We Still Need to Ban These 10 Russian Things

Sure, we've expelled Russian cats from international competitions and renamed Russian dressing. But there's so far to go.

Photo illustration: Elise Swain/The Intercept; Photos: Getty Images

In response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, YouTube has totally disappeared archives of RT shows, included those of journalists Chris Hedges and Abby Martin. Netflix has stopped production on an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina,” even though it had already finished shooting in Russia and Tolstoy was one of history’s greatest pacifists. A North Carolina restaurant has renamed the Russian dressing on its Reuben sandwiches. The International Cat Federation has banned Russian cats from competition.

At first glance, the above may seem like a bizarre, panicked overreaction to Russian culture that’s an obvious violation of our supposed principles. But consider this: What if it’s an overly rational, far-too-calm underreaction? What if we could end this dreadful war by going much further, and banning far more things, in a way that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever?

So here are 10 things that are Russian, arguably, at least tangentially in some way, that we should eliminate because a) it will make us feel like we’re doing something and b) why not?

Russian Roulette

This is a good place to start banning because it may not actually have anything to do with Russia. Once we let go of such picayune concerns, the sky’s the limit.

The term “Russian roulette” seems to have been coined in a 1937 short story by an American writer. It describes Russian officers at the end of World War I removing one bullet from a six-shot revolver, then spinning the cylinder, pointing the gun at their heads, and pulling the trigger.

This would give participants a 5-in-6, or 83 percent, chance of killing themselves. If indeed lots of Russian soldiers from 1917 onward had been blowing their brains out in front of curious onlookers, it seems someone else might have mentioned it in the subsequent 20 years.

In any case, Russian roulette now means just putting one bullet in a gun, thus giving yourself a 5-in-6 chance of living, you coward. Also, there do not seem to be any recorded examples of women playing Russian roulette, which just goes to show how ladies don’t have a spirit of adventure.

But the overall point here is that we must get rid of Russian roulette. That doesn’t mean that Americans have to stop playing dangerous games of chance, whether it’s pointing revolvers at our heads or eating 14 meals per week at Denny’s. Instead, let’s start calling it Freedom Roulette, a term that can cover both the gun game and the Denny’s thing.

Russian Hats

The ushanka, a distinctive Russian fur cap with flaps that can cover your ears or be tied up out of the way in warmer weather, was issued to all Warsaw Pact armies during the Cold War. When President Gerald Ford visited the Soviet Union during a period of relaxed tensions in the 1970s, a famous picture was taken of him wearing a ushanka. This is the origin of the term “détente,” which literally means “let’s wear each other’s hats.” [FACT CHECK]

Today, of course, we must not wear hats with military implications (with the exception of helicopter hats).

Russian Banyas

America has quite a few Russian bath establishments, especially in New York City. There you sit in a hot sauna, dip in an ice-cold pool, and then the staff thrashes you with oak or birch branches for some reason.

Does this have anything to do with war? At first it seems it does not, but there is a scene in the movie “Eastern Promises” in which Viggo Mortensen’s character kills several people in a Russian bath. This is close enough: banned.

The Russian Farewell

When I was a child, my mother always made us engage in a “Russian farewell” at the end of vacation visits to our relatives. This involved sitting with our extended family for three minutes, in silence, all of us thinking about each other, just before we went out the door.

Only now have I discovered that she seems to have made this up. There is a Russian folk tradition that’s in the ballpark, but it happens before you leave for vacation and is done to prevent domestic spirits from following you.

So this one will be easy to ban. No one will have do anything except me, and all I have to do is come to terms with my mother’s decades-old deceit. You might wonder whether she’ll have anything to say about this, but fortunately she has an extremely busy social life and does not read my articles.

The Russian Tea Room

The website of the Russian Tea Room, a famous Manhattan restaurant popular with celebrities, now features a long, eloquent statement denouncing Russia’s war on Ukraine.

This isn’t good enough. There are over 200 countries on Earth, most of which have tea, yet somehow the Tea Room has to be “Russian”? There are four choices just among the countries starting with V. The Vatican City Tea Room sounds good, plus then the Pope might start eating there. You could get a table next to the Pope!

Their menu must also be changed, as it includes borscht, which — like all beet-based foods — is problematic. All who have engaged in heavy beet consumption know the experience of forgetting that you ate them and then, 12 to 24 hours later, becoming briefly convinced you are bleeding internally.


Believe it or not, in the French media “Putin” is spelled “Poutine.” This is probably a courtesy to Putin, as in French a word spelled “putin” would sound much like “putain,” France’s most popular expletive.

Of course, the problem here is that “poutine” is also the word for a Quebec dish: French fries with cheese curds and gravy on top. A restaurant whose signature dish is poutine has reported on Twitter that it is receiving threats. But poutine is delicious, so perhaps we can all vow to immediately eat any poutine as soon as we become aware of it, which essentially would be “banning” it.

The Cyrillic Alphabet

Many people will object to the banning of the Cyrillic alphabet, since it’s used not just for the Russian language but also for Ukrainian. But it’s too late! We have too much momentum to stop banning now!

St. Cyril(s)

The Cyrillic alphabet was co-created by St. Cyril in the 9th century. Plus there are two additional St. Cyrils: Cyril of Alexandria and Cyril of Jerusalem. Banned. Banned. Banned.


Madonna worked briefly as a coat check girl at the Russian Tea Room in the 1970s. Banning her over this could potentially be described as “going too far” or “absolutely preposterous and sick,” so perhaps this should be a stretch goal.

Everything on the Internet That Isn’t About Russia’s Censorship

Russia is now blocking Facebook and has enacted a law threatening up to 15 years in jail for anyone who spreads “false information” about its attack on Ukraine. To show our support for free speech, we must not permit anything to appear online that is not about Putin’s terrible censorship.

Some might call this “ironic,” but is it? The Cambridge Dictionary defines “ironic” as “showing that you really mean the opposite of what you are saying.” So just think about that for a second.

Well — actually, OK, now that we think about it, that does seem ironic. But perhaps there are better things than being 100 percent sincere.

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