by Daniela Baker
Shopping in Russia may be a whole different ballgame from shopping in other areas of the world. The people of Russia are, like most of the rest of the world, addicted to many name brands. They’ll drop lots of money when they shop for high-quality clothes, and they all like to stay on top of the latest fashions.
But as a foreigner, you may not be shopping in Russia for a great pair of jeans. You can probably buy those cheaper at home. Instead, you’re probably looking for Russian-themed souvenirs, or maybe you’re just checking out the local store for lunch. Whether you’re shopping at the open market or at a brick-and-mortar store, your experience in Russia may be a little different that you’re used to. Here’s what you should know:
1. Be prepared for the shopping procedures
Interestingly enough, you shop from behind a counter in many, many stores in Russia – even grocery stores and book stores. If you’re used to being able to pick up and examine wares firsthand before you buy, you might have to let go of that expectation in many Russian stores. Instead, you decide what you want, and the person behind the counter will get it for you. Then, you’ll pay a cashier separately for the things you bought. This is fairly common in small and large stores in Russia, though Americanized restaurants and stores will operate much like the ones you’re used to.
2. Bring your own bags
At almost all stores and markets in Russia, you’re expected to bring your own bags. So get a few canvas bags to take grocery or souvenir shopping with you, or you may have to walk away with very full hands. If you didn’t bring any bags with you, you can probably buy some from the local market.
3. Avoid the tourist market
The local yarmarka may be authentic – unless it’s in a very touristy area of town. If you’re in a touristy area, you’ll find lots of typical Russian items – fur hats and nesting dolls and whatnot – for ridiculously high prices. These wares are usually much lower quality than what you’ll find at regular stores, as well. But some of the yarmarkas are actually quite authentic, and they can be a good place to find a bargain, since the vendors compete against one another to win customers.
4. Be ready to search
If you’re looking for something specific in a Russian store, you may not find it where you’d expect. Though department stores are a little more predictable, some of the smaller local stores will change out their wares often. One Russian visitor commented that the local butcher had all beef one day and all pork the next. So you should either be content to buy what’s already there, or be ready to search for while for something specific that you might want.
5. Follow the locals
The best way to get good deals on traditional Russian wares, particularly things like vodka, is to follow the locals. You can always ask where the locals go for this or that particular item, and then take their advice. Stores frequented by locals rather than tourists are more likely to have genuine items for sale that are also more affordable.
6. Look at specific stores for the real thing
There are plenty of places to shop in Russia where you can probably find better souvenirs than you’ll get at the so-called tourist market. For instance, you can check out factory stores – production line stores that sell to the general public – art salons, and military supply stores to find genuine, affordable souvenirs from your time in Russia. The popular travel site Lonely Planet suggest checking out Moscow’s Ministerstvo Podarkov, a network of artists’ cooperatives where you can find excellent handmade items with a particularly Russian flare.
As far as money goes, most stores and even some smaller vendors will take credit cards for payment (check out this comparison table for credit cards with no foreign transaction fees -- be sure you alert your credit card company to the fact that you’ll be shopping in Russia), and they will all take rubles, the local currency.
When shopping in Russia, you may have to overcome a bit of a learning curve to figure out exactly how and where to spend money for the best souvenirs to take home. But, again, don’t be afraid to talk to locals. They’re often the best resources to help you figure out where to get exactly what you want.
Author: Julia Shuvalova