On a recent extended tour of Russia with Grand Circle Travel, we were expecting a dour and cold country with matching people. To our delight we discovered a country that was vibrant and every bit as exciting in many respects as one could find in many dynamic and growing economies in the world. While we were traveling late in the season, the cities were nicely lit, and the people were beautifully friendly. Grand Circle had performed miraculously in planning our travel itinerary called Cossacks, Tartars, and the Golden Ring. While St. Petersburg and Moscow (Mockba) had both arrived fully clothed in the twenty-first century, the surprising highlight of the trip was experienced during the river cruise from Rostov to Moscow in the city of Kazan.
As seasoned travelers, one dimension that adds a more personal touch to travel is what Grand Circle calls home-hosted lunches. This involves dividing the travelers into small groups and assigning them somewhat at random to pre-selected homes with individual hosting families. While such a grab-bag experience is loaded with risk, our small group of four couples was the first assigned off the buses loaded with 200 persons. We were immediately directed to a lady who appeared too young to drive, and her associate in a second car. The ten of us were loaded into two small cars, where we were given Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride through Russian traffic from the center to the outskirts of Kazan. It was a rousing introduction to an unexpectedly festive occasion. Our visit was the occasion.
The home was a large two-story single family home in excellent repair. The hosting party included the designated extended family, two children, a brother-in-law, and visiting youngsters. On entering the home the young lady driver told us that we could hang up our under-wear in the coat closet. These four older couples were not really expecting that kind of a party, and before proceeding further, she recognized her error, and corrected her statement to outer-wear. With this second ice-breaker, we discovered that most all of our hosts either spoke or understood the King’s English quite well, while we understood little or nothing in the Russian tongue.
A brief tour of the home showed parent’s room, kids rooms, extended family rooms, computers and televisions, and two full baths plus a sauna and hot tub. Clearly this family was not to be classed among the struggling poor, but had achieved a marked degree of success based upon western standards. Exactly how to explain this achievement in Russia’s new market economy was not long in coming.
Our hosts, the Gabdullin family, invited us all into their dining room where we were seated comfortably around a cozy collection of tables. While we knew that Grand Circle had probably required a common menu for all home hosted lunches, the Gabdullin family insisted upon their own unique additions to the standard fare, Russian style. They said we must all learn to drink vodka properly. When in Russia, do as the Russians do.
After a brief set of instructions, we were each provided a shot glass filed with vodka. The first toast was proposed, and following their explicit instructions, we downed the first shot. Some of the guests were not so keenly attuned to vodka, and on subsequent toasts, either white or red wine was offered as an alternative. The hard core participants, intent on doing what the Russians do, stayed with the program through subsequent toasts.
“Nostrovia” we cheered as we raised each toast on high.
The meal was delicious. As we came to know and understand our hosts better, very slowly we also learned the startling key to their success. While Mrs. Gabdullin was trained as a lawyer, she said that she was not practicing law. Rather with the booming growth of the Russian economy, she and her husband were managers of a multi-level marketing program, without naming the program. Given Russia’s recent history of rationing and shortages of most all consumer products, resolving this product shortage was clearly a key to their phenomenal success. On a table nearby was a large display of their products, never in short supply. The Gabdullins had abandoned the practice of law in Russia in order to achieve success as Amway Distributors. The golden circles have arrived in Russia big time. Not only had they achieved a measure of financial success, they had built their business to the emerald level, an organization which includes three direct distributors, and a very comfortable living within the Russian economy.
This startling discovery lead me to propose yet another toast, this one for our host couple. With vodka glasses raised high, my toast was as follows:
“Following the brilliant example of the Gabdullin family, for the good of free people everywhere, and for the health of the global market economy, I propose that all lawyers abandon their practices and become Amway distributors.”
We downed the toast with enthusiasm, knowing that the Gabdullin family provides products that have been in short supply for decades. And they have introduced hundreds of their fellow citizens to a unique marketing opportunity through Russia’s Golden Circles.
This lovely woman was the brains of the family, a graduate lawyer turned Amway Distributor in order to make a living using the newly arrived free market system in Russia. Lawyers have never been in short supply.