‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Grocery Shopping in Russia

That infamous Russian toilet paper.
Nothing in Russia is ever easy. Case in point: grocery shopping. Just because there is a giant sign in front of a supermarket advertising, say, strawberries for instance,  does not mean that store carries strawberries. It could mean:

1. It once carried strawberries ten years ago and never removed the sign.
2. The sign was free so the owner just put it up for decoration.
3. He wants you to think he has strawberries so he can get you in the store
4. He hopes to carry strawberries sometime and is just doing early advertising.

Usually it is #1, but I have seen the other reasons in play here often enough as well.

Another thing about shopping: do not expect to find what you want.

In all likelihood the potatoes that you head out to buy -- as you saw them in abundance just a day ago-- are now long gone. And forget about bringing a list. A list is just one more way to feel defeated over here. Don't fall for it! I mean, why would you bring a list? You are just asking the store to be out of everything on it. Instead, I have found that shopping in Russia needs to be looked at as an adventure:

Hmmm, what am I going to find this time? Will there be fruit? Will it involve de-worming? How exciting to find they have a few stalks of celery today! Joy!

A bag of Russian milk. Yes, milk comes in bags.
Also, do not ask for help. If you ask a grocery attendant for help, she is going to insist you take the brown bananas she found you, even though you asked for carrots.  'What is wrong with these bananas? Why don't you want them? They are just as healthy as carrots. TAKE THEM' . And she will say it with just enough authority that you will feel compelled to put them in your basket. (Russians excel at intimidation.)

And want to know what the check-out line is like at the grocery store? No, you don't. You wouldn't possibly believe the level of stress that a grocery check-out line in Russia produces.  Have more a dozen items? Well, that certainly does not given you the right to take more than the allotted 30 seconds to bag your items and pay the cashier. Do, and you will get the evil Russian stare from every Baboushka waiting behind you.

(Note:If you're lucky, one baboushka will be so frustrated with you that she will leaver her place in line to help you bag. But don't be fooled. She is not being friendly. She is trying to get rid of you as fast as possible, and the other Baboushkas will applaud her efforts.)

Ahh, Russia. I will miss you. I will miss the challenge that grocery  shopping afforded me every day. I will miss the hunt for bug-free produce. I will miss searching for that one bag of unspoiled milk. I will surely lament the ease of shopping in America when I get home. I mean, what fun is there in walking into a place and finding exactly what you want? Geez! American grocery stores seem so unexciting in comparison.

Well, speaking of food, I've got to go cut the mold off my bread for dinner.  Nite!
See? I wasn't kidding.
No preservatives = a never-ending war with mold.


  1. Speaking of all things Russian, can you post an update about the status of your and Nastia's paperwork? Will you both be allowed home in December?

  2. Ptolemy, thanks for asking:) I'm all set and can leave any time. My new Russia visa is good until January, if I wanted to stay ( which I kind of do) and could Afford to ( which I kind of cant)

    Nastia, however, is still waiting for her passport. It should be ready on Monday. But I'm committed to teaching thru november and also am hoping that my sticking around will show Anya I'm not giving up on her.

    Current plan is to go home Dec 1st or thereabouts, but part of my is already grieving. If Nastia were happier here and if i had the $$, I'd stay till the visa ran out...

  3. HAHA! So funny! What about paying for something and not having the exact change? What is up with that? I will say, however, that the no preservative thing is a great weight loss program. I lost a lot of weight when I was in my self-imposed exile earlier this year.

  4. *giggles* Oh my, Keri! I know it's a challenge, but you're right. My trips to the grocery store- wheelchair and all- seem so tame now.

