As I mentioned before, every TV based con job that was pulled off the air in America by the FTC found a second life in Russia. With the advent of commercial television, Russians were bombarded with offers for magic reducing machines, miracle abs developers, copper bracelets and miracle gyms that made you a new man (or woman) in 5 minutes a day.
It worked for awhile, until Russians began to realize that you can’t strap an electric vibrator to your waist, have a huge meal, and lose weight, and that the man in the commercial already had great abs before he began to do sit-ups with an expensive piece of bent pipe in his hands.
However, some American con jobs never flew here. There are some things Americans are fooled by that Russians won’t fall for.
For instance, if you tried to sell an American cell phone plan to a Russian, he would say. “You mean that you want me to buy hundreds of minutes a month that I don’t need, thousands of minutes a year, because you’re going to rip a huge hole in my bank account if I guess wrong and use 20 minutes more than I purchased? That is a dumb game. You very funny, American!
Wait a minute. You say that you are going to give me a ‘free’ phone that I can only use on your network and that if I get tired of your bad service and high prices, you will charge me a fortune for the ‘free phone’ you gave me that I can’t use now because I canceled your service? You not just funny, American, you are very crazy.”
There are no cell phone “Plans” in Russia. You buy the phone that you want for a lot smaller price than the “list price” from Verizon and you can use it on any network. There is no such thing as a “locked phone”. You buy the minutes you want at any of dozens of kiosks in town and they are cheap. It is less than a cent and a half a minute to call other cell phones, two cents to call land lines, and long distance costs more – but is still reasonable. You buy what you need, use what you have, and then purchase more.
Even families that make less than $300 a month can afford a cell phone. Little Luda only makes $250 a month, but her daughter, Elona, has a cell phone because she only has to pay about $2 a month for the 10 or 12 emergency calls she has to make each month.
Campbell Soups also found out that you can’t fool a real housewife. Virtually every Russian family has soup almost every day. Borsch, chicken soup, noodle soup, potato soup, cold vegetable soup, “what we have left in the ice box today” soup. Italians have pasta, Americans have meat and potatoes, Mexicans have tortillas, and Russians have soup.
The Campbell Company saw dollar signs in Russia. They sell soup! Lots of Soup! And Russians eat Lots of Soup! They spent millions of dollars over five years showing Russian housewives the joys of canned soup. No cutting, no dicing, no shopping, just open the can, heat, and eat!
They bombed. I guess that I should mention that in rural Russia, most homes don’t even have a can opener. The response was underwhelming. They just couldn’t convince Russian women that they should spend ten times as much money to get a soup in a can when they can make it themselves in a few minutes. Campbell also failed to understand that a Russian wife couldn’t brag about how good her canned soup turned out.
Russian woman are still proud of their wifely skills. My wife and my mother in law still argue frequently over who makes the best soup. Your grandmother probably made a great apple pie and a potato salad to die for – and she would have been insulted if you ever hinted that either one came out of a factory. That wonderful attitude still lives here.
Campbell also failed to understand that soup really is a meal here. You make it and eat it by the pot, not the cup, and you serve it with a loaf of bread next to it on the table. A wimpy can doesn’t feed a hungry man.
After five years of loses (and Russian laughter), Campbell gave up this year and left Russia.
Another great thing that you can’t fool Russians on is you can’t convince them toy guns and all games boys want to play are “evil”. Young boys play with guns. They chase each other around in mock battles, shooting imaginary bullets at Germans, terrorists, mafias, and other bad guys. They dream of winning and prepare for manhood. Even my sweet little three year old daughter asked me for a toy gun so she could chase the boys around. (I gave her a water pistol so she could practice making boys miserable.)
You also can’t convince a Russian that bullying is the teachers fault and that a kid killing themselves over “bullying” is anything but crazy. A boy who comes home and complains to his father that he was bullied is not sent to the teacher to complain about how unfair the world is. He gets a lecture on manhood, lessons in self defense from dad, and is told not to lose so easy next time. It’s tough, but it grows men and women who whine a lot less than Americans. They drink more, but they whine less.
Did I mention that Russian kids do not get trophies for losing? If you win, you get a big trophy, come in second and get a small trophy, lose and mommy says “Maybe you’ll get a trophy next time if you try harder.” Remember those days?
Some things you just can’t fool Russians on.