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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Russians: The Joke's on Them

A Russian businessman, so the joke goes, is out fishing when he lands the coveted zolotaya rybka -- the golden fish that, according to Russian folklore, can grant any wish.


"So whaddya want from me, fish?" the New Russian replies.


And then there is the one about the smitten youth who proposes to the woman of his dreams. When she rejects him on the grounds that he has neither a Mercedes nor a three-story cottage in the country, the young man turns to his father in despair.


"All right," says the father sympathetically.


"We can trade in the Rolls Royce for a Mercedes. But we're not giving up the five-story mansion for a three-story cottage."


Jokes such as these -- many of which feature $2,000 ties and multiple luxury vehicles -- have changed the landscape of Russian humor, taking the place of the political anekdot.


Once the centerpiece of Soviet humor, anekdoty -- particularly jokes about Politburo members -- circulated as rapidly as samizdat underground literature.


But as the masses grew weary of political leaders and Chukchi -- the national group inhabiting northeasternmost Siberia that fares the worst in Soviet-era shenanigans -- the New Russian appeared, providing ample fodder for post-Soviet humorists.


"Jokes about the government became less interesting when this new class appeared in our country," said Olga Limashevskaya, of Moscow's Institute for the Study of Reforms. "New Russians are more mobile, more exciting and more unpredictable."


But it's a tricky business, making fun of those who cannot spend money fast enough. Sometimes the line between humor and reality is indiscernible, said Limashevskaya, who studies all aspects of this new breed -- from their choice in wives to what they like to eat.


As Limashevskaya says, sometimes the real life scenarios are as funny as the jokes. out front, which he leaves as collateral. One year later, when the businessman returns to repay the $100 loan with 3 percent interest, the banker asks why a man who can afford to drive such a car has to borrow $100.


"Where else can I park my car for $3 a year?" the New Russian replies.


Another recurring theme in this new breed of anecdote contrasts the lifestyle of New Russians with their less affluent compatriots.


Take, for example, the joke about two old college chums who run into each other after several years. One, a millionaire, complains about his hectic lifestyle -- the endless travel to European capitals, the tiresome visits to nightclubs to entertain clients and the constant barrage of rich food and drink.


"But enough about me," the New Russian sighs, turning to his forlorn-looking friend. "How are you?"


"I haven't eaten in a week," the cash-strapped friend replies.


"That's no way to live," the rich man replies in alarm. "You must force yourself."


And then there is the kinder, gentler New Russian who decides to get back in touch with his more humble roots by riding the tram to work. He abandons the idea, however, when he can't fit his Mercedes through the tram doors.


While there may be as many jokes about New Russians as there are Mercedeses in Moscow, this brand of humor, according to Limashevskaya, is already on its way out.


"There was a time when these New Russians tried to catapult themselves out of their poverty by spending endless amounts of cash," Limashevskaya said. "But they are already learning how to count their money.


"Besides, it is no longer considered a luxury [among the new rich] to have several Mercedeses," Limashevskaya added. "It is the norm."