March 01, 2000

That Life-Saving Russian Face

When abroad, most Russians do not relish the idea of bumping into a group of compatriots. A friend who recently traveled to Paris said he made a point of avoiding “by kilometers” any place where he might run into “russkiye.” I can’t approve of such snobbism, but I have to admit I understand it. Truth be told, the “aura” of romanticism a Russian intellectual feels when in Paris dissipates at the sight of fellow Russians. And you would have to be blind not to be able to pick out one of us Russians from a crowd of travelers.

In the Soviet era, when traveling abroad was much less common (last year 12 mn Russians went abroad!), a group of Soviet tourists was immediately recognizable. Gray, poorly-tailored suits with ugly ties were an immediate tip-off, as was, in summer, the audacity of wearing sandals with such an outfit. Then there were the golden teeth and the huge, logo-festooned bags from the cheapest stores.

Today, Russian tourists dress differently, but are no less recognizeable. The ugly Soviet suits have given way to Armani outfits or black Versace jeans, golden chains or, in summer, loud, multicolored shorts and expensive krossovki (running shoes). And don’t even get me started about the “New Russians” occupying the best hotels in Cote d’Azure (where locals have dubbed them nuvarishi—combining “tovarischi” and “nouveaux riches”).

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