Mall Culture and Fast-Food Wonderland
As of today, David and I have been on the road for two months. We've crossed seven time zones and nearly 5800 miles, and have finally made it to Moscow! Wahoo! We also, I would proudly note, haven't killed each other yet -- a minor miracle considering the stress of constantly traveling, finding every meal drenched in Russian mayonnaise, and posting to the blog five days a week.
Ever since we left Novosibirk, we've both noticed that something has changed. Starting with Chelyabinsk, everything has felt more familiar -- more European in a way. There was something indefinably exotic about all those Siberian cities -- Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Ulan Ude -- that just disappeared once we got close to the Ural Mountains, the historic dividing line between European and Asian Russia.
Even Kazan, with its Middle Eastern flavor and Muslim influences, still felt more European than other Russian cities. Perhaps it was the fact that we finally crossed the McDonald's threshold there: Since 1995, Kazan has acquired not just one, but three McDonald's, the first we'd seen on the trip. And now that we're in Moscow, there's a veritable food court's worth of American fast-food joints: McDonald's, Sbarro pizza, Baskin-Robbins and TGI Friday's are just steps from our apartment here.
One thing I wondered before launching this trip was whether any old-style "three-line" stores were still around. These were Soviet-era stores designed to kill the desire to shop. You'd line up behind other shoppers to get a glimpse of whatever product you wanted, then stand in a second line to pay the cashier and get a little ticket, and then stand in a third line to hand the ticket over and get the thing you wanted to buy.
They're hard to find now, but yes, the "three-line" Soviet store is alive and well! We haven't seen any in Moscow yet, which has a pretty sophisticated shopping culture, but we did see a few even in Russia's third-largest city, Novosibirsk. We also saw a cashier counting with an abacus there -- once a very common sight in Russia, but now a real rarity. It feels lucky to see one, like spotting a rare woodpecker.
Overall, though, the whole shopping experience has definitely changed since 1995. For one thing, there are now numerous shopping malls. In a country where winter lasts about seven months, you'd think they'd have had them forever -- but apart from a few famous exceptions, such as GUM in Moscow and Gostiniy Dvor in St. Petersburg, I'd seen very few. Now, huge malls shaped like pyramids and domes have sprung up in almost all the cities we've been to.
The other major change I've noticed is the birth of customer service. Ten years ago, scowls were still the norm for salespeople and cashiers -- a remnant from Soviet days, when there was no competition for customers because everything was state-owned anyway. Now, salespeople in many stores smile and ask if they can help you, which is truly a new and weird experience.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Kate | October 31, 2005 04:25 PM
Posted by: Andrew | November 1, 2005 10:47 AM
Posted by: Pat | November 1, 2005 06:48 PM
Posted by: Lisa Dickey | November 2, 2005 02:27 AM