In the late 18th century, Catherine the Great of Russia announced she would tour the southern part of her empire, accompanied by several foreign ambassadors. The governor of the area, Grigory Potemkin, desperately wanted to impress these visitors. And so he went to remarkable lengths to showcase the country’s accomplishments.
For part of the journey, Catherine floated down the Dnieper River, proudly pointing out to the ambassadors the thriving hamlets along the shore, filled with industrious and happy townspeople. There was only one problem: it was all for show. It is said that Potemkin had assembled pasteboard facades of shops and homes. He had even positioned busy-looking peasants to create the impression of a prosperous economy. Once the party disappeared around the bend of the river, Potemkin’s men packed up the fake village and rushed it downstream in preparation for Catherine’s next pass.
Although modern historians have questioned the truthfulness of this story, the term “Potemkin village” has entered the world’s vocabulary. It now refers to any attempt to make others believe we are better than we really are.