Moscow’s Hell on Earth for Shoppers, Tourists, Everyone

Briton in Russia Clare Taylor, blogging at the Moscow Times, explains what it’s like to face the Russian retail establishment, which is in no significant way different from what it was in Soviet times. It sees customers as an annoying problem and it is not equipped or interested enough to deal with them properly.  This is why Russian can’t compete in international markets and can’t attract a large number of tourists.  (FYI, children don’t have the experience to know when shoes fit properly, and therefore can’t help parents when seeking to determine if they do. That’s why careful parents want their kids’ feet measured when buying new shoes.)

Back in May, my sons were in need of new shoes, and, I must admit, I had been putting it off. I was hoping against hope that the canvas sneakers I picked up for them in London on a solo trip over there in April would stay the course until our summer break when we would be back in the land of less expensive and — crucially — expertly fitted footwear. What’s that you say? Muscovite children wear shoes, too, and amazingly, they even fit? That fact is obviously true, but based on our experiences shoe shopping in Moscow, for the life of me I can’t work out how.

Eventually we faced reality and went out to buy the boys trainers and day-to-day footwear, setting off one Saturday for a shopping mall where we knew there were kids’ shoe shops aplenty. I drove, and the boys and husband went by tram (a special treat for my tram-crazy younger son), and as any Moscow resident will not be surprised to learn, the tram got there first.

My husband at this point made a beginner’s mistake and decided to take matters into his own hands — re: the shoes (“What’s that stupid woman making such a fuss about? I shall buy both my sons shoes before she even gets here and demonstrate to her how easy it is!”), and he and the boys went on up to the largest kids’ clothing store.

They stood around in the well-stocked shoe section being ignored for a few minutes until my husband took matters into his own hands and asked an assistant for help. This is the conversation that ensued.

Husband: “Can you help me, please?”

Store Lady (sigh): “Yes. What do you want…” (sigh)

Husband: “We would like to buy some shoes.”

Store Lady looked blankly at my husband, and then with an all-encompassing gesture swept her arms around her and said: “Shooooeees.”

Husband (somewhat taken aback): “Yes, I can see they’re shoes, but I’m not quite sure what size my sons take, so can you help us with that please?”

Store Lady (sigh): “OK.”

She looked at my sons’ feet and started pulling out boxes.

Husband: “Hang on. Can you measure their feet first, please?”

Boy #2 sat down and began to pull his shoes off. Store Lady picked up the first boot from the floor and checked underneath for the size.

Husband: “No, I don’t want you to check these shoes. I want to know what size his feet are now. Can you measure them, please?”

Store Lady picked up Boy #2’s foot and looked at it. “I would say…”

Husband: “No, I would like you to measure them. Can you do that please?”

Store Lady (sigh). “No, we don’t do that. Just try a few pairs on until you get some the right size.”

At this stage my husband turned and swept grandly out of the store, trailed by two boys asking loudly when they were going to get new trainers in tow.

Moscow traffic being what it was, I still had not arrived, so they moved next door, which also sold children’s shoes. And then, after repeating the whole sorry process, they stomped out of that shop, too. By the time I finally got there, they were in Store #3, and this time when the assistant — upon being asked to measure the boys’ feet — pulled out a dressmaker’s tape measure, both I and my husband kept quiet and counted ourselves lucky.

And guess what? They fit.

31 responses to “Moscow’s Hell on Earth for Shoppers, Tourists, Everyone

  1. I remember when I was a kid in Russia and we went shopping for shoes for me, my parents would simply grab a pair from the shelf, turn one shoe upside down and have me place my foot over it to see whether my foot would fit inside the outline of the shoe. I’d say it was a rather crude but very effective method of finding out whether there was any point to trying on the pair.

  2. Didn’t they have shoe sizes in Russia? They must have. So, why would you do such a preliminary check that you described for a size 8 shoe, if the boy’s size is 9?

