Monday, October 31, 2011

Re-Opening of the Bolshoi - Reflections of an American

One of the most admirable things about Russian Culture is their commitment to the arts.  The Bolshoi Theater re-opened this weekend in Moscow after 6 years of renovations with about as much pomp as a Post-Soviet culture will allow.  Below are the highlights.

Go here if you'd like to watch the whole thing, including a pretty incredible Swan Lake.

What really amazes me about Russian culture is that in the audience, you can see all the major pop stars, movie stars, government officials and (presumably) powerful business people.  In my MBA classes, we study Russia as a so-called "emerging market" along with Brazil, India and China (the "BRIC" countries of current major emerging markets).  However, when you consider that Russia has one of the highest literacy rates and one of the highest rates of advanced degrees per capita (not to mention the USSR was a super power that beat the US to space), it's difficult to think about it on the same level as China and India, who (at least in my mind) more aptly fall within the definition of "Emerging". 

Could you see something like this happening in the US?  This is the equivalent of Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, John McCain, and Bill Gates sitting down to watch a two hour ballet/opera/nationalism extravaganza in an opera house as old as the US itself.  I could never imagine a situation that would match this actually happening in America.  Not only because we don't have any opera houses that have been steeped in as much national pride as the Bolshoi, but also because Americans in general just don't care about the arts.  The closest thing we've had to celebrity endorsement of the arts was Gwyneth Paltrow showing up on Glee in a Marie Antoinette outfit singing Cee-Lo.  God, how I hate her.

But besides this, if you watch the highlights, you get a sense of WHY this would never happen in the states.  The government spent $700 million dollars restoring the building with hand crafted wooden wall adornments, a 6-meter chandelier, and a stage large enough to handle the entire Russian proletariat class all at once.  Obama can't spent $0.50 without the tea party shitting their proverbial pants, let alone $700 million on something the majority of tea party members will never see or can even remotely appreciate.  They'd likely rather see a Blue Angels Superbowl flyby.  Probably costs the same, too.

It's strange, though, that from an American perspective the performance seemed so self-congratulatory.  The Bolshoi troupe spent about five minutes of the entire performance filling up a massive stair-set reminiscent of the Battleship Potemkin's Odessa Steps sequence for the sole purpose, it seemed, of showing just how massive the stage was.  All of this was in front of a scaled down version of the entire opera house, as if to say - "Hey, don't forget that we just spent more than half a decade and close to a Billion Dollars renovating this place!!"  Medvedev gave a long, boring speech before retiring to the Tsar's balcony, and an intricate light show played upon the outside of the building while fireworks erupted above. 

Not that I don't agree with the renovation, or think that they should be lauded for supporting the arts.  I just don't think if we were to do something like this, we would be so "hey, look how awesome WE are".  We already know how awesome we are, I guess.  Flaunting it would just be overkill and rude.

Another thing to note: Russians start to applaud in a sea of applause similar to the way Americans applaud, but then, if they really liked something, they typically will all end up clapping in unison. I've been to a couple Russian performances (violin virtuosos and stringed quartets straight from Russia to NE Philly) where the entire audience all started clapping together.  It made me incredibly uncomfortable.  At first, I thought they were mocking the performers, until my wife explained it to me. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ode to a One Sink Bathroom

How sweet that you bumped my elbow
in the mirror you caught my eye
you brush your teeth with such vigor
and tell me how to brush mine

So cute when you take off your makeup
with wipes that smell'o formaldehyde
your face near the faucet for an hour
my beautiful sweet darling bride

Seriously, what are you doing?
I have toothpaste in my mouth!
I'm definitely not going to swallow it,
and you suggest the toilet to spit it out?

You stand there taking your time
probably on purpose, but really, who knows?
but if you hog the sink any longer
like Luda, I'mna throw them bows.

now, at least forty five minutes later
I'm standing here left only to think
about how in our next house
you're getting your own goddamn sink.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

From Memory to Poop - Disjointed Post Party

I have a horrid memory.  That's why I just wrote this post, and then almost as soon as I wrote it, I forgot that I did.  And now I feel guilty that I haven't stuck with it in any way at all.  Also, last night, my wife asked me to go make tea and defrost something for dinner.  I went into the kitchen, made tea, and started thinking about something (I don't remember what it was, but it was likely something along the lines of optimal lip angles for tea cups both for drinking and for transporting tea from one room to another, and the difficulties of incorporating personal preference into that measurement).  Then I forgot what I was doing, only to be reminded by the ding of the teapot that I needed to bring my wife tea.  Then, she freaked out that I didn't defrost anything.

