Women’s day makes a lot of cents

On Women’s Day in Russia you really get to see what your price tag is
Lisa Surnacheva
8 March 2010

How much are you worth?  The answer has nothing to do with your salary.  It’s much more important who wished you a Happy Women’s Day and what they gave you.

One 8 March A Very Important Person gave me a present that was quite expensive, as far as I could see.  I found it with some quite harmless champagne and a card at home and was quite embarrassed.  I felt awkward accepting it, but it’d be silly to return it.  I decided that it was rather big for a present, though quite small for a bribe, and sent it back with a note to the effect that professional ethics would not allow me to accept it.

I must admit that the VIP was offended and still isn’t talking to me – his present was just that, no ulterior motive.  In my world (the Putin generation of stability and our ostentatious “middle class”) 8 March is a day for sweets and flowers (for the more romantic) or gender atavism (for the more touchy).  Rather like the joke alcoholic always looking for an opportunity to have a drink, it’s a good way for a professional bureaucrat to show his appreciation without risking being accused of corruption.

You just try and give someone a Swiss watch for no particular reason.  It’ll be misunderstood: why have you done it like that, when there are so many possibilities for giving presents?  For New Year you get given a corny statuette.  A racehorse turns up on 23 Feb for Defender of the Fatherland Day and when your birthday comes round you get the stables.  For an official visit we’ll heat up the Turkish baths and lay on girls.  When the visit is over, we’ll present you with the golden key of the city.  We’ll arrange a banquet in honour of an official inspection and to round it off we’ll take you on a trip to the mountains.   Do come in, please accept this small gift.  No, no, please – you keep it for yourself, a modest gift for you as an old soldier on 23 February.  You’re a great manager and the team is delighted to give you this elegant statue.  You’re a wonderful woman and this wonderful silk is for you on this wonderful spring holiday….  none of these are bribes, it’s just how it’s done.

Does any of this sound familiar? On 1 September we give our teacher some flowers and a pen. On World Teachers Day (5 October) it’ll be flowers and brandy. At New Year there’ll be a toaster and a TV from the class. Come 8 March it’ll be more flowers and a crystal vase; yet more flowers at exam time and flowers at the end of term plus a set of kitchen knives etc etc .  It would be nice if we could see this as fine old-fashioned tradition, but the other day I heard one teacher say to another “Kuznetsova gave me three mangy carnations – quite shameless really”.

Good manners have been monetarised. Hospitality and politeness have their price and respect for our elders is calculated in dollar equivalents.  Nothing is openly discussed or acknowledged – it’s just what you have to do, like cleaning your teeth or greeting someone when you meet them.

There’s no point in questioning “Women’s Day”.  It’s not up for discussion…just another opportunity for those around you to stick a price tag on you.  Three bouquets plus two bottles of perfume from your admirers - that’s what your physical attributes are worth to your admirers.  Take what you spend every year on clothes, shoes and make up and divide that by the value of your presents.  Then you’ll know what you’re really worth. As for your social standing, the measure of that is the number of telephone calls and texts you get from your friends.

You may have an MA rather than an ordinary degree.  You may work in a company with Western-style management.  You may be managing projects with grand titles like “Clean Water” or “Energy Saving Light Bulb”.  You may really believe in innovations.  But as long as your bonus comes on 8 March rather than at the end of the year, what does all this talk of modernisation really mean?

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