    • The point is that you don’t know his size unless you measure, and Russians won’t measure, and take pleasure in refusing their customers’ request to meaure. That’s Russia!

  3. If a Russophobe came into my shop, I wouldn’t give her the time of day either. You don’t like Russia, go shop somewhere else. You like Russia, then it’s How may I help you. It’s an ancient Russian tradition.

    • Actually poor service is an ancient Russian tradition.

    • Selling shoes is not a political act, I would venture to say. Everybody needs shoes and the profit from the sale to a Russophobe is just as good as that from the sale to anybody else. So much for “market economy” in Moscow!

  4. Pah, heird. After that first “Shooooes” remark, I’d have yelled at it to run and get me its supervisor immediately, why didn’t he?

  5. What kind of mother is it that doesn’t know her children’s shoe sizes? Someone who is just tooooo busy doing nonsense work to do something useful once in a while. I know the shoe sizes of all my four kids, and update regularly as they grow. I also know my husband’s shoe size so he will have one less thing to worry about. I don’t know my own shoe size because I usually go barefoot, but Birkenstock has this calculator which I’ll reluctantly use come november.

    to Andrew: Poor service is what you get when you get uppity with a Russian. Just ask Lenin. I get fine service everywhere I go in Russia because I show proper respect for the person I’m doing business with. That’s all it takes. You Anglos don’t know the meaning of the woed.

    • I don’t know how it is where you are from Erica, but for us “Anglos” the customer is always right . Or he/she would just walk away and the store would lose a sale and potentially many future sales too.

      Whether the customer was or was not a good mother is none of the sales clerk’s business. Her job is to sell shoes not to make judgments whether the customer is a fit mother or not. If the customer asks to measure the feet, the clerk does that. It’s very natural in a shoe store after all and a key part of a job in any shore store in every normal country.

      By the way, I saw nothing in the story supporting your theory that the shopper was “uppity.”

    • No, poor service is what you get in Russia period.

      Be you polite or not, Russian service is rubbish, the only time you get decent service is after getting the supervisor on the case.

  6. A key part of a job in any shoe store, that is. Sorry for the typo

  7. All I know is when I wanted to get valenki for my children the clerk brought out really nice ones. She placed the soles against my children’s feet and that’s how she got the size right. Then we spent a pleasant hour talking about our children, while an English family cooled their heels.

    I’m full-blood Irish. We and the Russians, and the Boers hate British guts. Get used to it, Russophobe.

    • You’re rather thick, dear. Just because a child says his shoes fit does not mean they do. IT’S A CHILD. THEY DON’T KNOW. And ill-fitting shoes can cause health issues. Holding the soles againt the feet is totally barbaric. The proper way is to measure the child’s feet. Instead of asking Russia to do better, and be civilized, you make excuses and justify failure. That is a great way to help Russia into the ash can of history, following the USSR.

    • You think they refused to take those measurements because the customer was an Englishman? I doubt they are capable to distinguish an English accent from an Irish brogue; and of course the Irish look the same as the English.

    • Actually most Irish don’t, I was recently at the wedding of an Irish lad to a Georgian girl, his father is Gardia, and none of the Irish at the wedding hated the British in general, or the English in particular, BTW, I am of Irish descent too, and I don’t hate them either.

      Nor do the Irish in the EUMM.

      Nor did my former employer, a Boer, nor do the majority of Boers I have met.

      Of course I suspect you are not “full blooded Irish”, as there is no such thing “Erica”

    • Erica Brigid, and for the rest of the world russia is a pathetic, third world country, desintegrating in front of everybody while trying to play a ‘global power’ – truly a laughing stock of the world. The latest ‘achievement’; three planes dropped off the friendly russian skies in ONE day – this ‘achievement’ should be entered into the Guiness Book of Records – truly; there were less daily causulties during the Battle of Britain, dearie…That the way to go russia……. ‘We and the Russians, and the Boers hate British guts’ – a daily conversation in an ordinary Irish pub – give me a break you stupid, retarded russian kgb on afghan heroin….