And by "freaked out", I mean, "made a tsk-ing sound" once or twice.

It's gotten so bad recently that I've resorted to keeping my own honeydew list (so named because cantaloupes get too much goddamn attention already) which as of this moment has 21 things I need to do ranging from register my wife to vote (I'm stalling because she's a republican) to selling out of my trading positions to buying chap stick (because it's that time of year when everyone's lips get leprosy and I refuse to use Vaseline).

It's actually  vastly increasing my productivity.  Whereas before, if I had any extra time to be doing anything, i'd just sit around and play risk, I'm actually takin' care of business.

I'm not entirely sure where I meant this post to go, mostly because I spent a great deal of time seriously considering how to optimize tea cups.  Seriously.  I even did a couple Google searches in the middle of the post.

But I DO want to say that Sammy is 9 months today!  Gotta go to the doctor's tonight to ask all the important questions regarding pooping and peeing.

on a related note, I wonder how many times a pediatrician either says or uses a euphemism for poop in one day.  Probably a billion.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I consider myself to be an extremely happy person.  I absolutely love everything about my life, except for the whole, "i'm not fantabulously wealthy yet" thing.

But it wasn't always like that.  In fact, I was a pretty miserable piece of dingle-berry for the better part of my teenage years.

"Ah, ha ha, but isn't everyone, you self-congratulating moron?" you ask?

Perhaps, but I had victimization and self-pity down to a science.

"What a weird thing to compete with people over - how miserable you were as a teenager."

Ok, who's writing this post, you or me?  Seriously, you can be such a dick sometimes, hypothetical alter-ego.

"Bitch, I'm Super-Id, I ain't no ego. [Flies Away]"

(edit: I took Psych 101 eight years ago and apparently forgot that it's super-ego, not super-id.  note to self - google search things you're not sure about)

Right, so now that I got that out of my system, let's move along.  Last night my wife was watching this wedding video some douche put up on Facebook of him giving this douchy speech to his bride about how trite-fully he could insert as many cliches into the same tired sentence.  "You complete me, You're the captain of my vessel, I truly started living the moment I met you, I never really knew happiness until the day we saw each other, blah, blah, blah."  Then, everyone in the wedding reception died by being bludgeoned to death with their rubber chicken while a troupe of 50 guys recited Hamlet in rounds.

Ok, no, not really, but that would have been more interesting than the stupid speech he was giving.

But my wife looked over at me and said, "You would never have made that speech because you don't think the same way about me as he does about his bride".

And if you knew my wife, which I'd be at first surprised and then suspicious and probably jealous if you said you did, you'd know that she was only half serious when she said that.  Part of it was, "I want to talk about how ridiculous this guy and his wife are".  And part of it was "I actually believe deep down that you don't really feel this way."

I understand that sometimes women need to be reassured about the love of their partners.  Hell, I even like to be reassured sometimes.  (Although my wife would tell you I constantly need attention and keeping me reassured is almost a full time job - but don't listen to her).  But there was a time when I wrote this.  (Actually, I wrote that four and a half months before I met my wife).  I went through life so angry and generally sad at seriously nothing at all that I convinced myself I was bi-polar.  It was like self-induced solitary confinement. In the end, I was just a hormonal kid who was able to buy beer because he looked old enough and flirted with the overweight beer-seller woman and who forced himself to suffer for two whole years because some girl decided she didn't like me.  I mean, really, really suffered. 

And then, it seemed like a light turned on - and when my wife entered at probably the most chaotic time, she balanced me out, gave me something to hope for, to look forward to, and to rely on.  She loved me for everything I was, and everything that she knew I could be, no matter how many times she stormed out of my apartment and left voice mails on my phone simply saying "Fuck you" because I said something stupid (something I'm still guilty of, though she's toned down her language).

She taught me what it was like to be happy.  I mean, really, truly, explosively happy.  That kind of happy where you get the church giggles ALL THE TIME and no matter what you try to do, you just can't help yourself from bathing in your suppressed quivering glee that still somehow manages to escape through pressed lips and palms pressed over your mouth to the jealousy of everyone else in the surrounding pews.

