Monday, February 27, 2006

Smirnoff and Smirnov: Together Again

IOL: Smirnoff back in the familyI just love it when a family story has a happy ending. After nearly 90 years, the branches of the Smirnov family are united again, as Smirnoff brand owner Diageo acquired a 75% stake in the newer Russian Smirnov brand.
Igor Baranovsky, managing director of A 1, said: “Legendary Smirnoff and Smirnov, with their unique Russian heritage are uniting in an outstanding portfolio. This opens new horizons for their future growth.”

Andy Blain, an analyst at Shore Capital, said: “Although Russia is renowned as the birthplace of vodka, the premium and super-premium categories are not displaying the strong growth seen in other markets such as the USA. We consider the joint venture a strategic move by Diageo in order to strengthen the presence of its other main spirits brands, such as Johnnie Walker, which are displaying strong growth within Russia.”

Maslenitsa Has Come!

Mardi Gras, Carnival, Carnaval, Carnivale, Shrovetide, and in Russian it is ... Maslenitsa. Part-pagan and also part-Christian (of the pre-Lent variety) Maslenitsa is celebrated in Russia this week. As it turns out, you can celebrate some pancakes or blini here in the US also - IHOP (International House of Pancakes) restaurants are doing a *FREE* pancake promotion on Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, or заигрыш - zaigrysh in Russian).

Maslenitsa week began as a pagan ritual and has since been absorbed into the Eastern Orthodox religion. Therefore, Maslenitsa serves dual purposes. Per its pagan heritage, Maslenitsa signals the exit of winter and heralds the coming of spring. In fact, for centuries it was the start of the new year. A
s a part of pre-Lent celebrations, it is also a pre-emptive strike against the upcoming fast. Because meat and dairy are traditionally forbidden during Lent, Maslenitsa is the time for feasting (especially on blini). The name of the festival has its roots in the Russian word for butter, “maslo.”

Each day of the week has its own significance:

Monday “встреча” -
Meeting day, it is a day for preparing icy slides and sledding.

Tuesday “заигрыш” - The games and blini begin.

Wednesday “лакомка” - Tasty. Everything is done from the ovens, put on the table your swords.

Thursday “разгуляй” - To help the sun banish winter, horse-drawn sleighs parade around the town in clockwise fashion, in the direction of the sun. Men also have snowball fights in protection of their snow fortresses

Friday “тещины вечера” - This is the day for the son-in-law to visit his mother-in-law.
Hmmm, I better remember this one.

Saturday “золовкины посиделки” - Go to visit your relatives and eat more endless blini. Are you full yet? No? Good, have some more!

Blini are essential to the
celebration of Maslenitsa. Said to symbolize the sun — being warm, round, and golden — they are an appropriate warning to the lingering cold weather. Blini are given to friends and family all through the week and are topped with caviar, mushrooms, jam, sour cream, and of course, lots of butter.

Bonfires will be lit and a straw personification of Maslenitsa may be burned during the festivities in order to say farewell to winter. Sometimes a woman from the community will be
chosen to dress as Maslenitsa. Tradition says that this woman should be cheerfully thrown in a snowbank in order to complete the welcome of spring.

Other traditions including an icy pole-climbing contest
(hoping Katja will obtain pictures of pole-climbing in Rostov Veliky), singing chastushkas (more on that later this week), fist fights (no, really), troika rides, sledding, theater, balagans (Punch and Judy-style puppets shows), singing, and fireworks - all are part of the Maslenitsa celebrations. That all these traditions live is a testament to Russians' long memory and preservation of their heritage.

Maslenitsa is a good excuse to go out and have a good time, eat until you burst, and do something you wouldn't do any other time of the year.

Maslenitsa 2006
Moscow Tourist Information
+7 (8) 495 232 5657

The Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg also has a playbill in honor of Maslenitsa:
Tel. +7 812 326 4141 Email:

If you want to see Maslenitsa as it was during the beginning of the century, be sure to watch the movie "The Barber of Siberia," (Sibirskiy Tsirlyunik). The movie is set during a raucous Maslenitsa celebration in Moscow.

Sources: (excellent page with long historical information, in Russian)

Updated: Great Maslenitsa Photos here Including a huge snowball fight.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Forbes Ranks Russia Low for Investors - High for Business Trips

The Nations Most Hospitable To Investors - Moscow Times has recently reported the February 3rd Forbes Magazine article ranking nations as hospitable for investors. Russia ranked near the bottom of this listing (103 of 135 nations ranked). Per the Moscow Times article, reasons cited include:
A weak banking system, lack of trust in state institutions and corruption were ... reasons for Russia's poor ranking. The main bright point for Russia is its relatively low corporate tax rate, Forbes said.

"While trade and GDP growth are comparable with the likes of China, corruption heavily weighs Russia down," Jack Gage, Forbes associate editor and a co-author of the report...
I am sure there will be some happy Russian blog-troll (I can't imagine who) that will cite corruption in the US - particularly in light of the Enron fiasco and the Jack Abramoff scandal - and try to imply that corruption in Russia is no worse than the US, and that this is another example of unfair Western media bashing of Russia.

Please. Save your breath.

While corruption is difficult to quantify, you will not find seminars in the US explaining how to deal with corrupt bureaucrats - as you will in Russia. I've never spoke or met with a Russian who didn't cite corruption as a problem, and make some black jokes about the topic.

Conversely (and perhaps perversely) Forbes also Ranks
Moscow as one of its top 16 Business Trip destinations. Forbes rather shallowly writes of Moscow:
Moscow: Take a private tour of the Kremlin

Touring the Kremlin with a private guide may be more expensive than going it alone, but it's worth your time and money to avoid getting lost among the palaces and cathedrals, not to mention gain a better understanding of the site's significance in Moscow's history. The tour will take about three hours and costs $30 per hour, but you won't waste time standing in line: the guide will escort you through the fast way. The concierge at the Metropol Hotel, one of the city's oldest and grandest--and located a short walk away, will be able to arrange tours.

Where to stay: Nightly room rates start at $420 at the Metropol Hotel. For more information, call 011 7 499 501 78 00 or visit
So, to summarize .. the advice from Forbes is to go blow your money on an over-rated hotel and tour in Moscow ... conduct some business exploration for the tax right-off ... but God forbid, don't really invest your money. I guess I should be thankful that they didn't cite casinos and strippers as a reason to visit Moscow ... No wonder the impression of America is in decline in Russia ...
PS ~ Forbes also ranks Russian Chechnya as one of its top 16 most dangerous places to visit.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts

Here is a nice little bit of Russian culture that is opening not too far away from me. Mr. Gordon Lankton, long-time Russophile and founder of Nypro Inc., a plastics manufacturer - is building the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts. The museum will showcase Mr. Lankton's collection of 230 icons at a nonprofit museum he is building in a former mill building and library across from Nypro headquarters in Clinton. He bought his first icon for about $20 at a Moscow flea market in the early 1990s while on a business trip. His collection has grown in the past 15 years, during which time Lankton has made an average of three trips annually to Russia, where Nypro has business ventures. Through his Russian friends, Mr. Lankton has also become educated about the art of Icons. Lankton said his friends plan trips to various Russian sites so he can learn more on each visit.

Mr. Lankton and
his wife first visited Russia in 1989. The Soviet Union at that time was seeking foreign companies to invest in joint ventures, and the he and his wife were invited on a business excursion down the Volga River. He and about 100 other foreign executives were lectured each day about the benefits of investing in Russia. As part of the program, each day they also were allowed to visit the countryside. "I grew fascinated with Russia very quickly,"” said Lankton. Lankton plowed ahead despite opposition from Nypro's counsel and a decision by a major healthcare partner to abandon Russian manufacturing plants. The plant lost money in following years after the fall of the Soviet Union, as it fought red tape, the Russian mob, customers who wouldn't pay, and other obstacles. "It was a very, very sad situation, but I wasn't about to give up on them," comments Lankton." I thought these people have half of the nuclear weapons in the world and we should be friends with them. I also felt someone should teach them the benefits of the free enterprise system."

