Thursday, 22 November 2012

A trip to Archangel and Moscow shopping Manners

Moscow manners are direct and Shakespearian.
The English have lost all of the lusty language of the public space that their Bard recorded.
‘Whey faced loon’ or ‘ low, base, and popular’ - the people of England, high and low, were once not afraid to insult each other with gusto.
Now they are timid or terrified to utter the mildest reproach in public, even in the face of extreme provocation.

(I make an exception, of course, of the cowardly cries of soft с***t aimed at the overpaid pansies on the pitch from the safety of the seats at Premiership football clubs).

In a Moscow supermarket, however,  we encountered the courageous solidarity of the ordinary Russian shopper in the face of rough treatment by a checkout woman.
Elena had placed a bowl down on the checkout that needed one more loyalty sticker to be purchased at a discount.
The woman bluntly grunted - you can’t have this, not enough stickers.
Elena politely pointed out that by the end of her shop, she would have earned another three stickers, so the problem would be solved.

No, said checkout woman, and she barked at another assistant to take the bowl away.

Other shoppers in the queue started to take up Elena’s case - you are very rude, said one to   checkout woman.
You should ask your manager for some more training said another shopper, this woman is a customer you know, mind your manners!

I must stress that none of these people knew Elena. They merely saw the justice of her case and were not afraid to remonstrate on her behalf.

But checkout woman too was not to be bowed and came back fighting - I am in charge of this checkout, you keep out of it if you want to buy your stuff.
You should be sacked, I will ask the manager to sack you, came back another supporter.

Elena was overwhelmed with gratitude for the way that so many had come to her aid.
Our doughty sales preventer knew she was beaten, and gave way by sliding the bowl towards Elena a gesture singularly lacking in grace.

A small victory for solidarity and social cohesion - it would not have happened in Waitrose or Tesco in London of course, because staff in those corporates have corporate smiles and their polite responses are programmed in advance.

But you wouldn’t get any help in London if you were an old lady being robbed on a bus in broad daylight by a 14 year old schoolboy.
Everyone would look away.

Here in Moscow, he would get a good thrashing and a lesson in manners!

Our trip to Archangel, a 1000 kilometres north of Moscow, began with a ride from the beautiful Basilisk like Kievski station. Its domed and capacious interior lifted our athiestic souls heavenward rather than towards  the Airport Express that we were waiting for with a few hundred other travellers.
The cavernous corridors that led us from the depths of the underground metro line we had travelled on put me in mind of a Munich Beer Cellar and all the hurrying travellers seemed to be looking around for a bar or a waitress instead of their line.

We shuffled out of the celestial waiting room through a narrow pair of doors out onto a vast canopy of steel that housed the airport express train - a reassuringly solid and rectangular prism of exceptional width, soviet red and non-negotiably punctual.
It left on the second and we arrived at Vnukovo airport as stated.

Out of the train and into the airport terminal which was another steel structure, but this one post modern, to begin with a low slung ceiling, the whole cast in strange spectral gloom. We were entering a tomb, and the crowds were respectfully quiet as they slowly shuffled through security.
At last, the ceiling vaulted up and away and we were given light, a great relief from the dark spaces we had entered.
Our paces quickened as we spotted a bar sitting like a palm tree and an oasis in a desert. Our minds were on a brandy before the flight. We were met by a young barman who stared at us with a fixed and stern expression. This was Mr Gradgrind’s son and heir.

A brandy please.
He just stared at us as if we had asked for a whisky at a temperence meeting.
Why not? I flew last week from Sheremetevo and had one at the airport.
This is Vnukovo - nothing strong allowed.

Here was a man who had not smiled for many years and he had no intention of smiling in the near future. He was unhappy in his work and he didn’t care if you knew it.

Many years ago I was in the line to enter Disney World in Florida with my three young daughters. As we approached the cashier, I noticed a suited man pass a note to the pretty young girl at the entrance till. As we passed through I saw what it said - Put a smaile on your face!
That was a kind of totalitarianism - Disney style - and Russia has a long way to go before it infringes on the rights of the individual to the extent of insisting on happiness where there is none.

No, In Russia, if you want to be a miserable misanthrope, you are free to be so, but don’t be surprised if somebody loudly remonstrates at you in protest.

At least it will be loud and out in the open, not surreptitiously scribbled on a scrap of paper.
I’ve still got that scrap of paper.

I’m going to take Walt Disney to the European Court of Human Rights.
I can’t stand all that fake fun - it hurts.
Give us a break, Walt, there are times we just wanna be fed up.

The plane has landed.
We are in Archangel, where Elena was born and where must now sort out some family matters.
We will return to Moscow by train, 3rd Class, with the people, the broad masses.

Unless otherwise stated all photographs by Elena Bruce

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