Two of our operatives had stationed themselves outside the outdoor take-out booth at the McDonald's at Novokuznetskaya. This was their post in our paper's Operation Enduring Sovok -- a vast effort aimed at measuring the distance of cultural erosion since the end of the Soviet era.
The specific mission of the staffers at the McDonald's take-out window was to record the number of instances of a certain kind of conversation, a conversation only possible in Russia -- the old Russia, anyway. It takes place when a middle-aged and usually overweight person makes his way to the front of a long line at McDonald's. The person has had as long as five full minutes to read the menu before getting to the front of the line, but he's waited until he actually reaches the front to do so. Now that he is at the front of the line, and six or seven people are safely camped behind him in impatient agony, he squints up at the menu, scanning the letters some 4-6 minutes longer than it is physically possible to actually read the information. From there, he starts asking questions of the cashier:
"Why should I order the meal if it's not cheaper than ordering the items separately?"
And so on, and so on. There is no way to stop such a person, no way to make the process go faster. He is progressing at maximum speed. Any attempt to speed him up will only cause behavioral spillage in any number of new and ugly directions. You are at his mercy.
Our operatives had been standing outside in the snow, in temperatures nearing -16, for almost thirty minutes. Not one such conversation had taken place. One man stood outside the line and scanned the menu for at least three minutes longer than it was possible to read it, and then, after checking his pocket and discovering only twenty rubles, walked away -- but this was a minor incident. The real sovki were staying away. One Russian after the other made his way to the front of the line, mumbled curt one or two-word orders, and dutifully forked over his money.
That's when it hit us.
Cold deters sovok.
Are you a Sovok?
Ok, we have to admit it, we stole the first few questions of this test from another publication. But it was a very un-Sovok publication; instead of rambling on at length, it stopped after just four questions. So we had to finish it for them. Take this test at your peril. Actually, take it with confidence. If you score too high, you probably wouldn't listen to us anyway:
1. It's hot and you want a drink of water.
a. You go to the store, where water is a little bit more expensive, but there's no line.
b. You stand in a long line to buy the cheapest water poured from the tap.
2. In front of you stand a group of beautiful girls.
a. You quietly observe them and admire their beauty.
b. You pay them a compliment.
3. The girls turn out to be with friends. The friends don't like the fact that you're paying them compliments.
a. You apologize and explain that you mistook the girls for acquaintances.
b. You try to make friends with the girls' friends.
4. The girls' friends, like you yourself, turn out to be fans of a famous soccer team.
a. You discuss various means of gaining free entrance to the next big game, for example through a hole in a brick wall.
b. You invite the girls and their friends to the game, sharing your tickets with them.
5. You are a gypsy cab driver and you pick up a passenger who appears to be in a very bad mood.
a. You quietly drive him to his destination.
b. You ask him where he's from.
6. Your passenger answers in monosyllables before reclining his head, closing his eyes, and covering his forehead with his hand, as though he has a headache.
a. You shrug and quietly drive him to his destination.
b. You ask him what America's like.
7. Your passenger apologizes and explains that he can't talk right now, because he is sick and has a headache.
a. You nod and quietly drive him on to his destination, concentrating on your own affairs.
b. You tell him that he probably needs to exercise more or change his diet, explaining that you yourself never have headaches because you drink 100 grams of vodka a day, which improves the circulation.
8. A new casual acquaintance explains that he'd rather not say exactly how much money he makes.
a. You leave it at that.
b. You ask him again.
9. An acquaintance complains about the cold on a day in late September.
a. You agree, winter is beginning.
b. You inform him that scientists are predicting an especially cold winter this year.
10. You come to a park to walk your dog and encounter a young woman who is walking her dog.
a. You watch the dogs play together.
b. You ask the woman what she's feeding her dog, and regardless of the answer you explain why this is incorrect and will lead to the dog's premature death.
11. You are not an expert in music theory, the history of ancient civilizations, UFOs, the origins of French cuisine, military strategy, American politics of the Nixon era, nontraditional medicine, or the positions of the Kama Sutra.
a. You don't act like one.
b. You don't let that stop you.
12. You hear the word "salad." The first thing that comes to your mind is:
13. You're in a kitchen. You feel like:
14. A guest complains that your food isn't spicy enough. You:
a. Offer some pepper
b. Tell him there's already tomato in it
15. Your bank has just ceased functioning, taking your savings with it. You feel:
a. Upset, so you complain to the appropriate governmental authority
b. Happy, because now you have something else to complain about to your friends.
Score: For every b answer, add one point.