I can’t say that retail sector is one that just blows you away with its efficiency here in Russia. For example, at the moment, we are experiencing an unprecedented heat wave, swinging into its third week with no signs of abating. And, do you think you can purchase a fan or an air-conditioning unit anywhere in Moscow? Ha ha ha ha. No way. HRH said last night that the thing to do it is to start buying space heaters to stay ahead of the curve.
Shopping in Russia is not fun, nor can one be efficient about it, as we have seen during our examination of the postal system in Russia. Looking for reasonably priced, tolerably drinkable, New World Chardonnay that doesn’t taste like paint thinner is an experience akin to panning for gold in California in the 19th Century. Many people pay other people just to do their shopping for them so they can avoid dealing with the surly, snarly sales people, who just don't have the serve gene. It’s also never simple, though I will admit that shopping for life’s essentials like food has gotten marginally (marginally) simpler since the bad old days of one line to choose your item, one line to pay and another to collect your item. These days, you can wheel a trolly cart around a supermarket. Everywhere else, however, is still an exercise in extreme patience.
The concept that time is money hasn’t impacted mainstream life here. Take buying an electronic appliance at a modern shopping mall, which is a multi-stage Chinese water torture, taking on average, three hours and thirty-six minutes
• Enter store. Commence extensive, and ultimately futile search for the exact brand and make you want (20 minutes).
• Identify pimpled youth called “Vladik” as someone who might help. Inquire about the item you want. He slopes away. He returns and confirms that, not only is the item you want not in stock, it never was in stock, and is unlikely to ever be in stock. It’s not that popular in Russia, you know (30 minutes).
• Deliberate over the next best choice, which turns out to be more expensive, with fewer functions. (10 minutes)
• “Vladik” returns to the secret room to check if this item is available (10 minutes).
• Waiting for “Vladik,” you check your phone for messages.
• “Vladik” returns to announce that the display item is the last item available. There is nothing wrong with it, you understand, but it was, in the end of the day, he wants you to understand, the display item. Do you want it? “Vladik’s” expression suggests that you are insane if you agree. Agree. (5 minutes).
• “Vladik” directs you to Kassa # 34, the only one open. Get in the line. Check for more messages Wish you’d brought a bottle of water. Wait. (30 minutes).
• Hand bovine “Olya” at Kassa # 34 your credit card, which she swipes three times unsuccessfully, and then gives you a look as if you’ve outlawed nail polish. Insist that there is nothing wrong with your credit card. Gather your strength and insist that she call the bank. “Olya” picks up the phone, rolls her eyes, dials Master Card and proceeds to shout all sixteen digits of your credit card, your expiration date, the three digit security code and your full name, so that each of the seventeen people standing behind you at Kassa # 34 can hear perfectly. (25 minutes).
• Collect raft of paper hurled down by “Olya.” Cross the store to the collection point. (7 minutes).
• Get in line to collect your item. Call your nanny and explain you’re going to be later than you’d planned. Unbutton your top button. Roll up your sleeves. Fan yourself with the sheaf of paper from “Olya.” Wonder if you should place your own call to Master Card to cancel your card. (20 minutes).
• “Vladik’s” equally pimpled colleague “Shurik” presents you with your item, which you attempt to grab, and run, but “Shurik” slides the box back to his side of the counter. With the agonizing precision of an archeologist excavating a Mayan burial site, he slits the box open, removes each part, one-by-one, including the batteries, accompanying CD ROMs, and adaptor to make your appliance work in the car. Thoughtfully, he assembles the item. He plugs it in and runs it for three seconds. Silently, he meets your eyes, raises his eyebrows. Wearily nod. (15 minutes).
• “Shurik” extracts the individual instruction manuals (Czech, Bulgarian, Albanian, Ukrainian, Slovak, Polish, Serbian and Hebrew) out of their plastic cases, revealing the absolutely useless warrantee ticket. He bends down and fills it in carefully, stamps it, replaces it between the Bulgarian and Albanian instruction manuals, which you are sure to throw away as soon as you get home. (10 minutes).
• Moving as if through quicksand, “Shurik” disassembles the item entirely, re-wrapping each part carefully in slippery clear plastic, slotting it between Styrofoam protectors. He replaces the eight completely incomprehensible instruction manuals on top of the box, carefully re-seals it, and hands it to you triumphantly. (20 minutes).
By which point, you’ve completely forgotten what it was and why you wanted it.
All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.