  5. Wow!!! The description of asking for help brought back memories from our trips! Lol
    You are right, they do intimidate....and I am kind of wimpy so that does not help either. :-P

  6. I think the Russian concept is easier in some ways (and frankly, I rejoiced in the preservative-free bread); but I never had bread last long enough to go bad. That happens here with my homemade bread, when the house is [definitely NOT FILLED with food, but] when there is "food in the house". I LOVE the idea of just stopping at the little market on the way home and getting just enough for dinner, and perhaps breakfast. I never have a list, anyway. And my Russian friends' kitchens wouldn't "do" for stocking up, that's for sure.

    The intimidation factor, though. Yes; I am easily intimidated, so I quickly learned to a) have my own bag ready, b) have Ilya with me to handle the money QUICKLY, and c) to bag up like a demon!

    See, the thing is (I think) you're not supposed to buy that much, that it goes bad OR takes a long time to bag - just enough for today. (Isn't that Biblical?)

    Now...there ARE things that didn't exactly appeal..... My dear protective Ilya would watch out for me something fierce (ever see The Blind Side - he'd score high on that test, too); Ilya would handle the money, assist with the bagging, look over everything for value for the ruble, and he'd carefully check out the produce. I was embarrassed that he'd turn over any piece of fruit I'd consider to make sure it wasn't spoiled on the hidden side...but he knew his way around!

  7. God bless the USA. Keri I never had a clue you have to deal with all that just to do grocery shopping. You are made out of good stuff girl. Am making real progress on the package and will have it in the mail by monday. I think you will be pleased and hopefully customs will let it get to you before you leave on the 1st. I am sure they will like the stuff I am sending and it really blesses us to be able to help out.

  8. Oh Keri hang in there. Thanks for the wonderful chuckle this morning. I needed it.

  9. "You are just asking the store to be out of everything on it."

    I lol'd. XOXOXOXOXO

  10. That grey stretchy crepe-papery toilet paper! I had never seen anything like it. But you do come to appreciate even having toilet paper of any sort at all, don't you!

    I had been mostly enjoying the food I was getting at restaurants in Russia when I was in Saratov in 2003 adopting my daughter, until I went to a supermarket where I saw that the meat for sale was all out on a wooden table, with flies buzzing around, not refrigerated in any way whatsoever, no ice, no nothin'. Made me doubt the safety of the meat that the restaurants were serving too.

    Do they have good pizza in Kemerovo? They did in Saratov.

    Big hugs.

  11. I LOVE this post. Takes me back to the day in Russia I happened to buy a box of soup for Jupiter to try on the off chance she liked it. It turned out she did like it (ate the entire two grown up serving size box) and we pretty much beat a path back to the market to buy all the rest of the magic soup. And it was GONE. Never found it again. Even checking all the markets I knew about in Ekat.

    And...I also have a picture of milk in a bag.

    and....recognizing the word for butter on the package and bringing it back to the apartment only to discover I failed to recognize the word for chocolate written above the word butter. Not good for pasta. But very good on toast, as it turned out.

  12. I stumbled onto your blog right before you left for Siberia and I am SO enjoying reading it. I looked into Russian adoption (have a few very good friends who have recently adopted from Russia) but I found myself adopting from another country. However, I am still very interested in all things Russian and I look forward to your next post!

  13. I guess you do have to keep your sense of humor to survive there. I recall my son coaching me in the market in Moscow ("don't hand the cashier the money, put it in the tray and she'll put the change in the tray"). I also remember that he had to put his backpack in a locker but I could keep my purse. And a disproportionately large area of the store was alcohol and non-food items like stockings. But at least we were able to get some wine to bring to dinner. Do you think the food quality and quantity issue is unique to more rural areas? My son has been in the Moscow region for 6 years and doesn't seem to encounter this. I have my care package contents all ready, just waiting on a supply of priority mail boxes I ordered from the post office. Should have them by Monday. I want to send some nice gently used jeans I have, so I may have to sent 2 boxes (I have tights, socks, puzzles, notebooks, and lots of earrings, both new and used). It was fun pulling everything together.

  14. Anonymous4:13 AM

    I laughed out loud. This is hilarious. More please?


What do you have to say? Leave a comment!