She saved me.  But she knows this.  I just hope she doesn't feel jealous of that other douche for making a public speech about it.  You know, because it's so much more private to post it on the internet.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Writing This Just Made Me Feel Better

I tend to not handle stress very well. 

It's 9 in the morning, and already I can give you three examples.
  1. I was running late this morning because it was raining, and I know Philly traffic turns to chilled molasses in the rain.  Sammy woke up and needed to be fed at EXACTLY the wrong minute.  My wife also demanded that I make her lunch, wash her nursing pump materials, make her tea, pack for school tonight, win a game of chess on the hardest setting on the computer, design a bridge that can automatically add a temporary lane in construction or accident situations, and recite the alphabet backwards in Aramaic in 10 MINUTES.
  2. Because it was raining, I was late to work during earnings season, which is pretty much the only time when there is a tremendous amount of work.  Thus, I had to drive in heavy traffic and work on my blackberry at the same time.  And due to my amazing driving skills (which we've already covered) I was half Fast and Furious half Pursuit of Happiness.  That's right, I also solved a Rubik's Cube.
  3. When I finally GOT to work, I had piled up a mountain of stuff that needed to be done 300 minutes ago. And when I sat down and turned on my computer, the systems crashed.  Just then, someone came in my office saying that things needed to be done 300 minutes ago and I SCREAMED at her.  Although, it was mostly directed towards the systems being down, so I sort of like to think that I screamed WITH her rather than AT her.  
And now that I've had my coffee and my two big-ass bagels with the cream cheese of awesomeness lathered on top, I feel much better. 

That's all I really wanted to say.  Just in case there was a poor starving Ethiopian reading this blog, and he was just curious about how difficult it was for me to make lunch, then drive in my comfortable car to my comfortable place of business where I sit behind a desk and there's no physical labor involved in the job what-so-ever, all while I stuff myself with delicious bagels. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why You Should all Come to my House in the Event of a Zombie Apocalypse (Unless you're a Zombie - then stay away)

I've been thinking a lot recently about the zombie apocalypse.  I don't know why, but I've had zombie related dreams three out of the past four nights.  Perhaps it has something to with a habit I've developed of playing zombie related flash games as I'm getting ready to go to sleep?  Nah.

For example, last night I had this insane dream where our first babysitter (who in retrospect sort of looked like a dawn of the dead zombie) was all crazy obsessed with Sammy, but not in a good way, like "I want him forever" kind of way.  And when we told her she couldn't work with us anymore, we were at this playground with a bathroom stall.  She got all sad and circled around the playground, entered the bathroom stall, and came out.  She went around again, and entered the stall, but this time, when she came out, there were two instances of her.  Like the stall was some evil version of Calvin's Duplicator from "Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink'".  And in like, three minutes, there were fifty of her, all zombie-like and crazy.  Then, I woke up from my dream and realized the power went out in the house.  I looked out the window to see if other houses had their power off, and it was storming.  The zombie babysitter was standing in the middle of our backyard pointing at me.

Yeah, it was like this.

Then I woke up again to the alarm clock.  I wasn't sure if this was reality yet, so I waited (please note: I said "waited", not "hid") about ten minutes before wrenching myself out of bed to go shower, aka walk down the dark hallway to the REALLY dark part of the house.

Moral of the story?  Always add an ethicator to perfect your duplicator.

Ok, moving on.  I'll sit at nighttime sometimes thinking about the defensive characteristics of our house, and where I would create a defensive position if the country were to plunge into chaos.  The great thing about our house is that there are a few key bottlenecks inside the house with hugely advantageous spots for ambushes.  The stairs lead up to one end of a very long hallway, which allows for a machine gun nest to be installed at the end of that hallway.  This position affords that nest the benefit of also overlooking the front of the house, from which vantage provides ample opportunity for elevated sniping.  In addition, our house is on the top of a hill, which is a natural defense against attacks. 

This picture was taken at the end of my upstairs hallway.

The only problem?  No shotguns.  No sniper rifles.  No assault rifles or Bazookas.  We don't even have a handgun.  I think the most dangerous projectile in our house (besides Sammy's infrequent projectile vomit) is a set of darts.  However, we do have an unnecessarily sharp gardening tool that I've taught myself how to throw like a knife and a super sweet hatchet

And while I might sleep with only a small fixed-blade knife by my bedside, I still sometimes get excited about those creaks and groans of a settling house.  I get excited because I might finally get the chance to execute my fool-proof house-defense plan.

