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Who knows why he’s winking?!


ST. PETERSBURG HAS heaps of museums and theatres and things but only a caveman would find it a shoppers’ paradise. “Shop till you drop” takes on a whole new meaning when faced with inefficient and confusing purchasing procedures and the flailing elbows of determined old ladies. The change to a free-ish market economy is continuing to improve the situation to some extent by providing a wider variety of products nonetheless the city has not developed to the point where on the spur of the moment you can just pop over to the corner store and grab anything you need. *

Although the opening hours of shops vary, most open at 09:00 or 10:00 and close between 18:00 and 20:00, Monday to Saturday, with a one-hour lunch break from 13:00 to 14:00 or 14:00 to 15:00. The best time to venture out is undoubtedly in the morning when deliveries are made and before the ravenous hoards hit the streets. Try to avoid the shopping rush hours between 15:00 and 18:00 when crowds can be particularly hungry. The more upscale stores will bag stuff for you and most other places have plastic bags for sale at the register but it doesn’t hurt to carry a “just in case” bag with you.

Some stores, particularly state-style department stores and food shops, continue to operate on the old system of payment which was designed by the Marquis de Sade. Intended to both relieve any single person of the responsibility of making a sale and to create jobs, the procedure requires that you stand in one line to pay for an item and another line to pick it up. You may have already stood in a line just to get to a position where you can see what’s for sale and how much it costs (rare these days unless its an incredible bargain) and food items bought by weight must be weighed first (for which you will need to wait in line). For most larger items like books, clothes, and “expensive” goods, the person working at the particular department ( | otdel) where the item is displayed will write you a check which you take to the cashier to pay.

Non-Russian speakers can have a hard time with this system; pointing, pantomime, and waving money around should get the message across but positive results depend on the mood of the staff, many of whom are graduates of the Leningrad Institute of Customer Abuse. Questions like “Do you have this in black?” are likely to be ignored – usually what you see is what there is. Queue to pay at the kassa (). You will need to communicate to the cashier how much the item(s) you want to buy costs and possibly from which department. If verbal communication is an impossibility, write it down. After paying, you will be handed a receipt which you trade for the goods back at the (after waiting in line one last time).

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