For the Man Who Has It All: A Filipino Butler

Just how far would the Russian nouveaux riches go to acquire that special finishing touch around the home?

Try Bangkok.

It's true. After that jacuzzi is installed in that imported Italian marble bathroom, after that fountain in the main guest room is turned on and properly illuminated, after those faux Davids and Venuses are lovingly installed in hallways and sitting rooms, the perfect thing for the perfect kottedzh is a Thai maid or a Filipino butler.

Now, you might ask: With all the newly un- or underemployed Russians in Moscow, why would anyone feel the need to dip into the labor pools of Manila?

New Russian sources say that Asian help is at a premium. A few years ago, such human resources were hard to find, forcing at least one businessman to hire an Uzbek to be his "Chinese" cook, on the grounds that he never let on that he understood Russian.

The arrangement lasted for months, until the poor fellow broke down and blew his cover with a Slavic curse that naturally got him fired.

Like most current local phenomena, this desire to go Asian is connected to the fact that some Russians can't get used to having so much money, while most others can't get used to not having any.

Kto byl ni kem, tot stanet vsem, as the old Socialist hymn predicted. "Those who were nothing will become everything."

A couple of years ago, people with two higher education degrees and several patents found themselves looking for work just about the time that positions as maids, servants and butlers were opening up.

The problem was not only that these refined folk, raised and educated in a society where everyone was supposed to be equal, suddenly found themselves performing kniksen -- curtsies -- and reverans -- best described as a complex procedure involving intricate hand gestures and foot motions combined with a long, exaggerated dip -- for their new gospodin, or master.

The problem was often the gospodin himself.

One astrophysicist who in 1992 went into voluntary exile from the defense industry described how she found herself performing reverans as her gospodin, the director of a certain bank, sputtered into his cellular phone something to the effect of: Ilyich, ty cho, okh...el, tebe cho, po dat'? -- which more or less translates "Ilyich, what the heck's wrong with you? What should I do, strike you in your darn face?"

She quit, opening the way for someone from Phuket who wouldn't be offended by the invective.