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Russophobe March 23, 2007
Roving Russophobe

You know the drill. You're at a nice civilized expat party at the tastefully Evro apartment of a mid-level corporate Brit. You're munching a few peanuts from the bowl on the table next to the IKEA lamp and chatting to the host about his recent trip to London. From the corner of your eye you see a girl approaching it's one of the host's colleagues. She extends a hand and smiles.

"Hi," she says. "I'm Kate." You're vaguely confused. The only Kate you knew before was the homely girl at university, and somehow this girl isn't giving off Kate vibes. She's only said three words, but there's something forced about the effort she puts into the jovial "Hi"; something painfully Slavic about the hopeful pronunciation she gives her name. It sounds like Kehyt, not Kate.

Then you realize. The slightly Mongoloid eyes, the mildly inappropriate boots. The misplaced aura of superiority over the other Russians in the room and the equally misplaced idea that she and you have something, anything, in common. Of course! This is no Kate this is a Katya, a Ekaterina, a Katyusha.

And there's only one thing more nauseating than a Russian who think that the motherland is the world's spiritual and cultural center and Russians are a great race: a Russian who hates their homeland so much that they pretend to be Western. The multitude of Katyas and Natashas pretending to be Kates and Natalies; the Mishas, Andreis and Evgenys desperate to be taken for Michaels, Andrews and Eugenes (as if anyone in the real world is named Eugene).

Moscow's upwardly mobile brat class can't get enough of it these days. Sometimes it's just an affectation because they think it's cool to have an Anglicized name; sometimes the idiots really do think that their three months on an exchange program at the London School of Economics has turned them into a Westerner, despite the fact that they are as out of place among real Westerners as a kroshka kartoshka stand in Mayfair.

It's also a sad reflection on the state of Russia that so many are clamoring to de-Russify their names. This is most obvious when you look at the reverse scenario. Take the most cliched Russia Studies student in the West, who's fallen in love with the mystical romance of Russia and is touched and moved by the novels of Dostoyevsky and the tempestuous trials of Russian history. Maybe he's made a trip to Moscow and felt a tingle of excitement as he toured the Kremlin; the weight of history on his shoulders as he stood in awe on Red Square. Perhaps he even met an English-speaking Russian on the plane over and tortured them by insisting on answering their questions, posed in fluent English, in totally incomprehensible Russian, because speaking Russian made him a Russianist and not a tourist.

But can you imagine even this kind of sorry, misguided Russophile waking up one day and announcing to all his friends in Western suburbia that from now on he wants to be known as Misha, and not Mike? No, because deep down, even though he enjoys reading about the Time of Troubles, the Revolution, the Great Purges, he knows that being Russian is simply not cool he wants to keep his Western identity and has no desire to rebrand himself as a malnourished Slav to his peers.

The trouble with these Westernizers the non-intellectual versions of their 19th century predecessors is that they can't pull it off. Just because Misha buys himself an iPod, gets himself a haircut that doesn't involve a greasy ratstails fringe invading his forehead, and eats Salat Tsezar instead of Salat Syrny s Ukropom, does not a Michael make. They'll always give themselves away in the end they wouldn't get a reference from Seinfeld or The Office, but will attempt to translate dire Russian anekdots for their expat bosses, to polite amusement. However hard they try, however much they've memorized, improved their language, accent and knowledge, they'll always expose themselves swiftly as aliens and fuckwits compared to your average Dutch or Swedish expat who really can engage with your culture in an almost native way, and be actually amusing and good company.

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Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

Scanning Moscow’s Traffic Cops
Automotive Section
We’re happy to introduce a new column in which we publish Moscow’s raw radio communications, courtesy of a Russian amateur radio enthusiast. This issue, eXile readers are given a peek into the secret conversations of Moscow’s traffic police, the notorious "GAIshniki."

Eleven Years of Threats: The eXile's Incredible Journey
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Russia's freedom-loving free market martyr Mikhail Khodorkovsky answers some of this week's letters, and he's got nothing but praise for President Medvedev.

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Jared comes out with yet another roundup of upcoming bardak sessions.

Your Letters
Richard Gere tackles this week's letters. Now reformed, he fights for gerbil rights all around the world.

13 Toxic Talents: Hollywood’s Worst Polluters
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Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...


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