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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

if it's the pits: manly tips on being clean shaven

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that one of the most memorable moments in the history of post-Soviet book publication was undoubtedly the release of "Radost seksa," otherwise known as "The Joy of Sex," a 1972 American field guide to good, clean, fairly middle-of-the-road fun. Two summers ago in Russia it was the hottest buy around. But despite the colorful translation and loving reproduction of those unforgettable illustrations, the book was definitely showing its age. One group of Russian men, all of whom we'll call Ivan, were rolling on the floor after reading just a few pages, and not just because they thought it was laughable that they could possibly have anything left to learn.

"Listen to this," said one Ivan, turning to the section on personal grooming. "'And most importantly, never shave under your arms.'"

"Ha!" said the rest of the Ivans, tears rolling out of their eyes.

That's strange, you think. Are Russian men really so attached to women's shaven underarms that even the mere thought of finding some hair there could cause such mirth? But take a closer look at their own underarms and you'll realize what is going on here. It's got nothing to do with their girlfriends. These men themselves are dedicated shavers.

Any Western man who wasn't a swimmer or a cyclist or any other sort of alternative member of society would shudder at the thought of shaving off anything but facial hair, but Russian men -- who, after all, count themselves among the world's very manliest -- don't think twice about subjecting their underarms to the razor.

It turns out that Russian men are not just manly, they are considerate as well. A ride on the metro during rush hour on the hottest day of the year might convince you otherwise, but the truth of the matter is that some Russian men don't like to sweat. And although foreign anti-perspirants have made their fragrant way on to the scene, the general point of view still seems to be that no girly-man imported stuff is going to work any better than the tried and true method of the motherland. It's not exactly clear how removing your underarm hair cuts down on the amount you sweat -- perhaps it's like taking off your fur hat in springtime -- but some perfectly nice-smelling Russians swear by it. It's hard to argue.

And there is more than just hygiene at stake here. It's a socio-economic issue as well. As one unsweaty person put it, shaving is a purely intellectual pursuit. A factory worker, whom you might expect to be doing the most sweating of all, is less likely to bother. It's not as obvious a symbol as the historic Russian beard -- and Tolstoy, you have to believe, probably did not spend a lot of time shaving under his arms -- but it's those little things that mean a lot.