There is this Russian trivia show that N and I adore and always watch. The show consists of very intelligent, highly educated people answering questions sent in by members of the Russian – speaking audience from all over the world. The show was inherited from the Soviet times and went through some very curious transformations as it adapted itself to historic developments.
For instance, back in the USSR, the prizes were books because books were very hard to get and it was prestigious to have them even if you weren’t a reader. And on that show, everybody was a reader, of course.
In the 1990s, during the bandit wars, the show acquired a very dark and heavy tone. Books disappeared, and the show turned into a high-stakes casino of sorts where members of the educated class enacted their terror of wild capitalism.
Todat, the prizes are always and only large sums of money but everybody is used to capitalism now and the environment around money is much calmer.
But other places were transforming, too. For instance, one of the show’s traditions is a short break during which the players are served, in a very majestic way, “traditional English tea.” Aside from the obvious goal of product placement, this is a way of borrowing some of the intellectual cachet that “traditional English” things possess.
For years, the brand of the “traditional English tea” served was Pickwick. But “traditional English” is as likely to transform as “traditional” anything else. A few years ago, the “traditional English Pickwick” changed into “the traditional English tea Ahmad.”
At first, there was a lot of alarmism among the show’s fans. Ahmad is displacing Pickwick! What’s next, Mohammed instead of Nelson? This is what England has come to! The horror, the horror! But then it turned out that Ahmad was actually a very good tea and that, unlike the horribly tasting Pickwick, it was even enjoyable to drink. So the panic subsided. And now every self-respecting “Russian” restaurant in the US carries Ahmad because immigrants love the show and are eager to be part of the new traditions of their old country by way of the traditional English tea.
I remembered the story because, like a typical Russian – speaking immigrant, I’m drinking my Ahmad right now and checking the program to see when the new episode of my old Soviet show will be aired.