What’s it like going shopping in Russian or Ukraine?

What’s it like going shopping in Russian or Ukraine?

“Mega-malls” (as I call them) are becoming more popular in Russia these days. Moscow must have twenty such malls. Watch the video below for a fun tour of Sevastopol’s own mega-mall called Muson.

For the most part, the shopping experience in Russia or Ukraine is the same as in the U.S. (though they don’t accept check here. Heck, they don’t even know what a check is.) They do accept credit cards, usually, but primarily these are still cash economies.

When you think of the Soviet Union, you think of long lines for bread, empty bins in stores, and shortages in general. Those days are long gone, but there is one perplexing shortage: Change, i.e. coins.

Anytime you buy anything, the clerk will ask if you have change to bring it up to the nearest grivna (their lowest paper denomination). For example, if your total is 9 grivnas and 93 kopeiks (their cents), you can’t just hand the lady a ten grivna note and expect change. She will automatically say, “Give me 93 kopeiks, please.”  It’s as if she has barely one grivna’s worth of change, so she’s loathe to give it out. She’d rather make you scrounge in your pockets for 93 kopeiks, than give out her precious 7 kopeiks.

Since they raised the bus fare from one grivna to 1.50, all the buses have multiple signs imploring people to “Prepare change, please”. And the drivers bark it out every third stop, as well. “Please, does anyone have change?” It makes me want to scream: Can you people not mint more coins? What is going on???

The other day in my local mini-mart, a kid was trying to buy a yogurt drink. He paid, and was due 25 kopeiks. The babushka behind the counter said she didn’t have it in her register. She called out to the customers, “Does anyone have change for a fifty-cent piece?” No one did. She ended up rummaging through the purse of another worker in the back room to scrounge up the change.

Not that you ever get the exact change. If you are owed, say, 27 kopeiks, they’ll give you a 25 kopeik coin, and call it even. Would that ever happen in the U.S.? Of course, they’ll give you the 25 kopeik piece if you are only owed 23 kopeiks, as well. They just round to the nearest bigger coin. Pun intended, but: It’s time for change.

There are also outdoor markets to be found where you can pick-up a variety of things. Here’s a video of a typical outdoor market:

Next Question: Ever have any embarrassing experiences due to a cultural or language misunderstanding?

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