11 February, 2008

Secure Shopping

We've been to a few malls, including the GUM, and the underground shops at Red Square, but haven't been to any giant retail stores that exist in the Moscow region. This could change soon though, because we do have plans to go about ten train station stops from here to see what an Auchan store is like. Supposedly they are similar to the dreaded Wal-Mart, where we never shop at home for the simple reason that so many people do. I believe some of you are familiar with my I'm not shopping at Wal-Mart guarantee, where I will pay anyone who catches me shopping there $100, plus they get to roll five shopping carts into the side of my car. (ouch!).

Auchan, by the way, is a giant French-based retailer, which has already made an unsuccessful venture into the US market. Though I hate most everything French—except the fries, toast, kisses, and Mylene Farmer—I would have shopped at their stores in the US if they had been near me. After all, they aren't Wal-Mart, so I'm sure I would have enjoyed quiet, hassle-free shopping there—like having my own private store. The K-Mart stores where we like to shop back home are like that.

The stores we are most familiar with in Russia are the neighborhood markets where we have shopped for groceries, first in Moscow, and now here in Zhelesnodorozhny. (The one in Moscow that was our favorite gave us gifts—two sets of cups and saucers, and a cutting board.). When you enter one of the supermarkets, you will immediately see at least one man, who is wearing a dark suit. And throughout the store you will see more men, similarly attired. You will also see lots of “smock ladies,” as we refer to them, who are usually wearing blue-colored smocks. The men in dark suits are the security guards, and the smock ladies are the shelf stockers, and sometimes floor moppers. Now all this is well and good, except for one fact, with all these people who I just described in the store, it is already crowded before you add—you guessed it—shoppers!

The suits are always close by, to make sure you don't try to stick a loaf of bread or bottle of wine in your pocket, and the smock ladies eyeball the shelves constantly, so they can immediately either replace the four cans of gin and tonic you just took from the shelf, or at least re-align the remaining cans so everything looks neat and tidy. I forgot to mention, that often there are stacks of products, for re-stocking the shelves, sitting in the aisles, either on the floor, or in shopping carts. During peak shopping hours it is virtually impossible to maneuver a shopping cart throughout the store due to the presence of the animate and inanimate objects described above. So we've made our adjustments.

We shop now for an entire week, on Thursdays around noon, at two markets that are about the same distance from our apartment. We each take one of those hand baskets, rather than a shopping cart, which when full yield a couple bags of groceries for each of us to comfortably carry home. We go to two markets, because of certain items that are only available at one and not the other. A couple more things to note about these neighborhood markets: The check out ladies don't have to go home and soak their feet at night—perhaps their butts instead—because they sit down the entire time they are working. Secondly, you bag your own groceries, and you better be quick about it, because you have a tiny space in which to do this and the next customer's order—even during non-peak hours there is always another customer behind you—is already being processed. Here's a useful tip: When it is impossible to open that plastic bag you are fumbling with, lick your thumb and try again—it will open easily.

I think that perhaps, by now, the store people are even getting used to our routine, and probably wonder why we shop the way we do. Uh-oh, here come those Americans again. Will they ever learn how to shop in our country? They actually buy more than one day's worth of groceries at a time, and only come into our store when we are not busy.

When I learn enough Russian to do it, I will tell them about Wal-Mart.

~PITTSBURGH starts with PITT!~

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