That business excursion was eventually quite successful for both Russia and Mr. Lankton. Nypro still does molding and mold-making at their Russian facilities. Nypro currently has annual sales of over $500 million with 66 facilities in 18 countries, including the US, the Russian Federation, Europe, and Asia.

Icons are usually religious images painted on wooden panels. Russian artists have been painting icons since 988, when the country officially adopted Christianity, but they are rarely seen outside Russia because they have been closeted away in churches and monasteries for the contemplation of the faithful. To believers, the icons are more than mere art
objects to be admired - they are spiritual vessels, designed for communication with the deity and saints. Icons have often been referred to as "windows to heaven", and cannot be regarded simply as representations of saints in the same way those subjects are regarded in Western art.

The word icon is derived from
the Greek word eikon, or image. In the Orthodox Church the term is a theological one referring to the idea that visible things are revealed images of invisible things. Through the icon the believer could gain contact with the spiritual world. Icons do not represent the earthly realm, and that is why the figures do not cast shadows; glittering gold backgrounds remove reference to the transitory natural world. Russian Icons are highly stylized and static, and adhere closely to Orthodox painting traditions that discourage artistic innovation in favor of design continuity. Backgrounds of gold leaf and metal trim animate the dark images, injecting glittering brilliance into the designs.

Because of icons connection to the divine figures they portray, they were seen as powerful guardians that could bring rain, heal diseases in humans and cattle, and keep away bad fortune.
Russian soldiers often carried icons into battle, prizing them for these protective properties. Icons in automobiles are a common Russian tradition today (one which I also follow). After the Russian Revolution of 1917 abolished religion, many icons were destroyed or sold on the Western market. However, many others survived, hidden by believers or carried into exile. Icon painting never died, even under the long years of Communism. There is now a flourishing collectors market in Russian icons. The painted saints of old Russia, long hidden in dark corners of churches and private homes, are now recognized and celebrated throughout the world.

47 pieces of Mr. Lankton's collection were on display at the
Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota as part of the exhibit "Icons: Windows to Heaven" at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis until Jan. 14. The icons displayed date from about 1500 to the late 20th century. They include images of the Virgin Mary cradling her son in her arms, Biblical scenes and depictions of Christ and various saints.

Regarding the Icons exhibit at TMORA, museum president Bradford Shinkle says, "It's been very well-received. In terms of attendance, we have had over 4,000 people go through the museum. The icon is a unique body of historical and aesthetic work." Mr. Shinkle notes that Lankton'’s collection is a great supplement to the other works that were on display.

Archpriest Andrew Morbey, dean of the Cathedral of St. Mary's Orthodox Church in Minneapolis, recently discussed the icon exhibit in an email interview with the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune. At the time of the interview he was traveling in
Georgia, having seen the show in Minneapolis before departing. Excerpts from the interview are below:
Q: How do the icons at the Museum of Russian Art (TMORA) compare in quality with those one might see in a Russian church?
If by quality one means aesthetic value, the exhibit is a mixed - and therefore representative - lot for the period in question. Some panels have a strong influence of earlier Russian iconography; many of the later ones show a marked Western influence; lots [are] in between. Generally speaking, most people have come to prefer the more traditional, less westernized iconography. One of the most beloved of Russian Orthodox saints - St. Seraphim of Sarov - prayed before a very Westernized, nontraditional icon in his cell. It worked. What can one say? In any event, this collection is very typically Russian in its composition.

Q: Are Russians renewing their interest in icons now that their government accepts religion again, or was the icon tradition decimated by 70 years of Soviet rule?
Iconography is absolutely flourishing in Russia (as it is here in Georgia, by the way) and specifically in its traditional forms - on panels, in frescos, in illustration. The Soviet period put a brake on things, certainly, but in a sense it may have purified or focused the phenomenon. So [there are] lots of workshops, not only in monasteries but in parishes and in schools and institutions. As to the personal use of icons, undoubtedly this also is flourishing in as much as Orthodoxy is almost unconceivable without iconography, and Orthodoxy is, if not growing so astonishingly after these past dozen years of freedom, at least deepening in terms of the commitment and practice of believers.

Q: Are there regional styles among Russian icons? If so, what parts of the country are represented in the collection at the museum?
Sure, there are some local characteristics here and there. I'm not certain, but most of the icons at TMORA are probably from the Moscow region. The real difficulty with an icon exhibit is finding a proper balance. For the general public, iconography is art. But for Orthodox believers, iconography is art transfigured, art disciplined in the service of a theological vision. Most important, [the icons are] not something to be looked at but rather a point of encounter, where there is the possibility of a very intimate relationship - and communication - with God and the saints. They are made by believers, for believers, in the context of a living faith.
Upon the completion of the Clinton, Massachusetts Museum in the Spring, the full collection will be put on display. I will be making a visit myself at that time. The new Museum of Russian Icons is located on a narrow stretch of Route 62 (Union Street) in the heart of the old mill town. The Museum design is by architect David Durrant of Durrant Designs, Harvard, Massachusetts. The interior will feature a central spiral steel and wood stairway extending from the bottom to the top floor. Most windows are being blocked up and artificial controlled light installed to enhance the artwork. To maintain the building's architectural integrity, exterior windows will be black glass panels that are glazed from the outside. Inside, the windows will be covered with gypsum blue board.

The photo of the fountain on the above right is from downtown Clinton on January 31, 2006, when I actually had some work assignment in that town. The photo at the top of the page is from the ceiling of Sergiev Posad's Red Gate. I was there in early October 2005 and I thought the image came out particularly well. Technically, the image isn't an icon, but similar enough in style that I thought it went well with this topic.


Russian National Ballet on Tour

I happened to read that the Russian National Ballet performance of Swan Lake will be on tour in my area (New England) in April/May of 2006. I know of performances scheduled for: I am sure there will be other dates and times across the country. I would encourage anyone who is interested to check out Ticketmaster in your area for times and dates.
The Russian National Ballet Theatre was founded with the help and support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. The necessity to have a young, promising and vibrant theatre with a unique potential in both kinds of dance, Classical and Modern, was the main reason for its foundation. Talent and devotion to Art is its major principal. This is supported by the outstanding talent and devotion of the celebrated masters of the Russian ballet, such as, People's Artist of the USSR Professor Igor Moiseev, People's Artist of Russia Professor R. Stuchkova, People's Artist of USSR M. Lavrovsky, People's Artist of USSR Y. Vladimirov and others.

The Russian National Ballet Theatre has given ballet a new lease of life. The theatre's repertoire includes not only classical performances such as Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Scotland Suite, Don Quixote and Gala Concert, but also modern ballets to music of Mozart, Bach, Ravel and others. The company numbers more than 35 ballet dancers, and is the result of the pain staking search for dedicated and talented dancers. A great effort has gone into providing the correct atmosphere and conditions in which to develop and perfect the artists' mastery and creative research.

The company's main soloists are :

Honoured Artist of Russia M. Bogdanova, E. Berezina, O. Pavlova and Prize winners of International ballet competitions M. Romanov, K. Pavinskaya, N. Ivanova, S. Kkaoukov, J. Usin, and others.

