Moscow Diary: Swept by a gale of vodka and humbug

IT'S OVER for another year, thank God. While International Women's Day slides by unnoticed by most other countries, Russia marks the occasion with a two-day holiday in which the entire country is swept by a gale of humbug, bogus gallantry, and vodka.

This year was even worse than last. One male politician after another barged onto the airwaves to make self-serving speeches about the wonders of the fairer sex.

The occasion did at least offer the Russian media a chance to explore the intricacies of the male attitude to women, who are generally viewed as awesome matriarchs or simpering ornaments or - occasionally - both. There were several surveys about gender, the most interesting of which was published by Moskovski Komsomolets newspaper.

Muscovites were asked to name the women they felt had played "a superlative role in world history, politics, art, literature sport, and other areas of human life". The overwhelming winner - with 21 per cent - was Margaret Thatcher. Princess Diana came third with 11 per cent. Catherine the Great only managed fifth place.

The respect Russians hold for Baroness Thatcher is a mystery, given their loathing for their own Mikhail Gorbachev. "She symbolised order, that's all," says my Russian colleague, Lena. The survey was, however, compiled before Russians found out about her plans to host a dinner for Aslan Maskhadov, the President of Chechnya, who - much to the irritation of some here - is visiting Britain this week.

I have been mulling over a remark made by my friend and neighbour, Oleg. He rang to tell me that he was as "happy as an elephant", a term which meant that he was about happy as it is possible to be. An elephant? Since when was this threatened species happy, I asked? It is clear Russians believe a grin lurks behind that wrinkled trunk - like the long-faced Russians themselves, elephants are clearly thought to be happier than they look.

This will have to be chalked up as one of the many small, strange differences that separate the British from the Russians. Most defy explanation. Why do Russians insist they will get a sore throat if they drink chilled drinks, yet buy ice cream on the streets in the middle of winter? And why do they believe overcoats carry germs, a conviction held with such vehemence that they are insulted if you keep your anorak on indoors?

They feel equally baffled by us. The other day, I invited a handful of Russian colleagues for an early-evening drink. I offered them some ripe brie and camembert and semi-sweet Russian champagne (a favourite here). The cheese was clearly a novelty, and they fell on it with the eagerness of Tiggers trying Pooh's honey. Big mistake. "Why do you foreigners like this stuff?" asked one, wavy-lipped with disgust. "I suppose it's not really surprising," volunteered Yelena, our two-year-old's nanny, "I have known this family for two years and not once have I seen them eat a single slice of sausage." There was universal astonishment.

The reason for Oleg's elephant-like glee is parked on a patch of icy mud outside his front door. He is, he announced, the proud owner of a new, bright red Niva. When you consider what he went through to get it his rapture is justified. The car cost $7,000 - way over his annual salary. So he took a motor-minded friend to check the car over, knowing that there would be no exchange or refund if it turned out to be a duffer. They found two significant faults, which Oleg later fixed at home.

While the West is moving to correct the damage wrought by the motor age, this city is only just entering it. Like most Muscovites, Oleg has no garage, but a light-weight metal shed, which looks like a bread bin.

Nor does he have insurance, as the $700 annual fee is well beyond the pittance he earns as a linguistic expert in the Russian army. What happens if your new wheels are stolen, I asked? He shrugged. But the moment we switched on the engine to take it for a spin, his elderly mother shot out of his front door to check us out. Who needs a car alarm?

Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Secondary Maths Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Year 5 Teacher

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments