Let's Go Grocery Shopping in Russia

Today, I will take you on a virtual trip to a Russian grocery store. You will get a firsthand, up-close look at what it's like to go shopping.

Trust me, it's exciting.

Step One: Prepare for your travels.

You will need a backpack or bag to take home your spoils. Since you don't have a car, you have to carry it all. 

Yep, fun.

A lot of people (especially the older babushkas) have a little two wheeled cart they use specifically for this purpose. You can see one in the picture above, although it's not a very good picture of it.  

You can also bring a couple of plastic bags or a reusable shopping bag with you to carry the extra groceries as well.

Step Two: Get to the grocery store.

For me, this means walking about 5-10 minutes to the Shabalovskaya metro. Once you're in the metro, wait for the train to Tyopli Stan, which will take you there in about 20-25 minutes.

(There is a grocery store closer by, but since we live so close to the center of the city, it's substantially more expensive.  Plus, this one is bigger.)

Once you get off the metro, enter the shopping mall.  The grocery store is on the bottom floor.  Still a weird feeling to go grocery shopping next to clothing stores, but hey, at least it's convenient.

When you get to the grocery store, try not to look guilty in front of the store's mean-looking security guard, whom you have to pass to get into the store.  Remind yourself that he's there to catch shoplifters, which you are not, even though you kind of feel like one but whatever.  Grab a shopping cart, which happens to be about half the size of American shopping carts, and go.

Step Three: Look as awkward as possible while you wander the aisles and try to figure out what stuff is.

Now that you're actually IN the store, take a moment to breathe and orient yourself. 

Actually, forget orienting yourself.  Nothing is where it should be anyway.

Try to walk up and down the aisles, visually scanning for things you need--like rice, noodles, or eggs.  

When you get to the hard stuff, like chicken bouillon (which you're not even sure they have), spend five minutes standing there like an idiot, waiting for Google Translate to give you the Russian equivalent of "bouillon."

Then, when it says "bull-yohn", feel like an even bigger idiot.

Now, muster up the courage to track down and ask a store associate, like this:

Me: Izvenityeh, pajalusta. Gde BOUILLon? ["Excuse me, please.  Where is the bouillon?"]

Store Associate: Shto? ["What the heck are you saying??"]

Me [less confidently]: Gde BOUILLon?

Store Associate: [blank stare] 

Me: [helpless smile that I hope will convince her to show pity on this dumb foreigner] BOUILLon?

Store Associate: Ah, bull-YOHN? Илакфк йкдфйаошиечфлсдф ;лдфч ;алдфчишечф кдйф лкайдс ф [accompanied with lots of pointing and gesturing]

Go in the direction she pointed, wander the aisles a bit, and then stop in front of what looks like bouillon. Then translate the letters into something you can actually read.  

Congratulations, you found the bouillon.

Now go find everything else on your list.

Step Four: Checkout. As awkwardly as possible.

When you're done, stand in line at the checkout.  When the clerk asks you, "Глкайф лкдйф оше шекгй сдфлксчдфксч?", just say Nyet, spaciba [no, thank you], and assume they're asking if you'd like to buy plastic bags (this is why you bring your own from home).

After they've rung everything up, they say something like "Кдкгсдч лкдгч рублей", which is your total.  Get out your Monopoly money and hand them what you think should be the right amount.  When they give you the "you're an idiot" look, hand them more money until they seem satisfied.

Throw in some coins for good measure, since there's nothing Russian cashiers hate more than you not making accurate change. (Seriously. I've had checkers wait for me to dig coins out of my purse instead of just taking two larger bills.)

Once she's handed you your change, load up everything in your cart and move it off to the side.  Now, you will begin packing to take it all home.  Put the heaviest stuff in your backpack and the rest in the bags you brought with you.  

Now it's time to go to the rinok for your fruits and vegetables.

Step Five: Try not to get pickpocketed at the rinok.

Try to blend in.

This will be tough, considering you are a tall, blonde American wearing a plaid print backpack.  Notice that most of the people around you look decidedly different than you do.  

Prepare yourself to be verbally assaulted on all sides once you enter the rinok.  

Dyevushka [lady, girl, woman] is their preferred method.  "Look at these fruits!" "Dyevushka, please!" "Fresh fruit!" "If you please!" "Dyevushka, Look at this!"

Don't make eye contact until you're ready to buy, or else you'll just encourage them.  And if you look at the fruit too long, they'll pester you and try to get you to buy it.

Try to act confident, even though you want to pee your pants.  When you timidly spot some fruit you'd like to buy, try to use your horrible Russian loudly enough for the seller to hear you.

"Dva shtuka, pajalusta." [Two of those, please.]  You've found that pointing at the fruit is better than trying to learn their names.  

You should probably also learn how to say "half," so you don't have to buy whole kilograms of cherries and plums at a time. (Lesson learned, albeit a little late.) 

When they tell you how much it is, just hand them a small bill and hope that they are honest. (So far so good). Remind yourself that it would be a really good thing for you to also learn the numbers 100, 200, 300, and so forth, since that's often the total in rubles.  

When they ask you something, then repeat it, they're probably asking you where you are from, so you say, "Amerikanski." American.  Then, they usuallly say, "Hello!" or "I LOVE you!" or "Five!" because that's what they know.

When you are finally done, and your back is hot and sweaty because of the boxes of juice and bags of rice weighing it down, you can make your way back to the metro with your load.

Step Six: Get home with your spoils.

Now that you are done with the scary part, you have to haul all of that crap home with you.  Walk your sweaty self back to the Metro.

Feel like a sick or wounded animal because your hands weighed down by groceries makes you an easy target. Pay attention to your backpack so you don't get pickpocketed. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!!

Somehow manage to get your metro card out of your backpack, despite having to carry two bags of groceries.  Wait for the Metro to take you back to Shabalovskaya.

When it arrives, take a seat and place your groceries between your feet with your backpack on your lap. 

Pray that the meat you bought is not a) going bad or b) leaking meat juice all over your backpack and/or lap.

When the train gets to Shabalovskaya, ride the long escalator up and walk 10 minutes home.

Sweat to death in the non-airconditioned, see-through death box they call an elevator, and pass the 30 second ride by singing the Russian alphabet song.  Then, unlock the door to the floor, then unlock the TWO locks on your door, and collapse in a heap on your (thankfully) air-conditioned floor.

Step Seven: repeat at least twice a week.

Oh that's cute--you thought you only had to do this once a week or once every other week? Ha ha NO. Twice a week.

Why twice a week? Well, two reasons: first of all, anything you buy, you have to haul home. By yourself. Without a cart. And you've got a long ways to walk.

Secondly, your beautifully fresh and delicious produce over here comes with an unsuspecting price tag: no preservatives.  So it will go bad in 3 or 4 days, max.  Thus, you can only buy produce for what you will use in the next couple of days.

Oh, one more thing--on top of your multiple hour, twice weekly shopping excursions, you also have to go buy water.

Yes, you drink bottled water.  Not because you've got something to prove, but because you don't want to get cancer from drinking the water that comes coursing through the 50+ year-old Soviet pipes in your apartment building.  So, on top of your trips for groceries, you also buy two gallons of water at a time, and carry those home too.

And that, my friends, is how grocery shopping is done.

Take pity on me, and never complain to me about "Ugh, I have to drive ten minutes to the grocery store, where I can load up all my groceries in my SUV and then drive home and OMG it takes TWO loads to get everything in" ever again.