The text :

Many European countries buy gas from Russia, a country that uses hydrocarbons as a weapon to bully its neighbours. This is perhaps why Poland has been quickest to embrace shale gas; it trusts Russia as it would trust a bear to guard a picnic hamper.

I didn't get the last sentence

Also; in this text:

America's shale revolution began 20 years ago, but its impact has been felt only in the past five years. Europe's may take just as long, reckons Mr Stevens. But when the fracking begins in earnest, it could turn Europe's energy market on its head, too.

I didn't get the last sentence ! what does the writer mean?

Source: Shale Gas in Europe and America: Fracking here, fracking there (The Economist)


1 Answer 1


A "picnic hamper" or "picnic basket" is a big basket that you use to carry food and supplies for a picnic, that is, a meal eaten in a natural setting away from home, such as in a park or a forest.

A routine danger of bringing food to the wild is that wild animals will want to steal your food. In the United States, the idea of a bear raiding a campsite or picnic to steal the food is very common in popular culture. I don't know how often it really happens, but it certainly does happen.

So: Would you want a bear to guard your picnic basket? No, because rather than protect your food, he would likely eat it himself. So he's saying that the Poles don't trust Russia, any more than they would trust a bear to guard their food from wild animals.

There's a very common idiom in English, "leaving a fox to guard the henhouse", that expresses the same idea.

Russia is often represented as a bear. I'm not sure if the writer chose a bear here for that reason or if that's just coincidence.

As to the last sentence: "Fracking" is a process for extracting oil from shale deposits. To "turn something on its head" is an idiom meaning to totally change it, to make it the opposite of what it was before or at least very different from what it was before. The idea is like turning a person over so that he's standing on his head: he's upside down. So the writer is saying that when extracting oil from shale deposits really gets under way, this will radically change Europe's energy market.

  • 3
    The combination of Russia = bear and bear guarding a pic-a-nic basket is almost certainly not a coincidence. During the middle of the Cold War, there was a popular animated cartoon character in the United States called Yogi Bear. He loved to steal "pic-a-nic" baskets. If the writer had not intended to reference bears (and Yogi Bear), he could have used the conventional "fox guarding a henhouse" idiom instead.
    – Jasper
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 1:35
  • @Jasper True. Just to clarify, I don't think Yogi Bear was intended to represent Russia, he was just a goofy depiction of a wild animal. Not saying you said that, just clarifying. BTW reminds me that back then I worked for an aircraft company that made a fighter plane we called the "Tomcat". At one point the company made a sales video that to illustrate various features of the Tomcat had little cartoons interspersed of a cat fighting a bear. No one had to explain that the bear represented Russian aircraft.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 15:19
  • 1
    I agree completely. The cartoon that was intended to represent Russia was Rocky and Bullwinkle (vs. Boris and Natasha). The original Rocky and Bullwinkle show was contemporaneous with the original Yogi Bear show; both were during the later portion of Yogi Berra's baseball career.
    – Jasper
    Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 16:24

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