But this is where you come in.  My wife is against guns.  I have no idea why, but I imagine it's due to her aversion to being awesome.  So, if you could, please write in the comments about how important it is for a husband to have Rambo levels of armaments inside the home.  I'm talking mini-guns, an uzi, an F-14, and perhaps an M-1 Abrams or two.  If you do, I'll let you come hunker down with us during the apocalypse. 

Cigars, too.  We need cigars.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Philly/Moscow Driving Habits

If you were to ask my wife, she will tell you she almost died this morning.

If you were to ask me, I'd tell you we had a normal morning commute through heavy Philly traffic.  I drove creatively and efficiently.

She'd say I drove recklessly and suicidally. 

Let's break this down and be reasonable here.  Let's forget the fact that in the decade that I've been driving, I've only had one speeding ticket.  Let's also forget that I've never been in an accident that was my fault.

The REAL meat of this discussion comes from her father's driving habits.  When I'm driving, she will hold on to the roof of the car, screaming, panting, pleading for her life, and generally trying to deliberately distract me from my excellent driving skills.  Then, of course, in the future when I DO get in an accident (because of her loud crow-like squawking, likely) she can then say, "See? I KNEW you were a bad driver".

Let this be a warning, wife.

When her father drives, my wife may as well be at the spa, getting a relaxing deep tissue massage by a large-breasted German woman named Helga, and listening to descriptions of delicious Bratwurst recipes.  This man learned how to drive in Russia, for God's sake.  This was back when cars didn't even have turn signals or brake lights, and aggressive driving was taught as a survival method in the Army.  And somehow, when he's weaving through traffic like an insane-o-pants, she's totally fine with it.

Apparently, she comes standard in Luxury Volkswagen models.  Dat auto.

When I was growing up and my dad was stationed at the naval base in Sicily, my parents lovingly joked that the lines painted on the roads of the Italian Autostrada were just painted on the roads just for show, and speed signs were more suggestions than anything else.  And yet, if you were to get into an accident, or cut the wrong person off, the only thing that would happen would be the Italian would get out of the car, wave his/her hands around a lot, and then get back in and drive away.  Then we would all go to the local pastry shop and laugh about it over a cannoli. 

But in Russia?  God help those trying to find your body after an accident in Moscow. Seriously, Google "Driving in Moscow" and watch some of the other crazy You Tube videos, or actually go on some of the sites like this one and this one and read how seriously the people suggest finding alternative methods of transportation.  Not because of the possibility of traffic jams, but rather for your own safety.  Apparently, most people there don't have legal licenses, they "paid for" their licenses, they didn't earn them. 

Can you pick out the asshole?  That's right - it's all of them.

Actually, now that I've worked this out, I'd probably feel a lot safer driving in the same car as someone who survived 50 or so years driving in Russia too.  Ok, in the end, I get why she's so much more comfortable with his driving, but come on, I'm like a basket-making corn-row hair-dressing snake.  That is to say, a master of weaving.

Ok, that was dumb.  But I'm still an awesome driver.  That being said, I know I'm going to get into an accident now. I'm going to end this post because I think I've tempted fate enough.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Russians Want to Touch Your Baby

Americans have two modes of public interaction:

1. "Leave Me Alone, You Crazy Lunatic".  This is generally reserved for homeless people and fellow public transportation takers and passers-by on the street, and people you're in line with to the latest Wes Anderson movie.  The more space we give each other, the better, and I'm residing well within this mentality 99% of the time.  It's where I plan on retiring, deep within Senile Old Man county.  Perhaps "Get off my lawn!" township.

Zombies ESPECIALLY don't like to be touched by weirdo strangers

2.  "Oh My God, Come Here, I Need to Grab You All Over".  This mode is the rarer one, and typically the most scary.  This really only comes about when you're in the company of a serial killer, at a strip joint, or in the vicinity of a pregnant woman/cute baby.

Classic example of #2.  No, not THAT #2, SITUATION #2.  Jeez

I think you know where I'm going with this.

