Pleasing all of the people some of the time...

>> Monday, 28 May 2012

...Or - On the thorny issue of buying teacher gifts at the end of the school year 

 A Russian friend recently asked me to help her select the end of year present for our children’s class teacher.  I knew that this was as much for my expat point of view as for my exquisite taste (noticing that would be a neat trick when, like so many foreigners here, I live in a home almost entirely furnished by Ikea), so I happily agreed and we spent an eventually fruitful couple of hours wandering through Izmailovosky Market in search of the perfect gift.

It took a while, because my friend was concerned that we hit the right tone with whatever we chose; the class our children are in has a fair proportion of pupils with Russian parents whose expectations were for us to buy something sophisticated and memorable as a ‘goodbye and thank you’ gift.  I, on the other hand, am a hick expat who loves Russia as much for it’s brash in your face kitchness and bling factor as for it’s wealth of culture and history, so my expectations were somewhat different.

Plus, if I’m honest, I don’t much care what the Russian parents’ expectations might be; you can only please all of the people some of the time, and in this case it seemed to me that it was more important to please the teacher – who like myself is an expat, and without baggage about the impressions other people might form of Russia from a simple end of year gift – than to worry what message the gift might convey.

This seems to me to be a recurrent situation here: Russians who are showing off their country are often very concerned with ensuring that visitors know there is more to their capital city than matrioshka dolls, Lenin’s mausoleum, and vodka.  And of course there is; far, far more.  The cultural opportunities available here are astounding, the number of museums astonishing; hell, even a short trip on the metro will show you that this is a city full of unexpected wonders and marvels.  I could wax lyrical for endless pages about the parks, gardens, art galleries, walks, and exhibitions all within easy access of most people here. 

But these are all the experiential foundations of happy memories, and we were looking for something to wrap up in pretty paper and ribbons and hand over at the end of the summer term. Something that can easily be bubble-wrapped at the end of the teacher’s posting in Moscow; not such an easy call.  So it was that when my friend, thwarted in her search for something uniquely Russian that also ticked the boxes marked ‘sophisticated’ and ‘affordable’, turned to me for guidance, I had only one suggestion.

It’s not sophisticated.  It probably won’t impress the local culture vultures. But it is memorable, beautifully crafted, and uniquely Russian, and whilst I’m not going to tell you what we bought – it’s not yet the end of term – have a look at the picture at the top of this post and take a wild guess...

This post first appeared on my other blog, 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' over at The Moscow Times Online


MsCaroline 28 May 2012 at 12:50  

I think they're gorgeous, and I'm sure the teacher will, too! DH and I often have to remind ourselves that things that are ubiquitous here in Seoul (everyone has the same spirit sticks, masks, and celadon tea sets) will not be ubiquitous when we get to our next home. If/when the teacher moves home (or, as so many expat teachers at international schools do, on to another school in another country), she'll have not only a lovely memento of the class, but also a lovely memento of Russia. I collect Christmas ornaments and over the years have been given a number of them by students - some handmade, others picked with obvious thought and care. I always write the name of the student and the year on the bottom/back of the ornament, and years later, I hang them with wonderful memories of the students who gave them to me 'way back when.'
Two thumbs up for a well-chosen gift.

Pippa W 28 May 2012 at 13:11  

Was it a postcard? It was wasn't it. You can tell me.

Potty Mummy 28 May 2012 at 16:15  

MCD - Oh, they're here. Maybe it's not OUR culture, but they have very strong ideas of what is and isn't suitable...

Thanks MsC. Love the idea of writing the name on the decorations, too.

Pippa, you got it! x

Mrs. Munchkin 1 June 2012 at 03:27  

How did you possibly get one of those ball capped men to be the teachers gift?! It was the pretty wrapping, wasn't it? He wanted to be tied up with bows...dirty old man!

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