The General Director of the theatre is the Honoured Artist of Russia and soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia, Vladimir Moiseev. The Ballet's Artistic Director is the Honoured Artist of Russia Evgeny Amosov. The theatre's soloists were invited to perform principal roles in the leading theatres of Russia, Italy, Spain, Japan, USA, Mexico, Australia, South Korea and China.

The major creative principal and direction of the theatre is, not only careful preservation of the Russian Classical ballet school, but also the development of the never ending search for new forms of choreographic expressiveness, discovering new models of direction and possibilities of dance.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Uh oh - Tag, I'm it

Four jobs I've had:
- Geotechnical Engineer
- Construction Materials Technician
- Flagman on a Asphalt Paving Crew
- Dishwasher

Four movies I can watch over and over:
- Rob Roy
- Almost Famous
- Ferris Bueller's Day Off (anyone?_______anyone?)
- Brazil

Four places I've lived:
- Herzogenaurach, Germany
- Oahu, Hawaii
- Wolcott, Vermont
- Brooklyn, New York

Four TV shows I like (ugh, I hate most TV):
- The Sopranos
- The Wire
- Twin Peaks (ya, I had to go this far back to find something I watched regularly)
- Seinfeld

Four places I've vacationed:
- Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
- Hershey, Pennsylvania
- Elmore, Vermont
- Grand Canyon, Arizona

Four of my favorite dishes:
- Manti with tomato sauce
- Medium-Rare Porterhouse Steak, baked sweet potato, asparagus w/ butter
- Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Ice Cream
- Maine Lobstah

Four sites I visit daily:
- Straight Dope
- Boston Sports Media
- Dilbert
- Salon

Four Books I've Read This Year:
- Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond)
- Divine and Human and other Stories (Leo Tolstoy)
- State of Fear (Michael Crichton)
- Education of a Coach (David Halberstam)

Four bloggers I'm tagging:
Sean Guillory
Lyndon Allin
Elena Skochilo

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ayn Rand vs. Ethel Voynich - Different Messages for Different Nations

Ethel Lillian Voynich (maiden name Boole) (born May 11, 1864, County Cork, Ireland - died July 27, 1960, New York City). E. L. Voynich's father - George Boole - is famous for Boolean algebra, which is the basis of computer calculations. Married Wilfrid Michael Voynich, of Poland; however, she was also possibly romantically involved with Sigmund Rosenbaum aka Sidney Reilly ... upon whom The Gadfly may be based (he apparently made this claim, she never verified this). It is known that Ian Fleming based his James Bond character upon Mr. Reilly.

E. L. Voynich is virtually unknown in the US or UK; however, in the former USSR and People's Republic of China, she is most famous for her novel The Gadfly, first published in 1897. This novel is very popular in Russia and the former USSR and a top best seller. In fact, in these countries she is considered among the West's greatest writers ... mentioned in the same breath as Shakespeare or Charles Dickens. The book was compulsory reading in schools, and was seen as ideologically useful in communist nations. By the time of Voynich's death The Gadfly had sold an estimated 2,500,000 copies in the Soviet Union. It has been made into movies in communist nations several times, perhaps most famously in Aleksandr Fajntsimmer's "Ovod" (1955).

The novel is about the struggles of Arthur Burton (aka "The Gadfly"), philosophy student, member of the Youth Movement, and international revolutionary in Italy during the 1840s and Austrian dominance of that country. During this time of revolts and uprisings, the story centers on the Gadfly and his nemesis Padre Montanelli. The tragic (and ultimately unfulfilled) relationship between Arthur and his love Gemma is simultaneously part of the story. It is a novel of faith, revolution, romance, and heroism ... maybe even martyrdom ... and makes the case sublimation of the individual, even if the result is a short life - lived pursuing selfless causes and ambitions.

"Then am I a happy fly, if I live or if I die"

Ayn Rand, born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum (born February 2 [O.S. January 20] 1905 St. Petersburg, Russia - died– March 6, 1982, New York City). Ms. Rand is just as well known in the US as Ms. Voynich is unknown. Conversely, Ayn Rand is unknown in Russia, the former USSR states, and communist nations. Likely, this is for very good reason; the irony of these two women authors origins, writings, and spheres of popularity is certainly not lost on me.

Ayn Rands novels include We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and The Virtue of Selfishness. Her philosophy of Objectivism emphasized concepts of individualism, rational self-interest, and ultimately - capitalism. The proper morale purpose of life is pursuing one's own happiness. Is this hedonism? Whoo hoo! Let the pah-tay begin!

Unfortunately no, Ms. Rand is much too serious and puritanical for happiness to be found in wanton debauchery. Instead, it must be found in power, influence, and capital. Given that she was Jewish, I can just imagine what a Russian might say ...

As cited in Wikipedia she believed that man must choose his values and actions by reason; that the individual has a right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing self to others nor others to self; and that no one has the right to seek values from others by physical force, or impose ideas on others by physical force.
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute. - Ayn Rand

Sad Holiday News - Moscow Market Collapse Kills at least 47

Moscow Market Roof Crash Kills 47 For those who aren't already following this story, the Basmanny market in the Bauman district on the east side of Moscow collapsed at approximately 5:45 am on Thursday, February 23. (Video from NTV)The victims of the collapse are reportedly municipal and market workers. Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said all the dead were workers from outside Moscow. Most Moscow markets are staffed by migrants from the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus region and Central Asia. Russian media reported some market workers lived in the basement of the building; many migrants encounter trouble getting police permission to live in Moscow apartments. That process to get registration to live in Moscow is a topic for another day, however. Coincidently, the architect for this building is Nodar Kancheli, who also designed the Transvaal Park swimming pool complex, whose roof collapsed in February 2004. From an earlier AP update:
The architect who designed the covered market said in a radio interview that its flat roof had not been designed to bear a heavy load of snow. "It seems there was a lot of snow, and nobody removed it," Nodar Kancheli was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as telling a Moscow radio station. "Nobody was allowed to get on to the roof to clear it off." Kancheli was charged in April 2005 with negligence over the design of the Transvaal Park swimming pool complex, whose roof collapsed in February 2004 under the weight of snow, killing 28 people and injuring 200. He has denied responsibility.
However, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has reported the roof was designed to clear itself of snow.
"The roof was designed to take a large amount of snow cover, and there was a special gutter pipe that was always left open so the melted snow could run down, so there was no special need to have the roof cleared of snow," the mayor told reporters.

Luzhkov said that the Bauman Market, also known as the Basmany market, was among buildings designed by Kancheli's firm that had been checked for safety after the Transvaal disaster.
Credit goes to rescue workers who appeared to be quickly on the scene. Various reports cite between 100 to 150 survivors may be trapped under the approximately 2,000 square meter roof. According to ITAR-TASS, Moscow prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev will be investigating at least three possible contributing causes to the collapse:
Among versions, he called “violation of the rules of operation, improper implementation by the market management of safety engineering rules and wrong designing of the building”.

Now I will put on my engineer hat for some comments.

There is just no way that a properly designed building in Moscow should collapse under an estimated seasonal snowfall of 20 inches of snow. Mr. Luzhkov is at least partially correct; a properly designed building should drain itself of water from rain and melting snow, as the biggest danger is an accumulation of heavy wet snow, from freezing and thawing cycles. And keeping the gutter pipe clear of ice and frozen debris is also critical. Further, if Moscow building codes are not designed to accomodate snow live loads from 20 inches of snow, then the rooftops should be cleared before now. But it is rather hard to believe that only 20 inches would impinged upon the structural design factors of safety to an extent that failure would result.
Not seeing the layout of the building and locations of kiosks and such, it is difficult to determine what contribution they made to the buildings collapse. This sounds like a roof collapse, and based upon photographs, the whole thing came down like a pancake on top of the underlying kiosks (and building occupants). This could be the result of one column failing and a resulting "zipper" effect as load is transfered from the failed columns to the remaining columns, resulting in their failure - and so on down the line.

However, given how flat the collapse of the structure appears in photos, it seems more like some sort of failed connection of the roof to the columns (update: seeing more photos of the overall scene makes me think it is a column failure and zipper effect).
With the Transvaal Park swimming pool roof collapse, I had suspected something similar, with corrosion of some key connections. Corrosion due to chlorine and moisture in the air is a common problem with swimming pools, that has resulted in failures here in the US and elsewhere. It is difficult to see what might have caused corrosion, if any, in this collapse. Further, whatever evaluation was done of this architects prior buildings was clearly not sufficient. Obviously, these buildings will have to be revisited, with a clear eye towards common design elements. Reevaluation of the structural plans, as well as comparing these plans to the actual construction of the building (surprise, but buildings aren't always built exactly according to the plans) will also be required.
Update: More details on the buildings construction are found on NTV's website. Based on my poor translation of this, it appears to be a cable-suspended, steel reinforced concrete roof. The roof fell straight down and is partially suspended by internal walls, trapping people in the open spaces underneath. Apparently the architect has designed two other similar buildings with suspended cable roofs.

Update II: Mikhail Moskvin-Tarkhanov, Chairman of the Planning and Development Commission of the Moscow city Duma, has an opinion column, citing the poor construction practices (строительстве халтура or construction hack-work) of the 1970s Brezhnev era, as a contributing factor in the Basmanny market roof failure. He calls for reinspection of all similar large, open-spaced roof designs from the 1970s, in sports facilities and elsewhere.

Happy 23rd of February for all men!

23rd of February as a holiday first appeared in 1918 as a Birthday of the Red Army and a celebration of Victory over the German troops near Narva and Pskov. Since that time it was celebrated as a Day of Red Army and only since 1946 it was re-named into the day of Red Army and the Navy. The Day of Protectors of the Motherland.

Since that time this holiday has mostly converted into a Holiday for all the men in Russia, as they felt that it was unfair that women have a holiday on the 8th of March and get all the presents and flowers.

Some numbers about this holiday:

  • 73% think that this Holiday is extremely important.
  • 67% think that our Army can protect us

In 2002 it were 59% who thought that way. Since 2002 the amount of people who are absolutely sure that our country is well protected had risen in 2,5 times ( data according to

So, to all the men, no matter what country are they from - Happy Holiday!
More information and pictures about it at

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"Future of the Skinhead Movement"

Russian Skinheads Intimidate Foreigners Mosnews reprinted this article from Reuters by Oliver Bullough. It has been picked up by various newspapers here in the US as well. The article and interviews were apparently in response to the late December murder of Kanhem Leon, a student from Cameroon at St. Petersburg Water Communications University.

Mr. Bullough interviews a supposedly educated engineer and skinhead, who calls himself Tesak (hatchet). Tesak heads a group called Format 18 which posts videos on its website of their attacks on "non-white" foreigners (Armenians, Chinese, Tajiks in his words).

Some points that Mr. Bullough asserts:
Most Russians strongly disapprove of such assaults, but opinion polls suggest passive racism is widespread. Foreign visitors to Russia are often shocked by casual racist language and behavior that has long been taboo in their own societies.

Late last year, polling firm Levada Centre said 53 percent of 1,600 respondents supported the phrase “Russia for the Russians”, while the numbers supporting a limit on immigration were markedly higher than the year before.
Although these groups claim to not be organized, there are signs of organization in the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) as well as smaller neo-nazi groups.
"Tesak is the future of the skinhead movement. He is clever and confident, he doesn’t take drugs or drink. You can only kill him, you can never make him abandon his ideas,” said Sergei Belikov, a lawyer who works with skinheads and has written three books on the phenomenon.

“This is becoming a middle class movement ... It has become a national idea when nothing else is left. Teachers have become market traders, doctors have become bums, but they can all say at least they are white and European.” Until more of an effort is made, Belikov said even the precautions Cameroon urges on its citizens are not enough.

“Basically, I would advise Africans and Asians not to come to Russia, there is nothing good for them here,” he said.
I would not want to give a traveller to Russia the impression that they are going to be rounded up and beaten as soon as they leave their hotel. I've certainly not found that to be the case. However, in some cities, even native Russians avoid going out to certain places at night. Our Russian taxi driver in Yaroslavl - talked in rather black tones - about avoiding parts of the city at night. Apparently a friend of his was still in the hospital from a beating at the hands of some drunken hooligans.

Crime statistics for Moscow also compare favorably to similar crimes in New York City, for example. The one notable exception being public drunkeness which was higher in January for Moscow (New Years was a 10-day holiday in Russia this year.)

Increasingly however, it appears that semi-organized gangs of racially-motivated skinheads are making the rounds in cities in Russia. I've heard similar stories from friends and acquaintances in cities such as Ryazan, Veliky Novgorod, and Ekaterinburg. Certainly such things find their way into the headlines of newspapers both in the West and in Russia. It is also worth noting that there are organized anti-facist protests in various cities in Russia as well.

Some examples of other similar recent stories, just in St. Petersburg, include:
St Petersburg prosecutor's office has sent the criminal case over the murder of Vietnamese student Vu An Tuan to court. The city prosecutor's office brought charges against 17 people, 14 of them minors, facing a charge of hate murder committed by a group of people. A few adolescents charged with Vu An Tuan's murder will stand trial for other crimes as well. The attackers are indicted for a total of seven crimes.
An African student has been beaten up in St Petersburg's Vyborgskiy District, the city prosecutor's office reports. On 24 January several unidentified people attacked the 24-year old student at Forestry Academy. They beat him up and ran away. The student was admitted to hospital with broken bones and bruises.
Five people suspected of assaulting students Timur Kacharava and Maksim Sgibay were arrested in St Petersburg on 5 December, said. Four of them are said to have pleaded guilty of taking part in the assault. The arrested men allegedly admit to belonging to a skinhead movement.

Russia's Leadership in Counterfeiting Not a Fact - China's Bigger!

The Russia's Leadership in Counterfeiting Not a Fact
RIA Novosti wire report regarding the International Intellectual Property Alliance pressing the US Government to block Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization until Russia creates "a system of reliable protection of intellectual property." Apparently these American business men are upset at the loss of money that they COULD be making in Russia.
Alexander Shokin, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, was right when he said that "piracy is the biggest headache for Russian business." Nevertheless, tireless efforts against it have not yielded tangible results. Why?

One of the main reasons of the failure is that the price of licensed products is too high for Russian consumers. The population's weak financial possibilities are in reverse relation to its longing for knowledge and new culture and art products. A well-to-do person will never go to the market to buy a pirated book, tape or CD from a stand, but there are few of them in Russia, Shokhin says. He believes that among other measures, it is very important to reduce customs duties on imported items of intellectual property. Also, foreign copyright holders should move production to Russia, thereby reducing the cost of their products for Russian consumers.
These measures sound accurate, but I can't see how these changes would happen very quickly - and they don't address the fact that counterfeiters are making money at doing this, at relatively small risk of punishment (or so it seems to me). The article continues:
Loopholes in the Russian legislation also encourage piracy, and so do mild punishments that are inadequate to the scale of the offense, which many people acknowledge. A high-ranking officer in the Interior Ministry's economic crimes department, who has been fighting against intellectual property-related crimes for several years, says that piracy can be stopped only by force. To do so, cases of piracy should be tried in courts of general jurisdiction rather than arbitration courts; and amendments should be introduced to the Criminal Code to make punishment for piracy tougher.

Many of such crimes are punished with death sentence in the United States and with life imprisonment in Turkey, he says. In his opinion, it is important that a new generation of Russian businessmen would be afraid to produce pirated products. Today neither sellers nor buyers are afraid of getting long prison terms.
Death penalty for making fake Pantene or Borjomi? I don't think so!

According to the Death Penalty Information Center (who knew there was such a place?)
In 1994, as part of an omnibus crime bill, the federal death penalty was expanded to some 60 different offenses. Among the federal crimes for which people in any state or territory of the U.S. can receive a death sentence are murder of certain government officials, kidnapping resulting in death, murder for hire, fatal drive-by shootings, sexual abuse crimes resulting in death, car jacking resulting in death, and certain crimes not resulting in death, including the running of a large-scale drug enterprise.
Also worth noting - the figures they give for American business losses due to counterfeiting in Russia versus China are $1.75 billion and $2.53 billion, respectively. Considering the populations in these two countries 143 million vs. 1.3 billion - I think that puts Russian comfortably in the lead in counterfeiting on a per capita basis.

Personally, I don't really care if some filthy rich American businessman is or isn't getting his cut of profit from selling toothpaste in Russia. However, it is a risk for consumers in Russia, when at any time they aren't sure if the bottle of wine they are buying is genuine, or some colored rubbing alcohol.

Katja actually wouldn't let me buy any wine or alcohol at the grocery stores in Yaroslavl. She looked at the price and declared that it must be counterfeit. She acknowledged that it was a big problem there and you can never be sure if something is real or not. She drinks Borjomi rather regularly and says at least a few times she feels she might have gotten fake Borjomi (maybe more than a few).

The problem is too many people are making too much money making fakes - and Russia really hasn't yet shown the stomach for taking on organized crime. The risk has to become greater than the reward ... either the risk must increase or the profit must decrease. I think it will be quite some time before either happens.

Monday, February 20, 2006

SKI Magazine ~ Down and Out in Krasnaya Polyana

SKI Magazine ~ Down and Out in Krasnaya Polyana The story of a complete ski-wimp on a trip to Krasnaya Polyana. I nearly bust a gut laughing at this guy. Unfortunately, I think he represents many Americans. If you find that you are like this guy - please, do us all a favor. Stay home. Don't go to Russia and make us all look bad. He also talks about the U.S. Embassy advising against "travel in an area roughly between the Caspian and Black Seas". He then mistakenly (to my mind) cites Krasnaya Polyana as being in that region. As far as I know, Krasnaya Polyana is near Sochi and the shores of the Black Sea. Technically, I suppose that puts it between the Caspian and Black Sea - the way NYC is technically between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Some of the funnier lines:
"Ask him to pray for us," I instruct Yulia.

"I'm not saying that," she says. "This is an atheist country, you know."
Athiest country? I'm not sure I would go so far as to say that. Is there any taxi driver in Russia that doesn't have an icon hanging from the mirror or sitting on the dash? He continues:
I smile indulgently at Yulia when the taxi driver she has hired to pick us up in Moscow pulls over in rush hour traffic three times because his Soviet-era piece-of-crap car overheats as he tells us, "the airport is only one kilometer, it would really be faster to walk."
I will say that the connection (or lack there of) of Terminals 1 and 2 at Sheremetyevo is a personal pet peeve of mine. Still, imagining this guy dragging his bags along the side of the road for 1,000 meters is pretty funny. He describes his flight on Aeroflot from Moscow as
"a trip redolent of urine and cigarette smoke, a journey I endure in a kind of modified sitting fetal position while a fat lady in front of me keeps shoving her seat into my knees, a voyage where about a third of the passengers (who ... seem ...glassy-eyed and drunk)"
Sorry, I haven't found Aeroflot to be like that at all - no smoking and certainly no urine. I begin to think this guy imagines all sorts of crazy things.

He at least freely acknowledges that he is spineless.

When his chairlift stops, with him and Yulia still stuck on it:
"Why are we stopped?" I politely inquire. "Who knows?" Yulia says. Did I mention I'm paying Yulia good money? Green, American dollars. Shouldn't she at least try to find out?

"How 'bout
asking that guy?" I suggest.

He sits in the chair facing us, coming down the mountain. We have been sitting for about 10 minutes or so. He is smoking a cigarette, staring into space. He looks unperturbed, implacable, as if his ancestors had witnessed centuries upon centuries of serfdom and suffering, famine, etc.

Yulia talks Russian to him. He talks Russian to her.
"He says he thinks one of the main electrical cables snapped this morning." She says this in the same tone of voice I might use to order oatmeal.

"What?" I say. Perhaps I shriek. I can't remember.

"You have to understand, this is Russia," Yulia tells me. "Power goes out. Things don't work. That's the way it is. People who complain, who can't stand inconvenience, really shouldn't come here."

Yulia, I'm sorry to say, seems to be developing what we in New York City call "an attitude."

"Ask him how long we're going to be stuck here."
She sighs, but complies, then delivers his answer. "Maybe three minutes," he says, "maybe three hours."
He doesn't have much good to say about the skiing and seems concerned about wild pigs (who knows why - perhaps because he is from NYC). He disses the "apres-ski" food ... apparently he has never seen anything home-made and jarred and canned. At dinner
Alexander, our waiter, tells us that Putin ate here. He tells us that Muscovites are buying up the land around the resort, because the tunnel from Sochi will be finished soon, and property values will soar. He opens my menu for me.

"Salad Crab in Love," I read. "Interesting," I think.

"Young Deer in Rum," I read. "Brutal, but who am I to judge?" I think.

"Boiled Calf Tongue with Mushrooms," I read. "Cold Boiled Bear. Cold Boiled Deer."

I ask Yulia to ask Alexander where the bathroom is.

Three flights (down) later, trying to clutch my stomach and stand on one leg, I behold a hole in the floor.

"Nyet," I whimper. "Nyet, nyet, nyet."
Somehow I imagine the scene in Trainspotting - where Renton enters the "Worst Bathroom in Scotland". I'm betting someplace in the Russian countryside has that beat. Heck, there is probably a two-holer in the White Mountain National Forest that has it beat.

The guy ends up with a bad case of the runs (his delicate system can't handle Russian food?) and he goes home and writes this hatchet-piece. Anyone up for an amusing read can go through the rest of the article.

Nochnoi Dozor (ne Pozor) - Opening Weekend in the US

Nochnoi Dozor (Night Watch) was released by Fox Searchlight films in three cities (New York, San Francisco, and LA) over the weekend. According to
... the Russian blockbuster ... grossed over $100 thousand its opening weekend, a decent average of $36.7 thousand. It will expand into more cities over the next few weeks.
It goes into wider release into 35 venues in nine more cities this Friday. I'll be keeping my eyes open for it in the Boston area - if for nothing else than to say that I saw it on the big screen. As of right now, it isn't scheduled for release in this area. I watched it long ago, having downloaded it on the 'net. (I feel no guilt in this). It is likely that the film won't be a huge success here, not on the scale that it was in Russia, but still it is the first Russian film in a several years that has generated some buzz here in the US (last one being Russian Ark in 2002). For the record, Rotten Tomatoes gives it mixed reviews.

More interesting to me is a Fangoria interview with Sergei Lukyanenko, author of the Nochnoi Dozor series of books. I won't pull quotes from the interview - Reprint or Reproduction of Any Material In Part or in Whole is Strictly Forbidden - but it is interesting to note that Mr. Lukyanenko is wearing a Komsomolskaya Pravda t-shirt. For the Sci-Fi curious, a bibliography of Mr. Lukyanenko's work can be found on Wikipedia.

