No change? Go home.

Bureaucrat ... gggrrrrr ...

Bureaucrat ... gggrrrrr ...

In the USA, the most stringent requirements a store would ever demand of its patrons would be “no shirt, no shoes, no service.” In Russia, however, the clothes on your body matter far less than the change in your pocket. Store clerks, whether they’re bubble-gum chomping salesgirls or bitter old babushkas, have a tendency to hoard coinage, asking each customer for exact change and jealously guarding their stash against anyone who would take it in exchange for a larger bill. Especially a dumb American who wants to pay cold, hard cash for some quotidian purchase.

Granted, Russian commerce has never been noted for its customer service. The apathetic, Communist approach to sales has held over from the Soviet era, even 20 years later. But I was nonetheless taken aback when the salesgirl at Бюрократ (“Bureaucrat”) turned me away yesterday. The conversation went something like this:

“I’ll have these notebooks, and a few blue pens,” I say, presenting a fresh 1000-rouble bill (roughly $40).

“Do you have any smaller change?” wants to know the salesgirl.


“Then go home and get some.”

“I don’t have any at home, either.” (It’s not like the ATM is doling out an assortment of kopeck coins).

“Then come back tomorrow.”

At least there’s a sense of finality about it. The customer is wrong. No transaction will be made.

I’m always reminded in such situations of the intention my loquacious roommate once expressed: the barely restrained urge to give the obstinate sales clerk a sound rap on the knuckles with the umbrella every Petersburgian (does anyone know if this is the correct term?) is forced to carry.

“That’s why people in this part of the world should carry canes.” While I wouldn’t go that far, I must admit, it is rather infuriating sometimes.


3 Responses to “No change? Go home.”

  1. Hey Sasha,

    Your writing is brilliant! You should save the world, one travel reference at a time. Start with Frommers or Lonely Planet…

    I have heard the word “Petersburger” (or perhaps it was “Peterburger” before) so maybe this is a valid term as well to describe someone from your ‘hood, which is quite intriguing, and causing me to consider working extra hours at Memorial Library to get there sooner than later.

    I hope all is well – even the gas attack at the bar, and the pocket change curmudgeon.

    – Venya

  2. “Curmudgeon” is the perfect word for her. And I’m glad you’re trying to get here. Обязательно прийти.
    So “Petersburger” it is. It’ll come up again, so if you have any further thoughts about what to call the locals по-английски, пиши пожалуйста.

  3. George Hesselberg Says:

    That was funny. Nicely done.

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