Your grandmother probably has a set of these stashed away in the attic somewhere -- Russian nesting dolls (or matryoshka dolls) are those hollow wooden figures that split apart to house progressively smaller dolls until you ultimately come to the diminutive midget at its core. They're pretty much the only thing we know about Russian fashion besides those tall, furry hats. But once again, Russian nesting dolls are actually about as Russian as the cheap American knockoffs you see at the local craft market. In reality, they're a carbon copy of an invention that originated in China.
For those who enjoy the thrill of knickknacks and keeping their possessions in storage.
Of course, the original idea as produced by the Chinese was just a set of boxes that bore little resemblance to the dolls we see today (except that they fit inside each other). It was the Japanese who knocked off the Chinese boxes in order to produce sets of nesting dolls. The Japanese version used an old bald man in the design, as if they figured that everyone wanted a vision of their own inevitable deterioration staring at them from the mantle.
The Japanese dolls were, if anything, more impressive than the Russian version -- they would keep getting smaller until the final doll was no bigger than a grain of rice. These days, the smallest doll in the set is simply where the guy who carves dozens of them a week in his garage says "screw it."
"Nuts to this. No one's gonna check all the way to the bottom."
Citing extreme paranoia and a completely rational fear of sea monsters (still depicted in modern Japanese cinema), the island nation had been closed to outside contact for a long time, but they slowly opened to trade in the mid-19th century. And as soon as they did, they got burned. A couple of Russian artists saw the imported dolls, realized they'd look great when converted into quick cash, and replaced the old man motif with a series of more appealing Russian ladies.
These days, nesting dolls are known by most as a distinctly Russian concept; some refer to the knickknacks as "the soul of Russia." In an ironic twist, the Japanese have recently started importing the dolls from Russia for their apparent effectiveness in exorcising demons. We're not sure how this feature was originally discovered.
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Related Reading: Cracked has a whole slew of stereotypes to myth-bust, including the idea that French people suck at war. And if you've got a head brimming with crazy ideas about Chinese people, Christina's article here will set you right. Round out your study in "isms" with this look at gender stereotypes that used to be the opposite.
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