By Dave Broom

You've nicked my beard!

Dave Broom has a hairy experience in Moscow
Tatiana looked concerned. That in itself was not surprising. She had a spirits competition to organise, foreign guests to herd, dinners to arrange, tastings to mastermind. But that wasn’t what was on her mind.“Did you hear about the letter?” she said.“Any particular letter?” I replied.“About you,” she said. “About your beard. About being sued for stealing it.” Now, I have long held to the belief that life is weird and the best way to cope with this fact is simply to go with the flow.How, precisely had I stolen a beard, what’s more, a beard which (I quickly checked), was growing on my chin?Tatiana explained. Her magazine had published photos of the judging panel for this year’s Vinnaja Karta Open, me included. No sooner had this appeared than she received a letter from a Russian man claiming to have taken out a copyright on my facial hair.Her magazine – and by extension me – had failed to ask him for permission to do this and he was demanding compensation. In fact, since he was a strict teetotaler he was claiming damages as ‘his’ beard was being used to promote alcohol. On a scale of weirdness that’s up pretty high.But how can you copyright a beard? I asked.“Ahhh,” said Tatiana. “Russia!” This I have discovered is a common phrase in Moscow which is employed whenever something exasperating, amusing, bizarre and... dare I say... weird happens. It is said in a resigned fashion but with enough of a smile to show that the speaker is actually quite proud of the odd occurrence.Even Boney M used it to great effect in Rasputin.“So, what does he want me to do?” I asked. “Shave it off?” “Oh no... just money. It’s always money. It’s Russia.” This time we both smile and look resigned, though by now I am ever so slightly concerned that at any moment a dangerous lunatic will burst through the door and try and rip my beard off with his bare hands. The only comfort is that at least I’d recognise him before the frenzied attack happened.Needless to say, nothing happened, though I was hoping for a court case in which my defence would have called Serge Valentin, Davin de Kergommeaux, Charlie MacLean, the shade of Frank Zappa, Billy Bob Thornton, Howe Gelb, and – my trump card – the laughing cavalier who appears on cans of McEwan’s Export.It also made me think of how people appropriate things and make them their own. My beard is my beard. It may be the same shape (roughly) speaking as all the people above, but it doesn’t make me the same as them. It is part of my personality, not theirs.You would think that Russians would understand that. A constant theme throughout Russian history is how, like any great nation, it has borrowed ideas and culture from its neighbours: architecture and orthodox religion from Byzantium, armour from Mongolia, distillation from either Poland or Italy, communism from London. Russia has absorbed all of these, but made them its own.The same goes for Britain, France, the United States...any country. This process of borrowing and then changing to suit is part of a nation’s complexity, part of its cultural well-being, in continuing life.Okay, so it doesn’t always work. The music of The Police is a good example of a failure of multiculturalism (as is the ludicrous Hasidic reggae of Matisyahu, but I digress) but refuse it is to diminish ourselves as human beings.This concept isn’t restricted to the realms of art, religion or music. It happens when any product crosses a boundary. The arrival of Cuban rum has changed the way most Brits think about cocktails, but our mojitos are different to those in Havana; sushi is set to become the fast-food of the 21st century, but it is already different to what you get in Japan.In Russia, whisky is being absorbed into the drinking culture but not on Scottish terms.It is being warped and adjusted to fit the needs and sensibilities of the Russian consumer.We Scots may produce whisky, but we cannot dictate what whisky is and how it should be sold or drunk: it is different in Barcelona, Tokyo, New York and Moscow.Thinking that you can copyright it is as absurd as thinking you can copyright a beard.