Fishbowls

Cultural circles are never measurable from the inside, because the baseline is invisible.

Old Soviet joke:

In the midst of the Cold War, the CIA sends its best spy into Russia. He has spent the last 10 years learning how to blend in with the locals. He speaks perfect Russian, he can dance the kalinka better than anyone, and he can drink an entire bottle of vodka without batting an eyelash. As soon as he’s ready, a helicopter flies him by night to a remote Russian province and sets him down near a village.

The spy knocks on the first door in the village, posing as a poor lost traveler. An old babushka answers the door.

“Please madam,” says our spy in perfect Russian, “I was lost in the forest, and I need somewhere to stay.”

“Well you can’t stay here,” says Babushka. “You are an American spy.”

Shocked that she guessed his secret, the spy nevertheless kept his cool. “You are mistaken, madam,” he says. “I am from Russia. Otherwise, I would not know how to do this.” And he dances his perfect kalinka.

“You dance well,” says Babushka. “But you are still an American spy.”

Getting nervous, the spy tries again. “You *are* mistaken, madam,” he says. “I can prove it for certain.” He pulls a bottle of vodka from his rucksack and chugs the whole thing.

“You hold your vodka,” says Babushka. “But you are still an American spy.”

“Alright,” sighs the spy. “I give up. But I speak perfect Russian, danced the kalinka, and drank a whole bottle of vodka – how did you know I’m an American spy?”

“You are black.”

= = = = =

Another Soviet joke hits the same point from a different angle.

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