Anyway, I love this set up - I totally understand the boundaries, and have grown up with these rules all my life.  There are a few exceptions, and there are a few people who choose to ignore these rules, but having grown up here, I'm comfortable with my ability to pick out Grabby McTouchy-Pants in a crowd and avoid him as if, well, he will touch you all over.

Clue #1: Grabby McTouchy-Pants tends to grab himself.  A LOT.

But the Russians have been able to find a way to FURTHER polarize these completely opposite sentiments. 

For example, I've spoken about the Grocery store before.  It is a lovely place, full of quiet, distanced judgment.  If you're alone, you are not expected to say "Excuse Me" unless someone is DIRECTLY in your way.  You should not make eye contact with your fellow shoppers, and the only conversation that can ever happen (in only the rarest of situations) is conversation about how slow the woman at the kolbasa/bread counter is moving, or how stupid she is.  Also, as a side note, Russian culture allows you to revert to your primal instincts should there be a price discrepancy at the cashier or if there is a wild sale happening. 

Stampedes are acceptable. 

$0.02 off Pierogies??? BUY/EAT ALL THE PIEROGIES.

This is not like American stores, where you're expected to say "excuse me", eye contact is ok, and limited and minor friendly banter about sales or food choices is acceptable.

HOWEVER, should you be carting around an adorable 8 month old baby who is curious and tends to squeal with glee periodically, it is perfectly acceptable for crazy Russian Grandmas to attack you from all sides like you're Colonel Custer at Little Big Horn. 

"Give me Baby. I wanna it now."

All of the following happened in the past few trips to the grocery store, without exaggeration:
  • An old guy winked and clucked at Sammy like a chicken with an eye spasm.
  • A young woman tried to play the Russian version of "Patty Cake" with him the second I turned my back to get a bag of potatoes
  • Grandmas (yes, more than one) have sprung up from behind me out of no where only to grab his legs and say, loosely translated, "Oh, what nice legs!"
  • Standing in line for bread, someone reached out and patted him on the head and said something I didn't understand.
  • A rabid team of Cossacks stormed the building atop their horses, headed straight for Sammy, stole him out of my arms, and began tossing him back and forth between themselves while singing Russian Drinking Songs.
Ok, that last one didn't exactly happen like I said. 

It was much, much worse.

But moving on, I want to know what compels people in this germophobic society to reach out and grab someone's child, or come in uninvited to rub a pregnant woman's belly.  The older Russians who came from and grew up in the old country have an excuse - they've never really been part of the Purell explosion of the last 10-15 years in America. 

But while I've been hard on the Russians here, there have been some CLOSE calls in American stores.  I actually had to smack a bitch for coming too close.  No, not really, but I gave her my best dirty look.  After all, who knows if she just pooped and forgot to wash her hands?  And now she's rubbing her hands all over my son!?! No thank you, Poops McGee.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Guest post from the Suniverse

I have a very special, awesome surprise for you: today's guest is the Suniverse, who is the author of her eponymous blog.  And you know what?  She's funny, and clever, and that kind of amazing that you only find once in a while.   Please, read away:

Food, glorious food.

First, I want to thank Bill for being so kind as to invite me to post on his blog, and then being even kinder for not telling me to go suck it when it took me over a month to get him this post.  I am a horrible person.

And that's not the only reason. I'm horrible about the topic of food.

Food is amazing and wonderful and tasty and when you're hungry? It's the best.

It's also weird and bizarre and when you come from an immigrant family, it can be a little scary.  Actually, there are only a few scary things for me [mostly the giant buckets of smelt, the lamb's head that stares at you while people - like your own mother! - start stripping it for weird bits of flesh, and that gross onion stew that permeates the entire house]. 

The other stuff? I'm fine with.  Yummy little bits of meat that have been sauteed until they are super crispy are not merely pieces of fat, they are DELICIOUS.  That baked bit of lamb that's crispy and tasty? OH HOLY HELL, get out of my way.  The crusty bit of dough that has no filling? GIVE IT TO ME, PLEASE.  My sister and I discussed these delicacies, much to my future [non-immigrant] mother-in-law's horror, at the dinner the night before I got married.

The husband, who is generic American, has done a good job enjoying - well, maybe enjoying is too strong a word, maybe he's done a good job just eating the food that is foisted upon him at various parties and dinners.  He deals well with pots of beans and lamb, pastries that are filled with he knows not what and the giant portions that come with them.

