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Shopping in Russia


Since the fall of the Soviet Union the country has yet to be transformed into a shopper’s paradise, but it has come an amazingly long way from the previous offering of half-empty shops and State – run Beriozka stores. The market economy, especially in Moscow, is booming, and stores are full of both Russian and Western goods. Pre-perestroika, a traveler had to bring along essential supplies, but today almost anything can be found, from peanut butter to prescription drugs. Not only are there department stores, galleries and boutiques, but the streets are also lined with small shopping kiosks with salespeople hawking everything from T – shirts and videos to condoms and cologne. Specialty shops for antiques, arts and crafts, and other souvenirs also exist for any budget, and flea markets are especially fun for bargain hunters. Farmer’s markets offer a wide selection of foods at cheaper than store prices.

Shopping tips

If you see something you would really like, buy it! Otherwise, the item will probably be gone by the time you return for it. Remember to take along an empty hag – in places such as farmer’s markets, you are expected to provide your own. (Otherwise you will be emptying the strawberries into your own pocket!) Some provincial stores may still use the three-line purchasing system (along with the abacus). Firstly, locate the desired item and find out its price. Secondly, go to the kassa (cashier’s booth) and pay. Thirdly, take the receipt back to the salesgirl, who then wraps and hands over your purchase. If you are buying a number of items, ask or gesture for the salesgirl to write the total amount down (if you are wrong – it is back to the kassa all over again!). At times you may still have to stand in a long line or force your way to the counter. If you have any questions, do not be afraid to ask; many Russian know some English and are happy to help to help. It is illegal to take any item made pre – 1947 out of the country. Customs officers are especially on the look-out for antiques and icons, and will confiscate things at the airport (even caviar – there is a limit on the amount that can be taken out).

When you buy a more expensive painting or work of art, check to see if you need an exit permit from the Ministry of Culture. The gallery owner or artist can often help with this. Always save receipts to show at customs. Beware of the many fakes, especially icons and lacquer boxes. For more information on shopping and markets, see the listings, in the Practical Information sections of each city.

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