By JENNIFER EREMEEVA
Seventeen years of truly heinous service in Russia is wearing me down.
“May I have a Diet Coke with ice, please?” I ask at McDonald’s, in my best get-the-word-endings-right-after-the-preposition university Russian.
The server “Nastia” regards me as if I’d just asked for a rat poison chaser. “The Coke is cold.” She shoves the tepid drink at me and hurls down my change.
I can’t seem to get over this last custom, which someone told me is an age-old Russian superstition. Handing money directly out of the till to a stranger is tempting fate. I’m skeptical. Since when did Russian shop girls care about the bottom line? No, it’s sheer contempt — for me, my money, the items I’m buying. For life as a shop girl. For the owner of the till.
Deplorable service – the fulcrum of Russian stereotype — has several origins. The Russian Orthodox Church‘s advocacy of suffering today so we can be blessed in the next life. Stalin’s Reign of Terror. The eighty-four year old principle of the Soviet planned economy.
The supplier is king. If there isn’t enough cheese to go around, and you control the supply, everyone has to suck up to you for their Camembert.
I grew up in the gracious Berkshire Mountains. Croquet is the sport of choice, children are taught which fork to use before they can talk, and not writing a thank you note is worse than murder. My genteel upbringing makes it harder to deal with women built like linebackers shoving me on Moscow’s overcrowded public transport and customer service hotlines going unanswered.
What are the origins of the service style in your present country and how does it compare to your own standard?
Jennifer Eremeeva is a Massachusetts-born historian, photographer and cook who blogs about the funnier side of life in Russia.