I, on the other hand, have a really hard time adjusting to American food.  I mean, it's ubiquitous and I eat it all the time and I cook it, but it never ceases to amaze me that people will make regular American food for a party.  Where is the painstakingly made platter of sweets? You BOUGHT THAT CAKE? What's wrong with you?  You're making dinner and it's a something you'd eat on a weeknight? WHAT? WE'RE COMPANY!

I get very weird about that kind of thing.  It's a culture shock for me, despite the fact that I was born and raised in this country and lived on my own and married an American.  There are some things, evidently, that are simply ingrained in the genes, and my expectation of food that has been slaved over is one of them.

When are you inviting me for dinner?  

Me! I'm inviting you over for dinner.  and I'll get my wife to cook something outrageously rare and difficult.  I'm sure she won't mind.  In the meantime, while she's whipping it up, head over to the Suniverse's blog and get your immigrant on.  Best part of her blog?  The obscure scrubs quote at the top.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I woke up not a zombie today

Ok, I know the last two posts have been rough to get through.  Too analytical, not funny, and all around uninteresting.  Mostly, this is because I'm in the middle of an incredibly interesting class that has been dry-humping my face.  This has got me thinking about the class, and strategy, and greater implications of analysis on lots of other random boring crap blah, bla - oh my god, shut up - nobody cares.

But also, I'm not sure if you knew this, but we've got this kid, see.  And he doesn't like to lie down or sit anymore.  He discovered the wonders of standing.  On top of this, he is busting out his second set of teeth, and contrary to the last two, these (or this, i'm not sure how many are coming out) is a bastard tooth.  It's like those stupid tooth characters on those annoying kid commercials from the 80's telling you that you've gotta brush your teeth while wielding this massive toothbrush, and you just want to punch it in the face and say, "shut your goddamn mouth, tooth".

I want to punch this guy in the periodontal membrane
So Sammy's been up almost all night for the past two nights crying and moaning and writing in agony.  And not only is it exhausting to be up rocking him in your arms all night long (so my wife tells me - I have been bad about keeping my eyes open), but it really sucks to know he's in so much pain. 

And standing?  Sammy is now waking us up by poking his head over the rail of the crib and giving the baby equivalent of "HEY! I see you!! Why are you not paying attention to me!?!" So because he doesn't want to lie down anymore, this ALSO decreases the amount of sleep everyone gets because he's now permanently playing his own version of Jenga (or is it stack attack?), where he wobbles back and forth and your only job is to basically make sure he doesn't collapse down on the floor and bang his head off of the only sharp thing in the entire house (which is like a magnet for baby heads) and smash into a thousand pieces.

But I woke up this morning with a little extra excitement.  Reason #1 - Either Sammy let us sleep through the night, or I didn't hear him crying at all.  Reason #2 - it's an absolutely beautiful day outside.  and Reason #3 - we've got less than 45 days until our absolutely awesome vacation that is going to be like Odysseus returning home, putting his feet up on the coffee table with a beer and having Penelope feed him profiteroles, or whatever it was that people ate back then wherever he was from.

"I intend to never wear clothes again!"

I'm already dreaming about all the nothing I plan on doing.  Just sitting in a balcony on the third largest ship in the world, watching the waves go by.  I'll likely be drinking a beer too.  With my wife bringing me profiteroles.  And like Odysseus, I'll also be perpetually naked.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

TL:DR - I got a newspaper called "BORING TIMES"

I heard a story this morning about illegal immigration in the US, and how it's on the decline because of the lagging economy.  This got me thinking about immigration in general, and the perception of emigrants to America by friends and family who are left behind in the countries that they leave.

My in-laws have friends and family who still live in Belarus and Ukraine.  Whenever we discuss the possibility of going to visit, (something I'm really looking forward to, but we can never seem to put the pieces together) they will always sigh and grumble over the fact that we need to bring a suitcase full of gifts for the people we were going to go and see.

This is not an acceptable gift.
There are two reasons for this.  First, as a token of gratitude for letting us come and eat and drink and relax at that person's place.  I get this - it is a simple sign of human decency to show gratitude for hospitality.  But the second reason is because most people think that if you leave to go to America, you get out of the plane and money rains down on you so much that you can barely stand from having to carry all the extra money in your pockets.  Thus, it is your obligation to spread that inevitable wealth with your unfortunate friends whom you left behind in the economic travesty that is the former USSR. 