Update 3/1/2006: After it's opening weekend in multiple US cities, Night Watch has posted gross sales of $335,389. That comes to an average of about $6,092 per theater, which is actually quite good. Currently it is only being shown in 34 theaters across the US. For those interested, you can chart it's progress each weekend at this link.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

One Striking Difference Between USA and Russia

I have a subscription to "Russian Life" magazine. It claims to have been around for 49 years, and is headquartered in Montpelier, Vermont (ironic considering my family is from Vermont and I used to live there). It is basically for the English-speaking russophile. They sponsor an annual "Taste of Russia" event in Amherst, Massachusetts as well. The most recent issue had a small side column that you often see in magazines, with some statistics and opinion polls. The one poll that really caught my eye is below:
Do you prefer a political system with:

... one political party?_________________38%
... 2, 3 or more parties?________________39%
... with many small parties?______________4%
... without poltical parties?_______________7%

Levada Center is cited by the magazine as the source of the poll.

Maybe any Russians reading this don't find anything particularly surprising about the result. In hindsight, I suppose that I shouldn't either. However, I can say ... from an American point of view, this poll would probably end up being something like the following:
Do you prefer a political system with:

... one political party?_________________5%
... 2 political parties?_________________75%
... 3 or more parties?_________________15%
... with many small parties?_____________2%
... without poltical parties?______________3%

Those numbers are just a guess on my part - but I'm betting they are pretty close. If someone has good data on this, I'd be glad to see it - although I think such an opinion poll would be met with laughter by most here. During the early 90's the 3 or more parties vote might have risen as high as 25% (remember Ross Perot?). In the eyes of many (Republican) Americans, that 3rd party helped get Bill Clinton elected President - an absolute disaster as far as conservative Republicans are concerned. Perot split the conservative voters (so say the Republicans) and Clinton was elected by default. For the record, I actually voted for Perot, but would not have voted for Bush under any circumstances.

To most Americans - a one party system smacks of dictatorship. That is the instant conclusion in our minds. We have no belief in a "benevolent dictatorship". Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So it really isn't considered a viable option ... not even in the slightest.

Anything more than 2 parties tends to make a clear consensus candidate unattainable, and Americans find European coalition governments quite amusing in their ineffectiveness (we are pretty smug about that).

The Russian results brings to mind the following quote:
“Ever since the Romanovs ascended to the Russian throne, from Mikhail Fyodorovich to Nicholas I, the government has been at the forefront of education and enlightenment. The people follow along, but often lazily and half-heartedly. And it is precisely this which constitutes the strength of our autocracy.” — Alexander Pushkin

Friday, February 17, 2006 Michael Farber: Russia gets an unexpected spark Michael Farber: Russia gets an unexpected spark
Nice little piece on the Russian hockey team moving up the rankings after blanking Sweden 5-0.

I've tried to explain to some Russians why Americans don't care too much about the Olympics. Typically, our best athletes aren't competing in Olympic events; they have cultivated their skills to become professional baseball, football, basketball, or hockey players. And when our professional athletes do compete in basketball or hockey, typically the best ones aren't sent (due to multi-million dollar contracts and risk of injury) and those who do go seem less passionate.

A quote from the SI article above:
That's the difference between the Russians and the North American teams in the tournament, especially Canada. Canada first focused on the ring that came with the Stanley Cup; the Russians focused on the rings of the Olympic movement. Despite the failures of the past 14 years, Hockey Night in Turin stirs the Russian soul.

"I think everyone dreamed when we were growing up young guys," winger Ilya Kovalchuk said. "The Stanley Cup is huge, but Olympic Games, you play for the country. Millions of people in your country celebrate with you. I think for Russians, this is the most important win - the Olympic Games. Now a lot of [NHL] GMs say they don't want you to go, you might get injured. But it's our dream to play for the national team. And they can't stop us."

And from a Dan Wetzel article from yesterday:
TURIN, Italy - After Latvia and the United States tied in men's hockey Wednesday, after the passionate Latvian fans waved flags and danced in the aisles, after the vast majority of remote controls in the U.S. tuned into American Idol, Arturs Irbe summed up the entire thing.

"You can say that this probably means more to us than to the American team," the former NHL and current Latvian goalie said.

Don't stop there, Arturs. It isn't just the American team that may not care all that much about its performance here at the Winter Olympics. It's all of America itself.

Mr. Wetzel goes on about the failures of the NHL and how Americans just aren't caring about hockey anymore. But I actually think it is deeper than that. The large professional sports environment, with its multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement dollars, actually poisons the well for the US in these international competitions. No dollars are on the line for these guys, and they have no sense of national pride being on the line either.

In those Olympic sports where going pro is not an option, the US still does quite well (more gold medals at this time than any other nation). But Americans just care less and less about showing up other countries. There are no real rivalries, the games come only every 4 years, the faces change at every Olympics.

Maybe for a Russian this is difficult to understand - but if you lived in the US and know the passion behind Red Sox vs. Yankees or Bears vs. Packers - you see the Olympics is just a pale shadow.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Men's skaters living Russia's reality show

Men's skaters living Russia's reality show Nice little article in US Today by Christine Brennan. I can't say that I am a fan of Johnny Weir, but he says some good things about Plushenko.

Apparently Weir has hired a Russian choreographer and is studying Russian language and history. Good for him, although I don't think it will give him the angst needed for real artistry!

I'll look for a good interview with Plushenko ... would be better to hear something straight from him, as opposed to Weir.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

If you are Russian ...

A couple of years ago, a very good friend of mine sent me a link to the "American Culture" page at Zompist. The idea of the page was a list of topics, that if you are American ... appear transparent and essentially factual from an American point of view.

That page spawned a list of other countries "If you are's .." that are included on the page, as shown if you follow the links. Over time, with discussions and help with Russian friends (big thank you to all who helped and continue to help) I worked on a Russian version of the page. The recent addition of the Ukrainian Culture link certainly stirred the pot in getting this completed!

I consider this a work in progress ... please compare it to the original "American Culture" page and any helpful comments or suggestions should be incorporated. I'll be editing this post as time goes along and hope everyone finds this interesting. I've tried to incorporate the Russian sense of humor into it as much as possible.

So without further ado:

If you are Russian:

  • You believe that all politicians and wealthy individuals had to cheat, lie, or steal to rise to their position of power. This might make you a bit jealous, and certainly permits you to take a little extra for yourself if you see an opportunity. Everybody does it. Where’s the harm in that? The wealthy make enough already.
  • You are familiar with Cheburashka, Koshei Bessmertnii, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Baba Yaga, Ivan Grozny, Ded Moroz, Snegurochka, Ivan Durak, Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears (Moskva Slezam Ne Verit), With Light Steam (S Legkim Parom), Eralash, Ivan Susanin, Santa Barbara, Nu Pogodi, Terminator and MTV.
  • You know how football (not that American stuff) and hockey are played, especially if you are a man. And you likely follow figure skating also. Everyone knows Russians are the best at it. You probably tried basketball in physical education class. Baseball? It is incomprehensible and reminds you of the game that you used to play at kindergarten and in primary school and which is called Lapta.
  • You get 24 vacation days a year, along with many holidays. Plus tea-breaks ... and smoking breaks during the day. After all, I will pretend to work, if you pretend to pay me. Although it seems more and more they expect you to work to make even a little money.

If you died tonight you wouldn’t be surprised….

