Thursday, 14 May 2009

Caveat Emptor

I'm at terrible risk of sounding like one of those foreigners that plague Moscow with this post. The Expat stereotype, especially those from England and America, who haven't been here that long, have a dreadful tendency to openly complain about everything here, like the service or food or general quality of anything, despite the fact they don't pay taxes because their multinational employers pay them via their Swiss bank accounts, nor do they even go as far to sample anything Russian (and yes I do pay taxes, unfortunately, quite a hefty sum too because of the whole double taxation bawls). They pay no heed to the axiom "when in Rome..."

In this case, though, I am not so much complaining, but rather warning anyone who comes here expecting anything simple, such as a basic transaction. One shop relatively near to mine (I'm not petty, so I won't point out its exact location via googlemaps just yet) is but one of many 24-hour продукты (Produkti, like the word product with an 'ee' at the end) which are scattered around Moscow, and are exceedingly useful for food, booze, emergency toilet roll (or even all three if you're having a good night) etc...

A scant few outlets let you walk around and pick up your own stuff and proceed to a makeshift till, but god forbid you muss anything up as you meander around the cramped shop. Most of them, however, are over-the-counter style, which create the ideal situation for language students who have studied the necessary vocab, but what that teaching doesn't prepare you for is how vile some of the shop attendants are towards their customers.

I don't give a monkey's about the sub-par service or the relatively-low quality food that is permanently at odds with its price tag. What I do care about, or rather what baffles me constantly, is my constant need to be within approximately ten kopeks of whatever I need to pay for.

The simple idea of a float in a till isn't just limited to the uncouth turnips responsible for the bungalow down the road, it's EVERYWHERE - all the way up to the equivalent of Marks & Spencers, Седьмой Континент (Sedmoi Kontinent - lit. Seventh Continent). I have been refused service on more occasions than I care to remember, simply because I had in my possession more money than was needed, until I coughed up something closer to the sum required.

Think of it this way: you come into the Savoy, or the Ritz or somewhere fancy and you order a cocktail from the bar and halfway through your drink you whip a £50 noteout of your wallet to hand to the well-dressed waiting staff, only for them to say"we can't take that" (I think the phrase in Russian is "не несете" ne nesyote lit. "you don't carry").

What would you do? Kindly root around your pockets for two minutes trying to get the exact amount in musty coins and piss-soaked notes, or would you spit up that half of your drink onto their face in utter disbelief?

I cannot understand what the root of it is. Some places are okay. Ironically another produkti not far from the one I accuse has no such problems with doling out change (and they actually smile because I'm such a regular customer), but it's just that little bit too far away sometimes and my laziness prevents me from venturing that far. So what's their excuse? Does someone come in every day right before I do and pay for chewing gum with a 5000 rouble note (approximately £100)? Do they have a stingy manager lying in the wings who snatches away any and all cash of notable amounts as soon as the till drawer closes? Or do they just not care that I'm trying to not only prolong my existance by eating their sub-par salads, but also to contribute to an economy that is going down the toilet?

Nothing works against them either. You be nice and present the correct change and they stonewall you. You are neutral and they stonewall you. You act as much of a miserable fuck as they do and still nothing happens.

It's just... I just can't get it.

Oh right, yes other news:

- Eurovision tonight, approximately 7PM GMT which is 10PM here
- Gay pride parade was attempted earlier today near the grounds of MGU, only for about 24 people to be strongarmed by the armed forces (both the regular police AND folk called OMON, who are not known for their patience) and viciously heckled by right-wing arseholes claiming to represent the Orthodox Church. Cue footage of a policeman in a big hat smoking a fag dragging a transvestite in a wedding dress by their hair. Mayor Luzhkov, in one of his more diplomatic moods, has referred to the parades as 'satanic' and an abomination.

No one seems to have pointed out to any of these people that Moscow is already hosting the biggest gay parade Europe has ever known and they're paying for it too.

I can't say it about all of my Russian friends, but the ignorant bigotry in this country is staggering.

Hey wait, did I mention that foreigners need to get HIV blood tests every six months?

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