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Saturday, 17 May 2014

Gogol on German competition

A shoemaker, indeed? 'As drunk as a shoemaker,' says the proverb. I know what you were like, my friend. If you wish, I will tell you your whole history. 

You were apprenticed to a German, who fed you and your fellows at a common table, thrashed you with a strap, kept you indoors whenever you had made a mistake, and spoke of you in uncomplimentary terms to his wife and friends. 

At length, when your apprenticeship was over, you said to yourself, 'I am going to set up on my own account, and not just to scrape together a kopeck here and a kopeck there, as the Germans do, but to grow rich quick.' 

Hence you took a shop at a high rent, bespoke a few orders, and set to work to buy up some rotten leather out of which you could make, on each pair of boots, a double profit. But those boots split within a fortnight, and brought down upon your head dire showers of maledictions; with the result that gradually your shop grew empty of customers, and you fell to roaming the streets and exclaiming, 'The world is a very poor place indeed! A Russian cannot make a living for German competition.'

Nikolai Gogol - Dead Souls (1842)

4 comments:

Roger said...

Well, the Rusky missed a trick. Set up as bootmaker to the king, arrange backhanders to the Chamberlain and let the boots lie in the army stores for a while. When the s&*t hits the fan claim 'commercial confidence', 'national security' etc etc etc. Then trot out 'lessons have been learned and procedures changed'. Meanwhile offshore the kopeks and pay no taxes.

I think even the Ruskies have learned a thing or two since 1842.

Demetrius said...

At the time of Gogol, some forebears of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher were shoemakers. Although East Midlands rather than Eastern Europe.

James Higham said...

Many amateur shoemakers in Russia. Some of them weren't bad.

A K Haart said...

Roger - they have certainly learned a thing or two about salting away the kopecks overseas.

Demetrius - my father inherited a cobbler's last from a forebear. Not sure who though.

James - maybe it was often a family sideline handed down the generations.