  8. The Russians have a long-established way of telling friend from foe. A friend can roll the R sound, like the Irish do. The foe is a “kartavy.” They can’t pkhonounce the R. Brits, Americans, Jews, Georgians, and Lenin are all kartavy.

    • Well, I didn’t know they hated the British. You didn’t have to tell us about Americans and Jews, Russian anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are well known.

      • RV,

        They are really told to hate Britain. And it’s not only Zhryrinovsky’s call to “nuke England” (it would be pretty hard to find a European country or an ethnic group that he would not call to conquer or destroy) or what Kadyrov says (similar, except Kadyrov actually kills people).

        Because it’s also a lot of more down-to-Earth stuff like the Nashis hounding the British ambassador and picketing the embassy, like the order to shut down the British Council in Russia, like the constant anti-British propaganda on TV, and the “British spies” spymania like it’s the 1930s lite. This mass hysteria (completely artificial and ordered from the top, but many less intelligent ordinary Russians – the TV-watching so-called “zombies” – also got it) was at its height in 2006-2008, now it cooled down a bit for a moment.

        At the same time, of course, rich Russians constantly continue to invest their money in London, instead in Russia, their kids attending elite schools in Britain.

        • The Brits have their faults, but also lots of patience. They may retaliate one day

          • Against Russians’ investing money in London?

            • Or deporting them, or both. Sure, they lose some investments, but for the size of the British economy, it’s nothing. But they also get some benefits, like reducing crime, reducing the extent of the mafia influence, and of course there will be fewer spies and people trafficking in radioactive polonium.

    • erica brigid; russia’s friends; north korea, pakistan, iran, syria, venezuela – what a company – russia truly hit the rock bottom, but against of rules of physics; russia still keep going down – what a pleasure to see russia humiliated on a daily basis…..

  9. Well, I lived in Russia so I could assure you, the shopassistant had no notion of the customer service like keeping a measure tape in the drawer so necessary in the children’s shoe department. Since the soviet times the system has never catered for people’s needs, so the attitude has embedded in culture. The poor thing simlpy didn’t know what she was supposed to keep, to do and to say to a customer. Which doesn’t excuse her, of course. They should have had a proper training.Marketing, catering courses are available now in Russia. But in practice you encounter with situations like that. It’s a pity!

    • According to the Irishwoman, their service is OK, except when a customer is a Georgian, an American, an Englishmen, or of course a Jew

      • I am not sure how the weird discussion of whether Russian shoe stores have measuring tapes or not degraded to discussing ethnicities, but having been tortured by Best Buy’s “customer service” department here in the US for the last two weeks, I am seriously tempted to write an article how the quality of service in emerging markets got much better than that in the States…

        • So, in your gorilla-like view, RUSSIAN customer service is at least as good as AMERICAN?

          HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for the belly laugh, funniest thing we’ve heard all week!

          Dude, what are you smoking?

        • Quality of service has deteriorated in the United States compared to what I remember it was 25 or 30 years ago, no question about it. But comparisons with Russia…. Please. You just heard from the Irishwoman that if a customer is a Jew, and American, an Englishman or a Georgian, it’s a Russian cultural policy to insult him and maybe to refuse service, and in her view at least, this is how it is supposed to be.

          I bet, Best Buy’s customer service didn’t check your citizenship papers nor did they give any weight to your Russian accent (I assume you talk like Yakov Smirnoff).

  10. Shoe shopping may just be the a single kind of shopping where the web does not supply by far the most convenience. The clear purpose is that shoes has to be tried on as well as if your size is consistent, it could alter in unique brands, and each style of shoe is a bit different. There may be as much as an complete size difference in designs that have high heels or pointed toes. Shoes will need to fit nicely, not just for comfort and appearance but in addition for foot and joint well being. ^

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