AMERICANS have long been proud of their work ethic. But...

Salmagundi

July 22, 1994

AMERICANS have long been proud of their work ethic. But notions of hard work are relative. Nowadays it's not uncommon to hear Americans complain that immigrants work too hard, putting everyone else at a disadvantage.

If Americans have forgotten what really hard work is, they still are far ahead of the Russians, whose years of guaranteed employment under communism sapped the country's work ethic. Russian journalists Nina Chugunova and Olga Shchedrina, who were visiting fellows at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists this past spring, recounted several examples of Russian women's attitudes toward work in the bulletin's July/August issue:

". . . Chugunova . . . is tenderly critical of the Soviet work ethic. 'Our women have lost a very important wrinkle of character: They want, but they don't want to do,' she says.

"She has plenty of stories that make her point. 'My sister-in-law had a job at the Institute of the Problems of Tobacco and Wine,' Ms. Chugunova explains. 'She could do her hair, her makeup, talk to her friends and read the newspaper. Her main task was to talk politics -- "the future of our great Russia." '

"Suddenly that changed. After the fall [of the Soviet government], Russia couldn't afford to subsidize such useless jobs. 'Now she can sit in her office and talk politics without pay,' Ms. Chugunova says.

". . . Nina Chugunova's neighbor is still looking for a way to make her dream of wealth come true. For a while, she had decided to become a tour guide for foreigners. 'But she couldn't,' Ms. Chugunova says, 'because it required her to get up early and learn 10 phrases in English.'

"Then she wanted to be Ms. Chugunova's babysitter. 'But for the salary she wanted -- that of a serious businessman -- I said she must also clean my flat, make breakfast for my husband every morning, shop, take my son to tennis school and pay the bills. . . . She turned me down. Now she has decided that the way to get rich is to exercise and get a fantastic lover.

" 'At least my friend has a goal. Before, she had none.' "

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