By Andy Rooney, Avon Books, 1984, 0-380-69885-4

[p165] Russian Bombs/Russian Hotels

You can go into a strange restaurant and make a good guess about how the food is going to taste long before they’ve actually served you any of it. There are telltale signs that give you advanced warning. when the rolls or the bread comes, you know for sure how the whole meal is going to be.

This idea can be extended to everything and everybody. You can tell a lot about the whole from a small part. You can tell a lot about how a person does everything from watching him or her do just one thing. we are all victims of our own character and we find it impossible to do something that isn’t characteristic of us.

This idea applies to whole countries just as certainly as it applies to individuals. We keep doing things like Americans, the Germans keep doing things like Germans, the French like the French.

The President said the other night that the Soviet Union has ``a definite margin of superiority’’ over the United States in nuclear arms. Using my theory about being able to tell a lot from a sample, I doubt it. I’ve spent a good deal of time in Russia and hold some opinions about the people and the nation that no one can talk me out of.

One of my firmly held beliefs is that the Russians are not naturally mechanical people. They may acquire the ability and the y may be better at it than they used to be but working with machinery does not come naturally to the average Russian. They have a great heritage in music and literature and the arts in general but they build terrible automobiles and don’t know how to fix them when they break down.

One of the most incredible travel experiences I’ve ever had is a week in a Russian hotel in Moscow. The second time I stayed there they had installed telephones in every room but the telephones were not connected through any hotel switchboard. There was no way for anyone to call the hotel and be connected ith me by phone in my room. It had a number just like any other telephone in a home in Moscow.

Does this sound like a country that is apt to be ahead of us in nuclear weapons?

The Russians, in their desparate attempt to get hard, Western currency away from tourist, opened what they call ``Dollar Stores.’’ They put their best merchandise in these small shops located in their best hotels and offer it for sale in exchange for dollars, not rubles. Russian citizens can’t buy there.

I’ve bought nail clippers, razors, razor blades and ballpoint pens in those dollar stores and I’ve carefully inspected such items as cameras, camera lenses, binoculars, cigarette lighters, scissors and watches there. The best Russian goods are poor by our standards. The workmanship is inferior and the design is either imitative or just bad.

This isn’t being written by some blindly anti-Russian nut. I don’t hate the Russians. I hate their oppressive government. As a matter of fact, I kind of like the Russians. They’re often wonderfully free-spirited and fun to be with but, for whatever facet of their national character it is, they do a lot of things badly. From what I’ve seen of their binoculars and their ballpoint pens, I’d guess nuclear weapons would be one of the things they make poorly. There are things Americans don’t do well, either, but these are different things.

Obviously the Russians have learned how to do some things. Their space programs is not as sophisticated as ours but it works. I have no doubt that their nuclear bombs go off with a big bang and I’m also sure they’ve built rockets that will take their missiles to New York. What I can’t believe, from what I know firsthand about the Russians, is that they have more and better nuclear weapons that we do.

I can’t help myself from thinking that the President is just trying to scare us into approving a huge defense budget. If the Russians could build great nuclear bombs, their hotels wouldn’t be as poorly constructed as they are. I go into a place for a week and judge a whole country by one hotel. The Russians would be accurate in saying that’s the kind of person I am.