I am the quintessential office supply/organizational junkie. I spend the kind of time in STAPLES that ordinary women spend in Bloomingdales, which I am sure shows both in my impeccable filing system, as well as my less-than-pristine personal appearance. What can I do? My idea of the perfect afternoon is to fire up my label gun and reorganize someone’s filing system, rearrange their DVDs by genre and then in alphabetical order, or clean out desk drawers and color code the post-it supply.
To me, one of the great, unsolved mysteries is why the office supply craze hasn’t taken off in Russia, a country that, year after year, successfully defends its intergalactic bureaucratic paperwork championship title. Russia doesn’t have anything remotely resembling a Staples or Office Depot. This is, perhaps, at the heart of Russia’s malaise, because I don’t understand how anyone can feel a sense of hope or control without the occasional purchase of a new set of 54 Sharpies in “adult” colors such as ochre, coffee and teal.
Office and school supplies are to be found in dingy corners of bookstores, but they are to real office products what Russian-manufactured hooch is to Bombay Sapphire gin. Your best bet is a flimsy two-ringed binder, or a porous cardboard folder, which fastens with string ties. String ties! Paper itself is sold by weight and has the absorbency of tin foil. The mind-blowingly expensive imported German products are better, but they are locked up behind grimy glass shelves. The supplies are lined up inside, and you have to elbow your way through a tough crowd of secretaries and guided missile Babushki to take a look. If you can’t say, “I’ll take the red and black striped pencil, fourth row, eighth from the back” in perfect Russian you can forget about going home with any of them.
I have a file cabinet (special order from Finland) and I use durable plastic hanging and file folders from STAPLES and a label gun from Brother, all of which I carted over in a suitcase from the United States.
“Nice for the tax police,” quips HRH, my handsome Russian husband. “They will thank you for all that fantastic organization.”
This was a window for me into the motivations behind Russian chaos. I supposed that if all the papers were stacked up in the porous, dusty “DELO” cardboard folders with the string ties, finding what you were after would be more like looking for a needle in a haystack. You’d have time to call your lawyer, or sneak out the back door or, better still, fly to Guatemala before anyone found the relevant document.
And every Russian, from the unsmiling Minister for Trade and Economic Development, Elvira Nabiullina, down to the Concierge of our building, uses a cheesy A5 leatherette diary.
“They are impossible to keep good notes on," I said to HRH. "Surely there isn’t enough space on each day to make a to-do list, or notes from a big meeting.”
“No one actually writes anything of substance down. But you have to be seen to be writing. That’s the key.”
Where is my label gun? I need to label something….NOW. That will have to do, until I can get to STAPLES.Jennifer Eremeeva is a longtime resident of Moscow; she blogs at www.rbth.ru/blogs/ and www.dividingmytime.typepad.com. She is currently working on her first book.
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