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Day of Russian Insurance Brokers/День российского страховщика:The Pre-existing Birkin

By October 6, 2010June 1st, 2017Uncategorized

This day celebrates the good people who bring us that essential thing we cannot do without:  Insurance!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Russians have a deep mistrust of insurance, and I wrote an article about just this little character foible, which just appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines so here it is:

The Pre-Existing Birkin

It’s that horrible time of year again: the insurance premiums are due.  Once again, I will have to go cap in hand to my “Handsome Russian Husband,” or HRH for a five-figure sum to insure our life, our health, our home, and our car.  Because he’s into downhill skiing, and Velvet is about to crack the 3-foot show jumping milestone, I feel the health insurance, anyway, should be comprehensive and include catastrophic care.  Call me cautious.

HRH is generous to a fault about a lot of things that matter.  He is indulgent with the bills from Eileen Fisher, encourages me to splash out on Australian lamb (which costs as much per ounce as titanium in Moscow), good wine, and the kind of face cream you can justify only at Duty-Free outlets.   Being Russian, however, where medical care is (in theory) free, HRH thinks health insurance of any kind is Ponzi scheme of such epic proportions that it drives him to drink to even talk about it.  And that, of course, just drives those premiums up further, not to mention acerbating certain pre-existing conditions.  The pre-existing condition thing truly enrages him, and he went ballistic when he found out that I had done a rather full disclosure of his pre-existing conditions when I applied for the five-figure policy.

To get him to fork out for the policy, I resorted to a tactic known in the parenting biz as “re-direction.”  It went something like this:

“What would you like for Christmas,” he asked me.

“A 35-inch Hermes Birkin bag,” I responded promptly.”

“Fine,” he said smoothly, “Whatever you want, darling.  Where do I go?”

“Oh, you don’t just go,” I said, “you have to get in touch with some guy in London, and he puts you on a waiting list, and then you have to give him a $5,000 USD deposit if you want it by Christmas.”

“Okay,” he said, successfully concealing his sticker shock, “you get in touch with the guy, and I’ll wire the money.”

“Then,” I continued, “you have to pay the balance, which should be somewhere between seven and eight thousand dollars.”

“For a HANDBAG?” he roared.

“That’s right, Lady Bracknell,” allowing myself the rare pleasure of casting a verbal pearl before HRH, which I avoid doing since it just pisses him off to not get the joke.

He swallowed hard and then summoned up what the Russians call ”koo-razh:” a unique Slavic fusion of flair, stupidity, and moxie.  It’s what makes a Russian man light up a $500 Romeo y Julieta with a $100 bill, or buy a football club.

“Okay,” he said, “If that’s what you want for Christmas, then that is what we will do…”

“Or,” I said, moving in for the kill, “You could spend half of that, and get all three of us comprehensive international health insurance/medical evacuation with the dangerous sports rider, bodily remains clause, and optional US/Canada coverage, which covers us pretty much everywhere in world except North Korea.”

“No, no” he said, “No insurance.  I’ll do the bag.”

“Are you on crack cocaine?” I exploded.  “You are really prepared to buy an absurdly overpriced handbag before you would buy medical insurance for your family?”

“Insurance never works for me!” he exploded. “And anyway, you blew any chances of it ever working with your stupid ‘pre-extinction close.’  Are you going to tell me where hell they sell these insane bags or not?”

“Here is the thing,” I said, drawing on HRH’s secret phobia of speaking English on the telephone to anyone, “the insurance policy is all ready to go, it just needs your Visa card to seal the deal.”

“Incredible,” he said. “How do you come up with these kind of things?”

He then launched into his favorite argument that life is short.  I presented what I felt was a winning counter-argument that comprehensive international health insurance/medical evacuation with the dangerous sports rider, bodily remains clause and optional US/Canada coverage can prolong life, whereas an Hermes Birkin bag certainly won’t.

“Get this through your head,” I screamed, “ I want the insurance – not the stupid bag!”

“You can have the bag – not the stupid insurance,” he said loftily.

“That’s just great,” I said, throwing up my hands in disgust.  “Because it will be the perfect accessory when I come to visit you in the ICU after you break every single rib downhill skiing.”

“What color do you want?” he asked.

“Black,” I responded.

This post first appeared in Washington Post and Russia Beyond The Headlines on October 19, 2010.  A link to the original version online can be found here.


  • Very funny… and very true.
    Jennifer, I have a question for you — do you write in Russian? I noticed your discussion on LinkedIn about how your humor approach to all things Russian isn’t sitting well with some Russians. Are they reading you in Russian or English? If you do in fact write in Russian, I’d love to publish some of your Russian-language articles on our Russian Healthy and Sustainable Lifestyles site. Especially of interest are articles where you may talk about things sustainable/green/eco/organic and how it’s seen in Russia. Let me know if you are interested. Thanks, Margarita

  • Margarita:
    Thanks for your visit and your lovely request. Alas, my written Russian isn’t good enough for publication (to be honest, it is barely good enough for a grocery list) and the BBC Russia Service translates them. You are very welcome to republish anything you find here if you have the manpower to translate. Let me know!
    PS Recommended your training to a company who called me about doing a briefing to new expats in Moscow. I hope they will be in touch.

  • Regina Mooney says:

    Jen, this is one of your best yet. I howled at the ending especially since I truly thought you’re wear HRH down and he’d relent. I was sure your argument and/or ruse would prevail. Alas, no insurance, but a great blog entry today.

  • Aw Shucks, RM, thanks for that. Your cousin read it and was initially quite horrified that I was actually contemplating buying a 12K handbag, but then she got to the end and roared. It ran today in the Post. And of course, I did buy the insurance…:)
    I would not kick a BB out of bed, but the list of things I’d like instead (including an end to World Hunger, a 10bln endowment to SBS, a new nook in the kitchen and an iPad) is so long that I think it will remain a pipe dream…Be good if we could get one to auction off though…

  • Marie Waechter says:

    Okay you got your insurance, now do I have an auction for you!

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