Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
~ Popular saying, referencing Trojan War.
Today is Old New Year. That’s right – Old New Year. Old in the sense of “what used to be.” As the leading (read only) chronicler of Russian public and professional holidays, I’ve explained the 13-day discrepancy between some Russian holidays, but for those of you just joining Dividing My Time, here is my authorized version of just how this discrepancy came about.
Old New Year is the final push to the finishing line of my Christmas marathon, which begins around December 10th, around about the time my friend Gail guilts me into buying a gazillion tickets to the Moscow Oratorio’s annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” and ends – deo gratis – tomorrow. And not before time!
While the Valentine’s Day décor goes up in the West at approximately 2 pm on Christmas Day, the Russians drag it out until the last gasp. Today, at Goodman’s Steak House where Tancy and Tanya and I got together for a girly lunch, they still had Ella Fitzgerald singing “Sleigh Bells Ringing” full blast, which made me want to throw my 9 oz New York steak across a room filled with plump businessmen having catch up lunches with their secretaries. Readers, it’s time to pack up Christmas and be done with it. Lent is just around the corner.
In this spirit of de-cluttering and de-Christmasing, I attacked HRH’s staggering range of Corporate Gifts with all the relentless zeal of my new heroine, Clutter Buster to the Elites, Barbara Reich.
Corporate gifts, like birthday gifts, in Russia have a culture uniquely their own, which has a lot more to do with the giver, rather than the giftee. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I run through some of the more outrageous ones I’ve encountered in my day. The list was long as it was, but this year, it got a stunning new addition that no one could see coming down the shosse.
I’ve written before about clutter busting in Russia (and gotten my hand nicely slapped for it) but at this rolling time of the year, as Dickens would say, there is a very real danger that one could end up buried under all this…seasonal bounty. So, with that in mind, I offer, below, a practical guide for wives, trailing spouses and secretaries as to what you can expect to receive, and more importantly, what you should do with it.
Disposition: empty these of their contents, being sure to remove the business cards stapled to them so you can remember to thank the giver. Write the contents of the carrier bag on the back of the business card. Collate with rubber band to give to your minigarch. HRH tends to not take this any further, but I figure this is his business.
When the carrier bags are emptied, flatten them out and give them to your cleaning lady. She will be over the moon and use them as you or I would use a tote bag for the remainder of the calendar year. On no account should you use them to “re-gift” an item, because you won’t get any of the credit. Duh…
Booze at New Year’s is a wonderful barometer of how well you are doing professionally: the higher you go up the corporate ladder, the better the quality of the booze swag. Russians, despite all the patriotic rhetoric you hear these days, are serious snobs about their alcohol, preferring the imported to the domestic. So, if you got a wooden case of three bottles of really nice French red wine, you are doing well. If you got one bottle of Super Sladkoye (sweet) Shampanskoye, not so much.
Disposition: Consume (in the case of the good wine, cognac, and scotch) or (in the case of the Super Sladkoye Shampanskoye or the Cough Syrup Cranberry Liqueur) re-gift down the social scale to those who will appreciate it. The exception to this rule is vodka, which often comes in a witty custom-branded bottle with the firm’s logo on it. Keep this and pour it into the hole in your car where the windshield wiper fluid goes and you’ll be all set.
3. Banya accessories:
Newcomers to Russia are often surprised to find they’ve been given dried branches, felt caps, wooden buckets, a small wall thermometer, or a long-handled ladle as presents, but in no way should this be perceived as an insult or a slur. Quite the opposite, these gifts indicate that the giver perceives you or your minigarch as a bit of a lad, one of the boys, and an all around good egg.
Disposition: If you have a sauna, then stick them in and put them to work. If you don’t, hand them over to your driver, who will think that you think he is a bit of a lad. No bad thing.
4-7: The paper products/A5 junky diaries:
No Russian company worth its salt will go one year without producing an A5 diary, calendar, or outdated business card holder of some kind. During my time at the The Firm, I tried to get rid of them, but no dice. These can range from tasteful real leather blank books (and as you can see from the photo, some companies are wising up and producing A4 or letter-sized diaries) to the really heinous faux-suede stuff. As for the business card holders – another reason why, if you ask me (and no one ever ever does) Russia will never join the WTO – everyone knows you need a Rolodex to keep those in any kind of order.
Disposition: Cull vigorously, keeping the A4 ones for yourself. Gift the A5 ones to the Accounting and Security Departments, who can’t seem to live without this kind of thing, and the faux suede ones to your driver.
8. PR-shicki get creative:
Sometimes the PR-schiki get creative and you end of with some one-off items. These can be clever (a boxed set of really good Soviet classic movies) or tasteful (a silver-plated USB charger – my own idea one year), or downright silly like Christmas tree ornaments. Who the hell wants a Christmas Tree ornament from ROSGOS something or other?
Disposition: Think carefully about how you might use this on a day-to-day basis and act accordingly. Re-gift if you possibly can, though you will have to do it down the social scale, since all of these items will be aggressively branded.
9. The inexplicable:
Sometimes you just can’t fathom the mindset of the person in charge of this kind of thing. I mean, who in their right mind gives a grown man and potential minigarch what can only be described as a doll? A shiny, expensive doll, to be sure, but a doll nonetheless. I can only think that in this case, the empty-headed, long-legged secretary of the Top Guy was allowed a free hand.
Disposition: I give this kind of thing to my mother-in-law.
Happy Old New Year to All!!!
This post is part of The Stunt.
*Part of an article entitled “So, Is this Christmas?” first published by Russia Beyond the Headlines and The Washington Post on December 15, 2010.
Hey there readers:
What was your most outrageous Christmas/New Year’s gifr?