Book 2. Ringing cedars of Russia (1997)
Free holidays in Hawaii
If you should be stopped on a crowded Moscow street by smartly dressed young people (some of whom speak with an accent) inviting you to a presentation by a foreign firm with your own reserved table and free lottery tickets, offering you the opportunity to win a gold watch or even a free trip to Ha-waii, you can be sure that you will be guaranteed a free trip. But it is best to bear in mind the old saying: “The only free cheese is in a mousetrap.”
It’s not hard to figure out just how this particular mousetrap works.
What you get Tor free’ is the opportunity to stay in elegant lodgings. Upon arriving you discover that they really do look like the photos in the brochures. The catch is, you have to pay for the airline ticket, your food and all the ‘incidentals’.
A few days into your stay you realise that this ‘free’ vaca-tion is ending up costing you quite a bit more than the full price of a stay at some other comparable resort. It’s all very simple: your ‘free stay’ is paid for by a host of surcharges on a range of food and other services. These surcharges cover, by the way, the agents standing on the street-corners and the so-called ‘free’ presentation, the colour brochures they hand you, not to mention the company’s profit.
Of course, for those with lots of money to spare, it doesn’t make too much difference. The only bad thing you might feel is the unpleasant sensation of being made a fool of. It is quite a different matter when an average Russian wage-earner of modest means, one who has spent a whole year saving for such
a trip, takes the bait and, instead of going to see his mother or for a holiday at a Russian resort, hands over his hard-earned savings to these foreign smart-asses and like a fool spends two weeks in lodgings designed for fools like him.
Gentlemen from abroad, where did this attitude of disre-spect for us Russians come from? As I was looking at the sales kiosks on our streets filled with imported goods, even imported bottled water, I remembered how it had been the same way on my ships, but back then I had never really thought about what was behind it. I was listening to radio reports about the suspicious quality of the chicken legs on sale all over the country, as well as about bottled water with fancy labels promoting its healing mineral properties, belying the fact that this stuff, sold in our stores, was simply tap water with suspicious additives. I was noticing the huge number of signs advertising how you could refresh your strength with a ‘hot dog’, as if all of Moscow and even all of Russia had suddenly made these rubber sausages their national dish, and wondering why this had never struck me before as it did now.
I remembered the respect and enthusiasm with which we’d greeted visiting entrepreneurs from abroad at the beginning ofperestroika. I remembered how I’d organised business cruises down the River Ob for them on my ship, and how the Sibe-rian entrepreneurs tried as hard as they could to provide them with the highest-quality service. Of course not all the visitors were the same, but what did we gain in the long term?
So, where are you, entrepreneurs of Russia? The ones that should be making our country flourish?!