Editor’s Note: Ricochet Contributor Roman Genn — who emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States in 1991 and whose artwork can now be seen regularly in National Review and many other publications — recently invited questions from Ricochet members. His responses appear below]
Q: How old were you when you left the Soviet Union? What effect did leaving at that particular age have on you relative to hypothetically having left later or earlier in your life?
A: I left too late to avoid speaking like Count Dracula for the rest of my life.
Q: What was your first big surprise after coming to America?
A: Those damn shiny things separating the lanes on the freeway. I thought there was a gnome under each of them holding a little candle.
Q: Was it difficult making the transition to living in Los Angeles?
A: Yes. Here the traffic cops do not except bribes.
Q: What’s your favorite food?
A: The double cheeseburger is the greatest American invention!
Q: What are three things you couldn’t live without on desert island?
A: A case of Scotch, Prilosec, and some kind of back-scratching tool (a letter opener would do)
Q: Why do Russians drink so much?
A: This is typical imperialist slander! Russians are sober, intelligent, and peaceful.
Q: Who are the nicest people in the world?
A: Minnesotans. In April.
Q: What’s the biggest difference between men and women?
A: Multiple orgasms.
Q: How many drawings of Obama have you had to do?
A: “His name is Legion, for they are many.”
Q: What is your typical day like?
A: In Los Angeles, you usually wake up to the bloodcurdling sound of leaf blowers chasing the dust around. I spend the rest of the day pacing around, too pissed off to go back to bed.
Q: How good was Arvydas Sabonis when he still had his legs?
A: He had legs?
Q: Why do Russians smoke in gymnasiums?
A: To enhance their exquisite arôme.
Q: How many rubles should I have received per dollar in a black market trade in 1989? Follow up: what was the appropriate pay-off to an inquisitive customs agent in 1989?
A: 1) 5:1 in January, 15: 1 in December. 2) A pack of Marlboros would’ve sufficed.
Q: Why did the Soviets modernize Moscow but not Leningrad?
A: Indeed, those boxy Fiat knockoffs were impressive.
Q: Are large American public universities more or less what the Soviets were going for when they designed their empire?
A: I successfully avoided the Temples of Knowledge. Probably.
Q: Did Soviets routinely complain about the costs of South American and Middle Eastern “welfare queens?”
A: A Soviet couple is sitting at breakfast. The husband is reading the morning Pravda:
Husband: “Hmm, Honduras concerns me a great deal.”
The wife: “Stop scratching it, you idiot!”
Q: Who is your favorite Russian politician of the last 30 years?
A: Well, as Reagan said, they keep dying on me. Putin is getting to be rather interesting for someone who was once a colorless midlevel paper pusher.