Magazine article Russian Life

Dueling Capitals. (Survival Russian)

Magazine article Russian Life

Dueling Capitals. (Survival Russian)

Article excerpt

There are practically no examples of Russian urban folklore that contain the names of both Moscow and St. Petersburg without emphasizing their opposition. Moscow's mercantile arrogance, kneaded on centuries of traditions and grandfathered principles is counterposed with the aristocratic maximalism of a neophyte, destroying stereotypes with aplomb.

Barely one hundred years after Petersburg was founded, Vladimir Dal recorded the following proverb: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT] ("Moscow was created by centuries, Piter by millions?') Later, this proverb was transformed into [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT] . ("Piter was built with rubles, Moscow over centuries?') Another proverb speaks of the same controversy in even bolder terms: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT] ("Moscow grew, Petersburg was grown?')

Moscow could not forgive the young parvenu who sprung from the marshes so suddenly and was now claiming leadership. In the middle of the 19th century, 150 years after Petersburg was founded, Muscovites were still cherishing secret hopes that Petersburg "was destined to end its days sinking back into the Finnish swamps"-- [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT] Slavophiles, one of the two major voices of 19th century Russian philosophy, proclaimed the following war-cry: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT] ("Long live Moscow and let Petersburg die!")

For their part, Petersburgers called Moscow "[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT]," ("a big village"); its residents were christened "[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT] (proles). Muscovites responded by laughing: "[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT] ("What sort of Peterbourgeois-ism is that?"), and added the insulting "[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT]," (aristocrats).

Dandyish, active, aristocratic Petersburg, arrayed in a gorgeous tail-coat or a dazzling military uniform, is portrayed as the masculine, while decorous and thorough merchant Moscow is female. When, in 1712, Peter married Catherine in Petersburg, a proverb was born: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT]. In Russian there are two verbs for marriage: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT] is used for women and [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT] for men. In one hundred years time Vladimir Dal precised: "[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT], [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT]," Moscow is not "taken" as a wife, it gets married voluntarily.

In the 19th century, Petersburg was in fact a largely male-dominated city, inhabited by bureaucrats, officers, university and cadet college students, factory workers. Over two thirds of Petersburg's population was male. While in the 1970s, this difference between Moscow and Petersburg had long vanished, the proverb still resonated: "[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCIT]." ("Leningrad has grooms, Moscow has brides.") The proverb spoke probably not of quantitative, but of qualitative difference. Young men from Leningrad were highly valued as partners for their education and good manners, while Moscow's beauties were praised for their thriftiness.

A popular joke, obviously born in Petersburg, speaks of other alleged qualities of Petersburg's men and Moscow's women. A woman gets on a tram. A young man gets up from his seat and lets the lady have it. …

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