Whatever the components of my ancestry, I am English and thus prey to a cultural predisposition to lie rather than tell an honest but uncomfortable truth, to rely on circumlocution and under-statement, to the mutual dance of manners and implication. Perhaps for that reason, Russians’ tendency to rude honesty — or honest rudeness — is for me at once jarring, uncomfortable and refreshing. There are no insincere “have a nice day” well-wishes from low-paid customer service drones who actually couldn’t care less if you spontaneously combust the moment you step out of the store (and that last consideration is purely so they don’t have to sweep up your ashes). They will wear coats of sweeping furs even though my Western liberal guilt somehow regards them as abhorrences a world apart from the meat I eat and the leather shoes I wear. They do not feel any need to get out of my way in the overcrowded aisles at Aushan, but nor do they begrudge me my moment when I sweep in to exploit an opportunity and fill a gap with my shopping trolley before them.
In that spirit, while it in no way redeems the crass racism so widely prevalent here, there was even something faintly admirable about the unselfconsciousness of this builder’s brochure I found in our mailboxes. Not for Russians the codes, nudges and deniable-but-universally-understood ways in which racism can be expressed at home. No, here is a brochure in which on the cover it reassures the reader that they will not have to put up with Central Asians or the like in their homes: “No Migrants. All Your Own [Kind]” it says, and inside the firm notes that it is looking for new staff, but even before it says that they have to have the requisite skills, it stipulates that they must be Russians. Not “permitted to work in Russia” or anything like that, but Russians. Although–pace David Cameron–I get the sense that “Polish builder” is actually a positive marker in the UK at present, in the main I suspect that often people would, sadly, prefer to have “their own” work inside their houses. (Moscow, in perpetual remont–repair and remodelling–clearly has no problem with armies of Central Asians working outside) but I wonder how many culturally and, indeed, legally could or would ever actually approach this so overtly? Again, I must stress this isn’t an attempt to present racism as any less objectionable, but I felt it an interesting insight into Russian concepts of what can and cannot be said.
PS: Another interesting example: a cleaning service (advertised in our apartment building’s lift) that reassures potential customers that “only slavs” are employed; so, even if you’re a Russian-passport-holding Dagestani or Tyvan, you’re out of luck. An opportunity for Belarusian gasterbeiters in Russia? Or simply a way of being even more specific in pandering to the fears/concerns of potential punters.