This is a short extract from a satirical book published in 1837, from which we learn: what sorts of bribes there are; why it is better to take a bribe during lunch; why gaudy is better than a bullfinch; the language in which one should speak of bribes; and how to avoid punishment for receiving bribes.
The more ancient are the traditions of this or that place, that is, the further it is from the spirit and morals of our current century, the more avenues there will be for bribe-taking. The fewer educated and upper class folk who serve alongside you in your post, the more obvious will your assiduousness and inclination to a sedentary life appear to your bosses. Of course, the more eloquently you discourse here and there about honesty, impartiality and knowledge of the law, the more noticeable will be your work on the side that contradicts such meritorious ideas.
There are three types of bribes: in kind, monetary, and favors.
Those of the first type – in kind – include lunches, presents, surprises on the name day or birthday of the bribe-taker or his wife and children, and also the inadvertent leaving behind of one’s things at the home of the bribe-taker, or the cession of movable property and domestics, committed lawfully without money changing hands.
(Don’t forget that a thing taken always bears the impression of its former owner, which is why the best of all types of bribes is lunches: such bribes are hidden in a secure location, that is in the stomach, and can never announce themselves. To the applicant, one can declare: “I will consider your business on such and such day after lunch.” If the applicant is quick-witted, he will invite you to dine on the designated day, and his further success will only dependent upon the skill of the chef.)
The second type of bribe is valued at the going rate in the currency of the realm. Of all state currencies, the bank note is the most preferred, because they pass from hand to hand without sound or clatter, are easily changed into silver or gold, take up very little space, and fit comfortably into one’s pockets, behind one’s tie, in one’s shoes or beneath one’s cuffs.
The third sort – immaterial – are in particularly wide use in noble circles. They are mutual favors either made on the job or out of affection. Included among them are the praises with which writers mutually burden one another.
For example, in the eighteenth century, taking money was called “doing business on the clean” [вести дела на чистую]. Each type of bank note had its own specific name, based on its distinctive features. The five-ruble was called a chickadee (синица), a ten-ruble note was a bullfinch (снегирь), 20 and 50 rubles were white pigeons (белыe голубиe), 100-rubles was a goldfinch (щеголь), because of its beautiful pattern, and the 200 was a char (пеструшка ) because of the intricate patterns on its reverse side. “I aimed for a pigeon, but got me a chickadee,” is the sort of expression one could use even in the presence of petitioners, without embarrassing them.
In olden times, they achieved their goals by splattering the floor about them with bits of feather, and dirtying their fingers and face with ink. In the nineteenth century, there is a different methodology: your writing table should be heaped and cluttered so high with papers that even a massive inkwell standing among them is as inconspicuous as a booth standing before Ivan’s Bell Tower.
Listen as if absent, answer grudgingly; when a petitioner explains the circumstances of his case, make your most unpleasant expression, fix him with glazed eyes, and every minute or so repeat abruptly, “yes, yes!” until your applicant understands that you have no time for this, and takes his leave until another day. When he shows up again, receive him the same way. When he shows up a third, fifth, or tenth time, do not change your physiognomy a whit toward him until the moment that he whispers that he will be thankful to you. (To be thankful is to be “full of thanks,” to deliver the gift of money.) At that point, all aspects of your face should suddenly come alive, your gaze should clear, and your rude voice soften. Answer your dear petitioner, that you have much to do, that his case is very far from first in line, that you have not had any time to examine it, and conclude with these words of advice: visit more frequently.
Remember that petitioners, hinting about gratitude, often think that such a simple word will awaken some sort of activity in you, but when their case is resolved, the memory of their promises will disappear. If, after your first advice, someone shows up before you again with empty words and empty hands, punish him with your previous severity: let him read your inexorable anger in every line on your face.
Send all the others away with anger and noise. It may be that you must resolve the case unjustly, but how is that important? For he who considers himself offended, the road to appeal is wide open; the important thing is that only one person will know the hidden spring that waters your conscience, and the others will proclaim to all and every of your unselfishness and your honesty, which they themselves experienced.
Or, in a similar situation, accept gratitude from two: first from the one who gives you most, and second, from the one on whose side, by all appearances, justice lies. Then you just need to resolve the case in order that both of them are equally satisfied, even if between them there arises a need for new litigation, while the present case becomes more confused to the detriment of the other petitioners. Even more importantly, you have opened up a new situation. You have created another path for a huge pile of well-creased papers!
In this way, you deflect from yourself many unpleasantries, including even the reproach of your own conscience.
The Art of Bribe-Taking. Manuscript found in the papers of one Tyazhalkina, a deceased titular counselor. (2015 reprint, originally published 1837)
Tanker, toddler, marketer, spy
Russian Life is a 29-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567