Thursday, November 1, 2018

Shopping the American Way (in Belarus)

I needed to buy a rug. Actually, I needed two rugs, because Alla decided she wanted as part of her divorce settlement both of the rugs we bought jointly in Minsk. I’ve been buying a lot of stuff lately because Alla cleaned out the apartment twice. I thought I was done when she cleared out the first time and (theoretically) turned the place over to me. She said she wanted to keep her key, however, so she could come back and clear out her desk. I was surprised to discover how empty the apartment felt after she cleaned out her desk. It turns out that her desk included a lot of other cabinets as well.

I called Alla to assure myself that she was done taking stuff from the Minsk apartment. She said yes, more or less, but that she still wanted those two carpets. Feeling expansive, however, she allowed me to borrow them until such time as I could replace them in the next few months.

The big government-owned department store near me had a sale, so I went shopping. I found a super-cheap reasonable-looking carpet for the spare bedroom and brought it home. I also saw a couple of carpets I could live with if I had to buy something immediately for the living room, but since I still have a couple of months I decided to check some other stores. Finally, I found a rug I liked in the window at another government-owned store called “Nemiga;” so I asked the sales guy if he could find me a rug like the one in the window. He didn’t want to talk to me, and the way he spoke to me made me confident that I didn’t want to talk to him either.

Undaunted, I reviewed their entire inventory and then returned to the window. Wow! I found another carpet in the window, better even than the first one. I chose the other sales guy, who was just as adamant that he couldn’t sell something from the window. At least the second guy was nice about it. In any event, I persisted: “The window is your advertising, right?” He agreed. “And I’m responding to your advertising,” I continued. “I’d like to buy the product you are presenting right there in your advertising.”

“I can’t do that,” he insisted.

I insisted too. I don’t know what the rules are here in Belarus, but where I come from you can get into lots of trouble for false advertising. It seemed like the kind of rule we’d have in Belarus too, though perhaps nobody has insisted until now. Belarusians don’t like to insist unless they are bureaucrats, and the bureaucrats use up the country’s entire “insisting” budget. Fortunately, I arrived with an imported supply. I wouldn’t leave until the guy gave me instructions on how to reach his boss, who was already gone for the evening.

I came back today to look for the boss. The crew I’d met during my evening visit wasn’t there, but there were a couple of women just as sour as the first guy I’d met. I don’t get the impression it’s a great place to work, because it’s not bringing out the best in anybody. I told the sales lady that I’d like to meet Tatiana Viktorovna.

“Why do you want to meet her?” she asked.

“I’d like to buy that carpet,” I said.

“You can’t buy it,” the clerk sneered.

I performed my song and dance, roughly the same routine I’d performed for the evening sales guy. She became increasingly agitated and told me in a louder voice that I could not buy the carpet. I remained calm and told her that I wanted to meet her boss. She thought that would be a waste of time, but I wanted to meet her boss. She said that Tatiana Viktorovna is not here, and I said fine, I’d like to meet whatever boss is here. Exasperated, she made a phone call and told me that Tatiana Viktorovna would be there in about five minutes.

Tatiana Viktorovna started out the same way, telling me that it’s impossible to sell something from the window. They don’t have an inventory number for it and they don’t know its price. I performed my response-to-advertising routine for her and she began to relent. She said she could order one for me, but that I couldn’t take home that window sample.

“At last,” I smiled and exclaimed. “Finally, I’ve found somebody able to solve the problem. All of your employees have told me to go away. Only you have had the insight to reach a solution.” I figure flattery is usually a good thing. The employee who had been trying so hard to prevent me from talking to Tatiana Viktorovna objected that of course she always could have ordered a carpet for me. In fact, she filled out my request in her order book without any help. She knew how, but somehow, she had not been interested in doing that until I had gotten the boss in the room.

Later today, I went over to the Department Store Belarus. These government-owned department stores tend to get their stuff from the same factories and I found there the very carpet I’d been trying to buy at Nemiga. I even bought it on sale. Keeping my costs down, I carried it home on public transit. It was big and heavy, but here it is:
100% genuine polypropylene. Nothing but the best!

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