05 March 2009

Yalagin Street economic shorts

We're back from Prague. Along with gifts and books, we imported colds--genuine, hard-to-shake colds that are, thank goodness, slowly losing their grips on our noses and sinuses.... Unfortunately, my head has been too thick to remember all the interesting home remedies we've been hearing about over the last week or so.

The worldwide economic crisis has affected Russian humor from the very start of the stream of bad news. One of the most obvious lines of humor involves the frequent use of the word "anticrisis" in ads announcing new lower prices. At the pet supply store on Pobeda Street, there's a huge, humorously painted sign announcing "Prices have capitulated!"

McDonald's is announcing lower prices as well. Last month for 26 rubles (about 65c US) you could choose between a chickenburger or cheeseburger; the campaign going on right now is for 25-ruble hamburgers.

One Russian friend told us a joke, which I've cleaned up for my family readership: a baboon is racing through the forest, announcing the bad news: "Haven't you heard? We're in an economic crisis? A crisis, I say!" The lion replies calmly, "A crisis, eh? Maybe so, but I ate meat yesterday and I'll be eating meat again today." The fox is equally unflappable: "Maybe so, but I had a fur coat yesterday, and I still have a fur coat today." A bird said brightly, "There might be a crisis, but I'm certainly not giving up my frequent flyer status." The baboon reconsiders his situation: "Well, maybe you're right. I had a bare behind yesterday, and I guess that won't change, either."

This is not an easy period for Russians--any more than for many other countries suffering from this global crisis. But Russian humor is a reminder that people here have seen it all before, and have generally learned to cope. They're often actually proud of this ability to cope. (See the Zadornov item among the righteous links on this page.) To the frustration of some foreigners, "coping" in Russia often includes an apparent high level of passivity and fatalism, but to cite a typical American cliche, "You can't argue with success." Or, alternatively, a Russian saying might also apply: "There's always a way out."

Righteous links: Jane Austen and the 21st-Century Man. ~~ George Amoss on "the psychology of salvation." ~~ NYT columnist David Brooks publishes his "moderate manifesto." As usual, his sober cautions are helpful, but I can't help seeing a possible false dichotomy in this statement: "They [moderates] will have to take the economic crisis seriously and not use it as a cue to focus on every other problem under the sun." The primary issue is whether government spending is a legitimate anti-crisis measure, and the prevailing wisdom seems to be that it is. In that case, isn't it legitimate to spend that money (with care, of course) on the widest possible range of genuine problems--if only to spread risks?

Big Joe Turner, "Hide and Seek." Four and a quarter minutes of crisis relief.

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