one of the USSR. For example, Latvia was ruled by the German aristocracy for a veeeery long time beginning from the early Medieval times.
Plus, not all Eastern European countries were even part of the USSR. Poland and Czechoslovakia were both Communist states but had much milder policies which allowed their citizens to be more open-minded in their thought and create their own special way of living and expression.
3. Eastern European food and drinks are not as sophisticated
So many Westerners like to believe that all that poor Easterners eat is potatoes, some soups and maybe a gulp of vodka – which is, of course, something totally different from their exquisite selection of cheeses and wines and fancy meat dishes. Well, they’re wrong again.
Eastern European cuisine is as colorful and diverse as any other. Latvians have their special dark rye bread (which, when roasted, makes the best snack ever), Ukrainians have their own salty type of cheese, Czech Republic is famous for some of the best (and cheapest!) beer in the world and the Hungarian wine – I beg you!
And I will not even describe the food if you go further down South where the Middle East influences become more apparent. And, please, enter a household of a Polish grandmother and then tell me there is no food diversity in Eastern Europe (if you get out of there alive!).
4. There’s something sad about Eastern Europe
It’s true for a quite a long time, many Eastern European countries (especially those that were part of the USSR) were sort of cut-off from the rest of the world. Their citizens had limited opportunities to visit other countries and also supplies of many things (many times – even the most basic ones) were quite limited. Western Europe was overwhelmed with stories about people living poor, sad and oppressed lives under the rule of Communism. Okay, lots of it was, indeed, true and the harsh times Easterners had to face have still left some scars in their identity and overall way of seeing things. People seem to be more suspicious here. People are supposedly not as easy going. However, they have a truly special soul that cannot be elsewhere.
Westerners would like to believe that Easterners are simply sad people that spend their lives in grey Soviet buildings. They don’t realize that Eastern Europeans can actually be super-fun and festive people. For example, just look at the Latvians during their Song and Dance festival – I cannot recall seeing a greater crowd devoting themselves to the national culture, I mean it’s huge! Midsummer’s night in the Baltics is absolutely crazy – drinking beer and dancing is a must until the sun rises.
Or take a look at some Czechoslovakian avant-garde cinema from the seventies – nowhere else had I seen such sophisticated, wonderfully witty and, at many times, even very provocative sense of humor.
Did you know that Slavoj Zizek – a rock-star of modern philosophy – is actually Slovenian? His easy and rebellious way of explaining things has a lot of this Eastern European spirit that one should definitely experience. Here’s video where you can learn more about this brilliant man…
Are you still having some doubts whether Eastern Europe is a place to go? Or perhaps you are scared that the ghost of Stalin will haunt you and trick you into denying capitalism? Or perhaps you think you will receive nothing but a suspicious attitude from people that have seen too much in the past? I guarantee you – get rid of these thoughts! Eastern Europe is a truly interesting region and its people, nature and culture are the greatest treasures of this area.
One must visit Eastern Europe with an open heart and eyes – then the warmth of the Eastern soul will easily overwhelm you. The misconceptions about Eastern Europe are relicts of the past where two regions were split as a part of political games. It has nothing to do with the reality. Just check out any of Eastern European countries and you will be able to enjoy the most unique meals, the kindest people, the grandest architecture and the most breathtaking nature scenery. It’s all there!