She used to be your college roommate

And every time I bring up the conversation with my in-laws, they cite examples of friends who are living off of $100/month in a city where a pair of pants can cost $50.  But to me, this is a skewed statistic, because a) who could live off such a tiny salary, b) who counts Belorussian salaries in US dollars, and c) who can convert rubles to dollars so quickly and accurately?

Being a skeptic and a data-whore, I looked at some figures this morning.  And I haven't come to any real conclusions yet, as I'm sort of researching and writing this post at the same time.  But here's what I've found.

But first, a note about the statistics and facts: I wanted to use median household income, but couldn't find any really reliable numbers.  I instead used per capita GDP, which admittedly doesn't adjust for distribution of wealth, but for our purposes, we'll just assume that per capita GDP is roughly equivalent to what someone in that country would earn on average. Also, the majority of this information has been pulled from wikipedia and, so...yeah - take the data with a grain of salt.  This is mostly for gross generalization purposes.  I'm not submitting a paper to the Harvard Review here.  If I were, I wouldn't say "balls" or "fart".  because that would be unprofessional.  

Country Per Capita GDP      Cost of Living      Adjusted Income
US 46860 76.19 $61,504.13
Ukraine 6698 45.14 $14,838.28
Russia 15612 63.98 $24,401.38
Belarus 13874 47.89 $28,970.56
Norway 51959 139.53 $37,238.59
Sweden 38204 100.68 $37,945.97
Los Angeles 57500 96.11 $59,827.28
Chicago 56300 88.55 $63,579.90
NYC 67700 100 $67,700.00
Philadelphia 58200 78.55 $74,092.93
San Fransisco 75200 101.43 $74,139.80

All data I found used NYC as a base, so in the information above, if the US cost of living is 76.19, that means prices across the US are on average 76.19% of NYC prices.  So, if you were to normalize all of this and put each GDP per capita in NYC dollars, an average Belorussian citizen would have to live in New York City off of $28,970, not an easy thing to do.  For a Russian, it would be $24,401, even WORSE than Belarus.  A Ukrainian?  $14,838.  But an average American would have to live in NYC off of $61,504.  Almost double that of the Belorussian and FOUR times that of the Ukrainian.  Not too shabby.I just threw Norway and Sweden in there because they're usually the model of oppressive taxation and outrageous cost of living.

But the problem with this, of course, is that you can't say that the income distribution across the entire country is equal (obviously).  This doesn't take into account that people in Moscow or Minsk or Kiev might make more money (or have a higher cost of living).  Additionally, it doesn't take into account that the salaries of those in American cities are generally lower than those people who can afford to live in the suburbs and commute into the urban areas.

Another interesting thing to look at is the distribution of immigrants from Eastern Europe.  The data's a little stale, but I found data from 2000 showing that of the 890,530 immigrants from the former USSR, 233,724 found themselves in New York, 181,800 in California (likely in San Fran or LA) and 44,998 in PA (probably Philly). 

So I found the per capita and cost of living information for those cities, and it was a little more revealing.  A person in Philly or San Fran is living off of almost 5 times more than someone in Ukraine.  The worst city is LA, where they only make 4 times that of the after person in Ukraine.  And the average people in these two cities beat the pants off of anyone from the Scandinavian countries. 

Ok, I'll admit - I've spent a bit too much time on Memebase.

So it would seem that the obvious solution is to come to America to quadruple your income, but what the statistics don't tell you is that there are HUGE and rather obvious issues with immigrating, beginning with being allowed in the country in the first place, and including such non-trivial things like, "hey, you're in your 40s or 50s and have to struggle with having an education that isn't recognized, oh and by the way, you've gotta start learning a language you've never even had the chance to be properly exposed to."  So you're likely to not get a job that is anywhere near what your true qualifications are, thereby significantly decreasing your earnings potential (which sort of flies in the face of everything I've said above) because you're now delivering pizzas instead of working for Lockheed Martin as a Fluid Dynamics specialist.  Also: your children and grandchildren will likely shun your language and culture, isolating you from your own family by making you "the weird grandparent with the creepy accent". 

Ok, one last meme to wrap up the post: