Saturday, June 11, 2011

Being middle class in Russia

In Russia today, a sign that a person has arrived in the middle class is not home ownership (Russians actually have a rather complicated relationship with housing and mortgages) but the ability to travel abroad—a relic of all the years when Russia was a closed country. A 2009 novel about the corrupt world of Russian politics (supposedly written under a pen name by one of Putin's aides) describes Moscow cocktail parties in which the first question people ask each other upon greeting is "So where have you traveled recently?"
--Julia Felsenthal, Slate, on Russian aspirations




[Jane Zavisca, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Arizona]: "Few Russians are willing to take out mortgages because the risk of foreclosure is unacceptable, and because they view interest payments – which they call overpayments – as unfair. As one Russian put it: ‘To enter into a mortgage is to become a slave for 30 years, with the bank as your master.'"

That hasn't stopped Russians from going into debt, though. They may be averse to mortgages but they love credit cards, small consumer loans and point-of-purchase store credit.

"In my interviews, people there often compared credit card debt favorably to mortgages, the inverse of here in the U.S., where mortgages are viewed as virtuous and responsible." ...

She said Russians find it odd that Americans call themselves "homeowners" from the day they close on a mortgage loan. For Russians, ownership only begins after all debts are paid off.

Zavisca said she is planning a follow-up study on mortgages in the U.S. to learn how Americans equate owing with owning, and how "home ownership" has become Americans' metaphor for a mortgage.
--Jeff Harrison, University of Arizona Communications, on cultural definitions of ownership

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