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The Remont
Fred Flintstone

hen we left the Flintstones last month, they had become an “Ikea Family” after being ripped off on a divan purchase by Fabrika Fourth of July. Fred, Wilma and Fred Jr were moving into a new apartment that Wilma received from the city to replace their previous one, since then demolished. The Flintstone’s new apartment replaced the aging flat that Wilma inherited from her grandfather.

The family had waited ten years, and Fred was thrilled (and surprised) with the new digs, with its unobstructed view up and down the river from a top floor. Fred had no complaints; as a Soviet-era Anapa winemaker once told him, “If someone should be so lucky to get some of our wine, how can he complain about the quality?”

The city delivered no-frills flats, but completely finished. Fred joked with his buddies that “they must have someone whose sole job is to find the ugliest linoleum and wallpaper in the city.” The kitchen, though decent-sized, was solely finished with a tiny cabinet and sink. The Flintstones had a month from the time they picked up the key to strip out and re-finish from floor to ceiling, a remont.

When the Flintstones started their remont, they thought to buy otechestveniye (domestic), but the Fabrika ordeal finished that. The Flintstones bought everything they could at Ikea, even shopping at the Ikea food mart. The balance of goods came from the OBI and Leroy Merlin home improvement centers, the big DIY retailers that offer a modern alternative to a visit to the city’s huge stroi-rinoks (construction materials open markets). OBI is German, and is more spacious, clean and appears better organized than its French competitor Leroy Merlin, but each has goods not found at the other.

When Fred thought it over, he realized that Ikea, OBI and Leroy Merlin are about as domestic as many local brands. Ikea supports a huge amount of furniture manufacturing in Russia, and a high percent of OBI and Leroy Merlin goods are local manufacture. Other foreign companies in Russia like Italian tile producer Marazzi have domestic manufacturing plants, while otechestveniye kitchen cabinets use Europe sourced hinges, fittings and doors. Even the Fabrika divans open out with foreign mechanicals and are finished with fabrics from around the world.

Virtually all foreign companies operate in Russia as a locally registered subsidiary and pay taxes like a Russian company; in fact, unlike many domestically-owned companies, a foreign subsidiary probably pays all its taxes. The foreign company usually has a few foreign managers, but the workers are Russian, and most foreign companies are known for having better worker training and work conditions than local companies. In the end, the remainder, whether foreign or otechestveniye ,are profits, which go to shareholders, a global lot of pension funds and institutional investors in the case of a public company, or a few oligarchs in the case of a Russian company.

Back home, the auto unions and Big-3 have failed for years to win over buyers from foreign automakers like Toyota with the “Buy American” slogan. Fred recalls an amusing slick auto “ad” that circulated about the proposed Big-3 bailout during the crisis, which had the caption “You wouldn’t buy our s***ty cars, so we’ll be taking your money anyway. Maybe the next time you’ll buy American like a real man. Either way, we’re cool.” To Fred, the current Toyota scandal looks like Payback, Part II, even though most Toyotas sold in America are made there with domestic parts by American workers, though, and this is the rub, non-union.

As for the Fabrika, Fred Jr is writing a subtitle script for a new episode in the “Hitler Finds Out…” video clip series – “Hitler Finds Out Fabrika Fourth of July Ripped Him Off.”

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