Macaroni and a lesson in used-car salesmanship

I had just finished cooking some macaroni (that’s what Russians call pasta) when I heard my host father Aleksander come home, talking loudly to someone on the phone.

“What are you doing?” he asked, coming into the kitchen. “Why is the gas off? … It’s not done yet.”

I told him I usually eat pasta the Italian way, al dente. He gave me a look like I was a caveman who had kept burning my fingers trying to hold raw game over a campfire, then relit the burner.

“Let me show you how to cook macaroni the Russian way,” he said, added a generous handful of salt to the mix. “You need at least 15 more minutes.”

While the macaroni cooked to the consistency of fresh earthworm, I asked Aleksander about his work as a used-car salesman. “How is business in the present financial crisis?” (The ruble now trades 34 to the dollar, up from 24 when I came to Russia in June).

“Like always. 100 percent,” he said. “Not 80 percent, not 120 percent, but 100 percent … People buy cars like always.”

Besides he said, his take-home depended on the amount of profit he could make from a sale, not the total number of cars sold. One car sold for a large profit is worth five sold for chump change.

“While my client will be left with nothing, he’ll look at me and see I have all the money,” he grinned.

I wondered whence these margins were being created. “So you’re taking away profit from the client?”

“Yes, my job is to take his profit in such a way that he’s still content,” he replied.

“How do you do that? Talk fast?”

“No, you need to speak slowly and confidently,” he replied, this time without the joking tone.

Seeing he was answering my questions earnestly, I ventured out on a thinner limb. “And dishonestly? (ni chestno?)” I asked.

“Yes, dishonestly,” he admitted, adding something to the effect that everyone has to look out for his own. “It’s the Wild West out there.”

“Do you mean the American West?” I asked, receiving a “Da” and another rakish grin. “But I thought the wild years were the ‘90s,” I barged onward.

“The ‘90s were banditskii,” he replied, “brigandish.” “It was like Chicago in the 1920’s,” he explained, again all grins. “Now it’s like Chicago in the 1930’s and ‘40s.”

Having thought of a moral to end this fable, he grew serious once more.

“For me, it’s honest. For him [the guy he’s selling the car for], maybe not.”

I know well by now that Russians are averse to bullshit. And also scruples, in some cases. All you have to do is look after your own; it’s the Wild West out there.


2 Responses to “Macaroni and a lesson in used-car salesmanship”

  1. Stephen Streed Says:

    Do you speak Russian with this family?

  2. I want to let you know Ive always felt you have an excellent site.

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