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Post Soviet Capitalism Experiences

July 1, 2013

Yesterday was an interesting day. We had a tour of the city by an Irkutsk City Historian. Unfortunately, we were standing in the sun for hours and much of what he said was not able to be translated into English. I did get some really fun photos, though. The worst part of it was that I had eaten breakfast around 7:30 and we didn’t finish and break for lunch until 2:30.

So we went to a Russian restaurant that was in the basement of a building. It smelled like a wet basement and it was completely empty except for 2 women who were sitting at a table eating, though they did work there. One of our group leaders asked them if they could take our group of 19 people and they led us back to a room with a large table and gave us restaurants. After a few minutes of looking at the 3 menus they brought us for our 19 people, the leader of the group came back and said that he didn’t think it was going to work out. The restaurant was more of a dinner place and it would take quite a while for us to get lunch. So, we left that place and grumbled down the street to another place that had been recommended to us.

By this time, many members of our group were as hungry as Russian bears and were feeling rather nasty. At the second restaurant, we all went in and the lady working there told us we couldn’t eat there, but the restaurant had another “section” that had a separate entrance and we could go there. We walked out of that part, down the street, into the other “section” and sat down. There were 2 or 3 people working there and eventually one of them came around to take our orders. We were trying to get something quick so that we could meet our guide for the Decembrist museum we had scheduled in an hour so we ordered soups and salads and drinks. After about half an hour the drinks began to arrive, one at a a time. Then the food finally arrived.

This seems to be a theme here. Service is not really understood in the same way it is in the US, but at the same time, I have been told that to get a job as a server here, you really need to have a bachelor’s degree in hospitality. It is an interesting situation and most Americans would be pretty uncomfortable when we don’t get the customer service we are accustomed to. It is a real reminder of how we get so comfortable in our own environments and when you travel to other parts of the world, it is so important to keep that perspective.

So, the last part of my day included a trip to the mini-market next to the hotel. We had some unfortunate timing because the group of Swedes staying in our hotel were departing for the train on their way to Beijing and were stocking up. The food on the train is limited and expensive. We did our shopping and got in line, finally making it to the front of the line, where the cashier was trying to explain something to me in Russian that I couldn’t understand. I did get that she wanted to know if I wanted to use a card, but I wanted to use cash. She recruited one of the Swedes who spoke English to tell me that I had to get in the other line, which had about 20 people in it. I went in stood in the line, thinking about creating an international incident, but I stood there until I got to the front of the line, laughing about my (hopefully) last post-Soviet capitalism experience of the day.

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