4338-The Fourth Letter

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Go back to the summary page for The Year 4338

You can compare this translation with the same section of the original here 4338-письмо 4-е

Fourth Letter

I forgot to tell you that we arrived in Petersburg at the most amazing time for a foreigner, the month of repose. The Russians have two such months: one at the start of the year and another in the middle. Everything stops during these and government institutions are closed. People don’t even visit each other. I like this custom a lot. It gives people time to work on improving their inner lives and domestic arrangements and they just leave all external matters on hold. At first it was feared that this idea would lead to a slowdown in business, but in fact it turned out the opposite. Because people know they will have time to work on their own private projects, they concentrate much better on serving society the rest of the time. And since there are fewer distractions, everything gets done twice as fast. The regulation on this had an especially beneficial effect in reducing the amount of litigation in the courts. People have time to think things over, and the fact that all the offices are closed prevents them from acting in the heat of passion. Only an extreme emergency, like the threat of the comet, can disrupt this excellent tradition – but even so, there haven’t been any meetings or soirees yet. Today we finally received the personal newspaper of one of the ministers here, which among other things, invited us to a soiree. You ought to know that in many homes people publish their news in this way, especially if they have a wide circle of acquaintances; it replaces ordinary correspondence. In each home there is a majordomo who is responsible for publishing the journal once a week or even daily. It’s very easy to do. When the masters of the house instruct him, he simply makes a note of everything they say and then takes a picture of it and prints enough copies to send out to everyone. The newspaper has the usual details of the health or illness of the masters and other domestic news, then various ideas and commentaries, small inventions and also invitations. If there is an invitation to dinner, it will include a section called "Le Menu". {That’s French}. There is a magnetic telegraph system connecting the houses of people who know each other which allows for unplanned communications. People who live miles apart can use it to speak to each other.

So I should, at long last, see the members of high society here. In a future letter I will write and tell you what impression they made on me. It’s worth noting for us Chinese, who like to turn night into day, that here a soiree begins at five o’clock in the afternoon, they have dinner at eight and go to bed at nine. But then they do get up at four and lunch at twelve. Visiting someone in the morning is regarded as extremely inconsiderate – everyone, they suppose is busy in the morning. They have told me that even people who aren’t busy in the mornings close their doors to maintain appearances.

Go on to the next part here 4338-The Fifth Letter