Shopping for little things in Ukraine

There are four or five grocery stores on my street, within a single block of my apartment. I’m not sure why there’s such a concentration. Nevertheless, I walk about a quarter mile to a more modern one.

The modern one follows the American model. I look at products, hold them, study them, and them either put them in my basket or back on the shelf. I grew up with this model an never imagined another one could exist.

Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to realize that most Ukrainian groceries are following a different model, and even longer to realize that I hate it.

In most grocery stores, all produce lies behind the counter under the protection of the clerk. You have to communicate for every item. Studying an item and then rejecting it is taboo and will only be tolerated once or twice per visit. If you hesitate while studying products at a distance, the clerk might switch her attention to another customer. This is bad because in true Soviet fashion, NOTHING happens without the clerk.

Sometimes when there are no other customers, the clerk speaks on her cell phone. She’ll usually try to help me while carrying on her conversation, and poorly disguise her irritation when I interrupt with naive questions.

The moderately free market has brought choices to Ukraine’s grocery shoppers. I hope it comes to stationary stores too.

“What type of notebook do you want?” the clerk asked me. I was stunned and annoyed by the question. There seemed to be great variety on the shelves behind the lady and I wanted to browse leisurely.

How does this model of shopping allow for new products? for innovation? Does new merchansise gather dust on their shelves because no one every knew to ask for it?

I asked for a notebook that isn’t for children. Something without pictures. She scanned her shelves (something I would have gladly, preferrably even, done myself) and handed me a flimsy notebook (all Ukrainian notebooks are flimy) with only a small picture of a unicorn on it.

Somebody please open a Staples in Ukraine. I’ll be your best customer.

7 thoughts on “Shopping for little things in Ukraine

  1. Andrii

    I have a good, not a flimsy notebook which I don’t need :)

    You should go to Канцтовари (stationety store) to look for a notebook. But most of such stores also have an allmighty clerk.

  2. Ed K

    So, if you ever visit USA again, why not discuss
    opportunity with Staples?

    If you could get inventory thru their borders?

    How many bureaucrats would you have to pay off?

  3. elmer

    Roman, the sovok union created some truly bizarre, psychotic people.

    And that’s what you are left with in Zookraine today.

    I remember going to GUM in Maskva – proudly proclaimed by the sovok jerks to be the world’s largest department store.

    Didn’t do a bit of good – sovok women who looked like tanks sat behind each counter, studiously avoiding any interaction with customers. It would have taken an earthquake to get the sovok tank women’s attention.

    Shoe stalls, for example, were a mess.

    The hotels were exclusively for foreigners. They had to specially train people for service in the hotels, but it didn’t do any good – dour faces and bad service were the norm.

    I learned a trick from a guy from Netherlands that I ran into – he would hand out pens or chewing gum or other tidbits. It worked. Then the dour faces lit up with great, broad smiles, the people actually became somewhat friendly.

    The guy from the Netherlands was a big, friendly guy – he had done some rowing in competition.

    Even today in Zookraine, unfortunately there are people who still believe the sovok union was not a mistake.

    As a result of the sovok union, people in Zookraine can play chess – but they don’t know how to think.

    Except in a corrupt way.

    Hence, the grocery stores you mention, and everything else in upside down, bass ackwards, bizarro Zookraine.

    1. Roman

      Love the story about the foreigner handing out gum or pens. Strangely, it’s exactly what US soldiers did (do?) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      Great pics of the Odesa market too.

  4. elmer

    “Europe’s Dirty Drugs Secret: Stacey Dooley Investigates..

    Stacey Dooley travels to Ukraine on Europe’s far eastern edge to investigate the struggle to keep drugs out of the UK. Stacey reveals that drug cartels from South America have been using Ukraine as a transit hub to smuggle cocaine into western Europe. To uncover why cocaine shipments are taking this 2,000-mile detour, Stacey visits a new frontline in the war against international drug trafficking – the port of Odessa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. Ukrainian officials show her the tricks traffickers use to hide drugs within cargoes – inside anything from industrial furnaces to excavated pineapples. But she soon learns from a port worker and a former drug trafficker that Ukrainian customs officials are notoriously open to bribes to get cargoes through”

    Stacey also discovers that, because the drugs smuggled into Ukraine are too expensive for most local drug users, some are resorting to horrific homemade substitutes. Perhaps the worst is ‘crocodile’, so called because it rots the flesh of users and turns it scaly. Stacey meets some young addicts as they make a batch from bleach, petrol and tablets bought at the chemist.”

    1. Roman

      “Crocodile” — yes, bad things happen when government restrictions create a black market. During the prohibition of the 1920s, many Americans died from poisoned alcohol. I’m sure incompetence produced some of the poison, but it was recently revealed that the government, frustrated that people ignored their stupid laws, deliberately poisoned alcohol and allowed it to be sold on the black market.


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