July 01, 2006

The Babushka Factor



The Babushka Factor

Understanding the babushka factor is key to grasping many things Russian. Often one of the first Russian words foreigners know, they pronounce Б≈абушка! with gusto. Which is easy, since it is so simple, compact and colorful. But little do they know that this word is steeped with cultural connotations.  

The babushka is omnipresent in Russian folklore, culture and even economics. In the mid-1990s, analysts often talked of “the babushka segment” of the economy – the lines of babushka-pensioners selling “impulse-buy” items near metro stations. This “segment” once accounted for 40 percent of total Russian retail tobacco sales.

Pushkin’s babushka, Arina Rodionovna, unwittingly participated in the creation of many literary masterpieces, through her retelling of fairy tales to her soon-to-be famous grandson. Mikhail Lermontov’s babushka, Elizaveta Arsenieva, was also instrumental in the brilliant, yet short-lived, military and poetic career of her beloved Misha. 


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