Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Different Work Ethic?

In my job as editor in chief of a news magazine, I receive many invitations to receptions. There are so many, in fact, that it is impossible to go to all of them. But one English firm was extremely insistent that I come to its presentation. A pleasant female voice called several times and spent a long time convincing me that my presence at the presentation was absolutely necessary, that it would be interesting for me, that I would make good contacts, that wonderful projects would be introduced, and, finally, that I could relax in good company at this event.


And so at the appointed time I arrived at the Olympic Penta Hotel, where a group of pretty girls greeted the guests at the entrance with personally addressed invitations. One of them gave me my invitation, with my name written in beautiful handwriting, and asked me to follow her up to the banquet room.


There stood a young Russian man in a good suit, who asked me for my invitation and said "You are not on the list". "It must be some kind of misunderstanding", I said with a smile, trying to smooth over an embarassing situation. "Could you please call the representative of the firm, the one who was so insistent that I come. This is my card". "I am a representative of the firm", the young man said.


I have never been in such an idiotic situation in my life. "Fine, then I will just leave", I said threateningly, starting to become annoyed. I thought that no company in the world would choose to pick a fight with the press. In answer I heard: "Fine, go then". That same sweet girl, now without a smile, accompanied me out. I never received an apology, neither then, nor in the days that followed.


At first I could not understand what had happened. The first thing I thought was that I was dealing with the unusual English sense of humor. But I abandoned that notion. No firm would have chosen to joke in such a subtle way.


But it is not really so difficult to understand. The English firm relied on Russians, which should never be done. Everyone knows Russians who work with foreigners (and this applies mainly to young people) become so arrogant that they begin to hate their compatriots bitterly. and even if they receive only $100 or $200 per month, that is still more than their next-door neighbor gets.


The young man at the entrance to the banquet hall saw me as a compatriot, and therefore, in his opinion, an inferior being. Moreover, he saw me as a compatriot trying to get in to a place where there was free food. Of course I had to be chased out immediately.


This young Russian did not understand many things. For example, he could not comprehend that there is such a concept as the reputation of a firm, and that any competitor would be extremely satisfied if another firm gets the reputation of being an irresponsible, undesirable partner.


But the main thing is this: This young man knew nothing of common courtesy. It is not natural to the new breed of Russians.


The film "Stalingrad", which cost an enormous amount of money to make, is very popular in Germany right now. Not one frame of this film was shot in Russia. The picture was filmed entirely in Hungary and Finland. The organizers refused to consider filming in Russia because they did want to have to deal with Russian workermen.


Of course the local work force is much cheaper. But penny wise, pound foolish, as they say.


Last year an American radio station established an office in Moscow. The official opening was significantly delayed because the wise decision was made to bring absolutely everything necessary in from overseas, and to put it all together using only Western workers. I remember, for example, that there was no electricity in the office for a long time, because they were waiting for Australian electricians. American programmers got the computers up, and German specialists set up a satellite telephone link with other countries, etc. Finally everything started working, astounding us aborigines by the level and smoothness of the technology.


But one fine day it was necessary to move a heavy computer from one room to another. The station decided that it was not worth the time and expense to bring in foreign workers to handle the job, and they hired a Russian worker from a joint German-Russian firm located one floor down. The worker arrived, and quickly coped with his assignment.


But he was bothered by a wire sticking out of the computer. The wire, of course, could have been disconnected, but the worker got a pair of scissors and cut it. Thunder and lightening followed, then the circuit shorted out. and everything in that wonderful office stopped working: The computer system went completely haywire, all the memory was wiped out, the telephones, fax machines, copiers and telex all shut off, and the link with the satellite was lost. Even the security and fire alarms were lost. It took almost a month to get everything working again, and they again had to bring people in from Washington, Munich and Vienna.


I do not want to say that Russians are idiots and bunglers. That would be unpatriotic. I love my people. But they are not yet ready to work in a civilized country. For this reason my advice to foreign entrepreneurs is: Bring everything you need with you. Including workers.


It would be a lot easier to teach an Englishman to speak Russian than it would be to teach a Russian to say "Excuse me" if he steps on your foot or spills champagne all over you at a reception.


Andrei Malgin is editor in chief of the weekly news magazine Stolitsa.