  • You believe in God (especially when you are in big trouble) and may wear an orthodox cross. But you probably don’t go to church very often. If you are a woman, you know to put a scarf over your hair and to wear a skirt when going to church. You also celebrate main religious holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. You also celebrate and follow many pagan holidays and traditions too. The Church is not against it.
  • McDonalds and Pizza Hut are not cheap food, and are just terrible for you. Americans eat this unhealthy food all the time; it is why they are all fat. You’ve tried these places and their food quality is bad. You might even try it weekly, just to be sure that it is still terrible. Mmm, yes, still terrible. Cheaper and better options exist at local cafes. Baskin-Robbins is cool though … did you know they have 32 flavors?
  • You don’t consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, or guinea pigs to be food; however you might eat some suspicious looking mushrooms that you’ve picked up in the woods. Sometimes you get poisoned by them but that doesn’t stop you from mushroom-picking next time.
  • A bathroom has a bathtub in it and it might have a toilet, although it might be in a separate room as well.
  • If you live in a big city (and of course, you absolutely want to ... who wants to live in a dirty village of only half a million people?) you rely upon the metro, buses, or marshrutka (mini-buses). They are cheap, fast, and reliable. Even cheaper if you get one of those counterfeit pass-cards that people sell on the streets. Just don’t get caught using one. Sometimes you take a taxi, or just wave down a car going by and negotiate the cost of a ride. Trains are quite reliable for traveling long distances in Russia … not that you do that very often. Airplanes are expensive and a bit scary and thrilling … you flew on one once when going to Anatalya, Turkey for vacation.
  • You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will not work sometimes. Sometimes the power goes out for a short while also. Getting a new phone line is a real pain, but mobile phones! My god, mobile phones! I just bought a new one a month ago, but I want to exchange it for the latest, coolest one like Masha got last week! Mobile phones are all pre-paid plans, and phone cards are all in dollars (the price might vary too much if it were in rubles).
  • You probably own a telephone (mobile phone too!) and a TV. Your place is heated in the winter and has its own bathroom. You do your laundry in a machine, although you very well may hang it to dry. Ironing is therefore essential, unless you are a slob. You don't kill your own food, but your family may have a garden and/or dacha. Picking wild mushrooms and berries is a real tradition. Canning or preserving foods from your garden or from picking wild is also common. You don’t make your own bread, but the bread you buy is probably not pre-sliced. You probably live at home until you are married sometime in your twenties. You don't have a dirt floor. You eat at a table, sitting on chairs. Shoes are removed as soon as you enter the house, put on some house slippers, and for god’s sake, wash your hands after you’ve been out! The city is filthy!
  • If you live in a city (and of course you do) you know you will be without hot water for one month in the summer. And of course, the heat isn’t turned on until October 1st (well, September 20th in hospitals and kindergartens). Heat and hot water are all provided by central plants in each city, after all. The idea of each house or apartment having control of their own heat and hot water … seems so decadent!
  • You need to be 18 to get a drivers license. You have to take paid lessons and cannot practice on your own. This makes getting a license difficult. But of course, you can always just bribe an official and get a license … really, everybody does it. Women mostly don’t drive (which is only proper) although more of them are getting on the roads these days. Before you can get permission to drive, you are required to have a full physical, including a gynecological exam for women (eto pravda!).
  • You need to be 18 to drink or smoke, although nobody really checks. Smoking is very popular and you can do it anywhere. Beer (pivo) is a nice mild beverage; you can even drink it while walking in the street. Sometimes you see people drinking a beer in the morning on their way to work … although recent changes in public drinking laws have made that illegal. Even teenagers drink it, although that can be a bit of a problem. Vodka is mostly drunk by men, and of course, real Russian Vodka is the best in the world. It is inexpensive here also, as it should be. It is obviously the world’s most potent drink; whiskey is tame in comparison. Baileys Irish Crème is just great, women especially like it, although it is a rather expensive.
  • Court system? Suing someone for damaging you is just a dream ...actually, it isn’t even a dream because you don’t consider it a possibility. You wouldn’t want a crazy court system like in the US, where people can sue for a spilled cup of hot coffee anyway. Police and the courts are just another form of criminals and if you have money you can buy your way out of almost anything (except making Putin angry at you .. right Khordokovsky?)
  • You probably don’t speak any language other than Russian. Mostly you don’t need any other language … Russia is very big and it is difficult for you to visit Western Europe or the US anyway. If you travel abroad, it is likely to be Turkey or Egypt and the people at the hotel or resort will speak Russian. You are slightly impressed if another Russian speaks English, German, French, or Chinese. Mostly if you want to be understood by a foreigner you just talk more loudly and slowly. TI PO-NI-MA-ESH?! You are almost shocked if an English speaking foreigner speaks Russian. Where did they learn it? Many English words make their way into Russian, and even certain products for sale might have an English sounding name.
  • There are many races and you can identify them all. You’ve only seen blacks a few times, mostly on TV or movies. But … Jews, Ukrainians, Tatars, Chechens, Georgians, Armenians, Turks, Komi’s, Chukchi … it is all very apparent. They may live here, but they certainly aren’t RUSSIAN. And if a Russian has a child with some of these other races, it is often quite apparent. Even slightly almond-shaped eyes lend themselves to be described as “asian”. Any German, French, Italian, or American are also obvious … they are as plain as the nose on your face. Now that you mention it, your eyes are a bit heavy-lidded. Are you sure you aren’t part Jewish? Maybe there was a stranger in your clan! However, despite this, we would be insulted if you said we are “racist”.
  • You think any tax rate is scandalously high ... you avoid paying taxes at all, if you possibly can. The tax rate on personal income is 13% (flat tax) and about 24% on businesses. However, employers must pay payroll taxes to the Pension Fund, the Social Insurance Fund, the State Employment Fund and the Compulsory Medical Insurance Fund, plus a transportation tax and an education tax that are also based on wages. In effect this all comes out of your wallet also. That doesn’t include local and regional taxes. Most evade taxes in some form, it is almost a national sport to break the rules at least a little. The Russian government trying to collect money from taxes is like someone bailing water with a sieve.
  • Education is free through high school. University isn’t, unless you get a scholarship. Getting into the best Universities is very competitive. A bribe to the right official certainly wouldn’t hurt your chances.
  • University is (normally, and excluding graduate study) five years long. College is usually just a two-year technical degree, not a real higher education.

Everybody knows that ….

