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What is a Slav squat?

How the “Slav squat” became an internet sensation

What the world is watching, wearing and burning

What the world is watching, wearing and burning

October/November 2019

Form is crucial. When performing a “Slav squat”, the heels must stay on the ground. Raised heels are the hallmark of a “Western spy”, according to “Life of Boris”, one of the most popular YouTube channels in Estonia, which has more than 2.5m subscribers worldwide (Estonia’s population is just over 1.3m). The squat – ossikükk in Estonian – has become a hit online.

People squat on holiday, next to famous monuments, and at weddings. Even Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a former Estonian president, was seen getting down towards the end of his term in office. The pose is an ironic impersonation of a gopnik, the stereotype of a young working-class Russian that many people from former Soviet-bloc countries recognise. Adidas sportswear and cheap alcohol are optional accessories. In a nod to a shared heritage, squats are being popped from Bulgaria to Belarus.

What the Vietnamese are burning
Some Vietnamese people believe that life after death isn’t that different from life before it. Like the rest of us, the dead need cash, shelter and creature comforts. Families have long burned paper replicas of money and other necessities, partly to wish their ancestors good fortune in the afterlife. But houses and bicycles are now passé: these days the dead want modern tech. A replica iPhone will set devout relatives back about 20,000 Vietnamese dong, or $1. A paper-thin iPad is double that. Who would have guessed that pricey gadgets were so much more affordable on the other side?

What west Africans are wearing 
African wax fabric, a traditional textile worn widely in sub-Saharan Africa, has faded in popularity among young people. Maureen Ayité plans to change that. A fashion designer from Benin, her wax-fabric clothes are a world away from her parents’ dashikis. Local media refer to her brand, Nanawax, as the “African Zara”. Ayité’s seven shops in five African countries sell chic cocktail dresses with kaleidoscopic patterns. She reckons her urban, middle-class customers want to feel elegant and modern, while still “repping their roots”.   

What your yoga instructor is drinking
“Hard seltzer” should be a hard sell. The carbonated water,  spiked with alcohol and the faintest hint of fruit, sucks not only the calories out of booze but all the pleasure too. Yet this insipid fizzy drink has become America’s most fashionable tipple, enjoyed in a post-pilates haze or before an immersive sound-bath at a mindfulness retreat. Sales of the drinks, with names like Bon & Viv, are climbing fast. Britain’s first imitator, Balans, went on sale earlier this year. The explosion of hard seltzers has been linked to the popularity of La Croix, a bouji sparkling water fawned over by aspirational twenty-somethings. Bon vivants may prefer gin.

What the Chinese are rocking 
Phones that count steps are now de rigueur, which means that some insurance companies are offering discounted insurance premiums to the more active of their customers. Cue another technical innovation: Chinese companies are selling “step-simulator cradles” which rock a smartphone back and forth to increase their owner’s daily step count. As an added benefit, the device will help impress others too: you can share and rank your daily step count against those of your friends on WeChat, a popular Chinese messaging app. Unlike a personal trainer, this new fitness regimen won’t bust your wallet; the best cradles, which can register 10,000 steps an hour, cost just 12 yuan ($1.70).

What South Koreans are watching
Some viewers have already been tuned in for six hours as the subject adjusts her desk lamp in silence. In education-crazed South Korea, gongbang, or “study broadcast”, is the latest live-streaming phenomenon. Audiences watch lone students cram for exams in feature-length sittings, often while studying themselves. Gripped with concentration, streamers rarely speak or acknowledge the camera. Some show only their hands, others play gentle background music or amplify the sound of their pencils’ graphite scrawl. Clips are usually stamped with an on-screen timer, to assure viewers that their feed hasn’t frozen and that they aren’t working solo. A focused study buddy is now just a click away.