One of the delights of teaching foreign students in my home city of London is that I get to see the place through their eyes. My learners notice things about life here that I take for granted, things that I’m too close to to be able to see properly. For instance, they’ll ask why we have hot and cold taps in our bathrooms instead of one tap which you can use to mix the water to the desired temperature; or why some people here have carpets on their bathroom floors! One thing that lots of my students have commented on over the years is the fact that Londoners seem a bit cold and distant; they’re not very welcoming. I always found this slightly weird because I’m a Londoner and I like to see myself as a warm and friendly person. I’d generally put it down to the fact that most people in most big cities are in a bit of a rush, busy trying to get somewhere, and so not likey to stop and chat to random foreigners.
Then in 1999, I went to Moscow for the first time and one of the things that immediately struck me was how unfriendly everyone on the incredible underground system looked. Everyone seemed to be scowling and doing all they could to keep strangers at bay! I suddenly understood how London must look to my students, and wondered if this was something that people everywhere always feel as they travel further north!
Looking back on it, I now realise that it was the middle of winter when I was first there; Russia was nearing the end of ten very traumatic years that had seen the Soviet Union collapse and a tiny handful of oligarchs make vast profits from privatisation, while normal people struggled to survive! It was naive of me to expect to receive a rapturous welcome amid all of this!
Since 1999, I’ve been to Russia maybe 30 times, most recently to Norilsk and Saratov, and as I’ve got to know more Russians and made many friends there, I’ve come to see them as incredibly hospitable people – once you get to know them! Just like Londoners, I suppose! In fact, I’ve frequently been struck by the way people are hospitable above and beyond the call of duty. In other words, they’ll do more for you than they are required or expected to. They’ll offer to put you up in their apartments rather than letting you stay in a hotel; they’ll pick you up from the airport, even if it’s miles out of town, and so on!
The phrase has military roots and was originally used to talk about soldiers who died fighting for their country or who showed incredible bravery on the battlefield: they went above and beyond the call of duty and gave their all! Nowadays, the phrase is often used to talk about teachers, social workers, nurses, and other people who work hard to help people. It can also be used to talk about customer service, so companies may claim that they “go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that every customer is 100% satisfied.” You can also leave off the second part of the phrase and just say: They really go above and beyond if you want to say someone did more for you than you were expecting them to.
On my most recent trips, my Russian hosts really went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that everything ran smoothly, that I had what I needed to do my job properly and that I enjoyed the after-hours socialising. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.
- Can you think of a time when someone’s gone above and beyond the call of duty for you?
- Do you know anyone who regularly goes above and beyond?
- Have you ever been anywhere where the people were incredibly warm and friendly? Or where they were very cold and distant?
- When was the last time you really gave your all?
- Think of three things that you’re eternally grateful for.