  • Mustard? Don’t use that too often, I guess it comes in jars or tubes. My father makes his own mustard from ground seeds and vinegar … very potent! Shaving cream comes in a can, many of the same brands that are sold in the US. Same with disposable razors … my Gillette Mach 3 Turbo is great! Milk comes in tetrapaks or plastic jugs. Sour cream (smetana) comes in little plastic tubs and improves almost everything you put it on. Вкусно!
  • The date comes first and the month second, as in 9/5/1945 (and you know what happened on that date, don’t you?) We may criticize our country 364 days a year, but all Russians feel proud of their Motherland on May 9.
  • World War II was the Great Patriotic War. Nothing else has affected life in Russia so much as this war. Every city has tributes and monuments to the war in which over 20 million people from the Soviet Union died. Russia fought and won this war against Germany almost alone, and suffered for it. It is hard to know why others might call it a “World War” considering that we were the only ones really fighting the Germans. France didn’t fight them, Poland didn’t fight them, and the US and UK jumped in at the end, when the outcome was certain. They seemed to give themselves an awful lot of credit for doing so. The US dropped that atom bomb as a show of strength, to intimidate their enemies, when the war was already over and Japan was defeated. But we are very strong and preserved against great odds, even when our former so-called allies turned against us after the war, as we knew they would. Russia must be strong because everybody else is against us and it has always been so.
  • You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties. Most marriages happen in ZAGC (ЗАГС .... Запись Актов Гражданского Состояния) ... a civil courthouse for marriage ... sometimes called "Palace of Marriage" (Дворец Бракосочетания). Although now it is more common that couple also goes to church after it, usually at same day. You have a best man and a maid a friend or a sibling. Before the wedding ceremony at ZAGC, groom usually has to “redeem” the bride from her relatives and friends by paying money. It is usually a good chance for them to make good money and they sometimes can really “peel off” the poor guy. After the wedding ceremony it is common to visit the local monuments of World War 2. A man gets only one wife at a time, but it wouldn’t be uncommon for him to have a younger mistress, especially if he has a bit of money.
  • If a man has sex with a man, he is a homosexual.
  • Once you're introduced to someone your age (well, besides the President and other lofty figures), you can call them by their first name but still use the polite form (vi) unless given permission to call them with “ti”. You almost always call elderly people by their name and patronymic.
  • If you're a woman, you don't go to the beach topless, but you might take off your top while sunning. Men wear briefs at the beach, and not those big heavy shorts that American men seem to wear.
  • A hotel room might have a private bath, or might not. It depends on how much money you are willing to pay. Usually it is foreigners or the very wealthy who stay in the nicest hotels.
  • You'd rather a film be dubbed than subtitled.
  • You don’t seriously expect to be able to transact business, or deal with the government, without paying bribes. Who is so naïve?
  • If a politician has been cheating on his wife, you wouldn’t be surprised.
  • Many restaurants and hotels in big cities would take your credit card, if you have one. But most people just use cash. Banks aren’t entirely trusted and its not entirely clear how checking accounts or credit cards work or why you would need one. The stock market seems like a license to steal money… how does anyone profit at it?
  • A company can fire just about anybody it wants without any explanation.
  • You don’t like your bacon crispy or burnt.
  • Labor Day is May 1st and it is international.

We see everyone as they really are, and aren’t afraid to say it

  • Americans – They are all fat, of course. It comes from their unhealthy and unnatural foods that they eat there. All their food is engineered and full of preservatives ... no wonder they are unhealthy.
  • Chinese – Everything made in China is of bad quality and very inexpensive. The cheapest clothing items are made in China, but they are commonly purchased at markets.
  • Japanese – Workaholics and manage to live in a such small area with such a high population.
  • Georgians, Armenians, etc. - Sell fruits on markets, occupy a lot of business here. Dark-haired, usually wear leather jackets and dark jeans/sport pants. Often associated with criminals and considered dangerous.
  • Ukrainians - They are very ungrateful towards Russians. Even though you may be partially Ukrainian yourself, you consider them to be foolish and a bit offensive these days. Maybe they should suffer a little bit down there to be put into their place. Their food is considered a bit old-fashioned and they eat too much salo (fatty bacon or pork lard).
  • Belarussians - "White Russians"
  • Baltic States -Too slow, almost all of them are blond, a nice objects for anecdotes and jokes. Suuuucchh aaasss ... hooowwww slloowwllyy Eeessstonniaaanns ... taaalk.
  • Germans - Although they are like little robots following all those rules they have a good life and a nice clean country. Who wouldn’t want to live like them?
  • French - Good lovers, eat frogs. Their comedies used to be very popular. Who doesn’t know Louis de Funes?
  • Italians - Open and happy people who live in a sunny and beautiful country. Very loud too.

Contributions to World Civilization

  • Of course, everyone knows that the very best artists are Russian. Only true suffering can lead to real art, and Russians are experts at suffering. The best writers, classical composers, painters, dancers, cinematographers, and actors are all Russian. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pasternak, Pushkin, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Hvorostovsky. And, yes, it was Popov who invented radio first and Polzunov who made first steam engine, don’t matter what others may say! Their only problem was that they didn’t patent their inventions.
  • You spent a great deal of time studying Russian history in school. You studied some world history also. The US really doesn’t have any history; it’s only about 200 years old.
  • If you're male, you have to spend two years in the military, unless you can buy your way out of it.
  • Many have tried to conquer Russia, but none have succeeded, unless you count the Mongols long ago. But eventually Ivan Grozny defeated them also at the battle of Kazan. No country is as strong as Russia and we remain a great military power, despite any evidence to the contrary.
  • You are used to buying fruits and vegetables when they are in season … it is only natural. To buy fresh potatoes in March or strawberries in December wouldn’t be natural anyway. It is right to be suspicious of many things sold in stores, as many items are counterfeit. Even the money in your pocket could be fake, so it is normal that banks and stores double check it before accepting.
  • You use the metric system. It is amazing that some countries would use anything else.
  • You are not a farmer, but your family probably have a dacha (country house) and a garden with flowers or vegetables.
  • You consider the Volkswagen Beetle to be a medium sized car. Actually, you consider anything bigger than a pumpkin to be a good-sized car. And you are proud of your OKA even though some people might call it an “abortion of the truck”.
  • The police are armed with submachine guns, but the mafia is even better armed. Chechen terrorists are well armed as well.
  • If a woman is plumper than the average, it doesn't improve her looks.
  • The biggest meal of the day is in the early afternoon (obed).
  • The nationality people most often make jokes about are the Chukchi (northern peoples).
  • There's parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night.
  • The people who appear on the most popular talk shows are mostly entertainers, politicians, or rather strange individuals. Authors and scientists are less popular but still there is a special channel Culture on TV sponsored by government where you can find all the “clever” stuff and where there are no commercial breaks (reklama).
  • You drive on the right side of the road. You stop at red lights if you must, but if you see the yellow light indicates it is about to change green, you might not even slow down. Yes, that’s right … we get a yellow before the green light! If you're a pedestrian and cars are stopped at a red light, you definitely double check before you cross the street. Don’t make any presumptions that a car will stop for you, that is for sure.

Outside of Moscow ...

  • If you live outside of Moscow you want to live inside of Moscow. This is despite the fact that Muscovich's are not REAL Russians.
  • You don’t care very much what family someone comes from.
  • The normal thing when a couple dies, is for them to write the will beforehand otherwise it might lead to some misunderstandings.
  • You think of opera and ballet as rather “high” entertainment. Its likely you’ve never visited one. Although you used to visit theatre plays with class at school and you do it now occasionally also if you live in a large city.
  • After these new European cinema halls appeared you find yourself visiting them rather often despite of the scandalous prices.
  • Christmas is in the winter .. January 7th. But the main holiday is New Year. Everybody celebrates it no matter what religion they are. Last year it was 10 days off for the country too. It was a hard burden ... both on wallets and on livers of Russians. 5 days of vodka is good, 10 days- too much.
  • You’d be hard pressed to name the leaders of all nations of Europe, although capitals are not a big problem.
  • What is a beep anyway?
  • Taxis are usually operated by thieves who try to get from you as much as possible and would be more than happy to drive you in circles before they get to the place of destination to charge some extra.
  • Unemployment payments and pensions exist but unless you are a mouse you wouldn’t be able to survive on them. So you better go and work even if you are too old for that, comrade.
  • If you are in trouble you think twice before bothering milicia (police). Ok, maybe think three times.

Space and Time..

  • If you have an appointment, 5 minutes late is excusable, 15 minutes and you have to apologize a lot, hour late and nobody waits for you. If you have an appointment at a public hospital, no matter when you come there will be no time for you on this week anyway, and the next week is also filled out, come in a month or get yourself some herbs.
  • If you are talking to someone, it is Ok if they approach close to you, you might as well do the same.
  • You don’t have any problem with simply showing at someone’s place as long as you have a couple of beers and a smoked fish with you.
  • If you have a business appointment with someone at restaurant, you expect to do it after 7 pm and get drunk ... in fact, you can find yourself still meeting tomorrow to further “discussing business”.

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