Thursday, July 7, 2005

What's really available to buy?

Monday, July 04, 2005 7:27:36 AM

Russia's economy:

The economy here, as I have said, appears robust. According to one of the expats working here, it is much more so than even as recently as 2000. Apparently they had a currency devaluation about that time. One must also remember that the whole Russian Federation is so new that it is nearly still in the baby stage of being bottle fed. But this economy is much more vigorous than a bottle fed stage. The expat relates, for example, that there were only one or two groceries in 2000. Now there are 4 that I know of within a couple blocks of the office. And, most of those are open 24 hours. The street stalls are everywhere. If one is to assume that this large number of stores indicates profitability, then they indicate a very healthy economy. I'm told that in the smaller cities the bigger retailers are moving in, and the smaller stall vendors are dieing out, but this is a known progression, and would indicate a more stable and stronger economic atmosphere.

Here in Moscow, construction and renovation are evident and frequent. Several tall buildings are under construction, with large cranes visible and active. Stores are busy and well-staffed, as are restaurants. While I do see many tourists, it is hard to say how many. Most of the buyers I see seem to be Russian, rather than tourists.

There is a wealth of products available in the stores that I have seen. Apparently, where choice is less readily available, and computer gear is an example here, internet stores are available, and in sufficient number to create competition. Really though, computer stuff follows the same pattern in the US. The local stores carry some stuff, but a lot of product choice is only available through internet stores. So, the same thing happens here. But the subject of product availability leads me back to:

Products available in Russia:

As far as I've seen, while there is somewhat less choice available, there is no shortage of products available for one's day-to-day needs. Detergents, soaps, toothpaste (they have Colgate, among other brands), shampoos (I actually found the brand I usually buy in the States), etc. I haven't looked for some things - like dental floss, but we are talking pretty far down the scale of urgency, eh? The groceries have wide selections of products. Many are European, a few American brands. So would I change how I packed to come over? Hmmmm. Maybe. Not in terms of personal care items, but I didn't pack lots of extras, either. I packed my favorite brands of products, and they would still be hard to find if they are available at all. But, there are plenty of options, and certainly more options than even 5 years ago.

Soaps, detergents, shampoos, etc.
You might not find your particular brand, but there is plenty of representation by American, European, Asian brands. They might not be cheap, but they are available. Often a Russian equivalent is available, and it will be much cheaper.

Electronics:
I don't need to ship my surge suppresors and UPS (uninterruptible power supply) units, my electric toothbrushes, coffee makers, teapot, or mini stereo, what-have-you. Prices are similar to the US, with a reasonable variety of brands available, at least in Moscow. I am told that choices are not so good in Chelyabinsk, but that IS "in the boonies" - even if it is a city of a million. Think Little Rock, AR, or Memphis TN. If you know where to look, you can find it. Earlier I talked about AA batteries. Russian AA brands are cheaper, rechargeables are available, and not badly priced, and recharging units are commonly found. The prices are pretty much the same throughout the stalls and markets. The grocery stores range from a little cheaper to much more expensive on some of these items. But anyway, this was a concern for me, but it didn't need to be. If I need something I can get a local variety, and not have to worry about the electrical outlet and voltage business.

Food:
Plenty of fresh fruit, and not expensive by my standards. Not much cheaper than US, but sometimes you can get a deal, and generally prices run less than US. Lots of European products and US brand names in the grocery markets. Yogurt is hard for me to identify, and peanut butter is available, but if I can judge from the ingredient list I don't think it is up to the standards I'm used to in the US. I'm not buyin' it. Oh, well, I'll just eat other things. Eggs are nicely priced (about $.70 doz), and I think chicken is not too bad (whole is about $3.25 kilo). Salmon is well priced, but is still expensive - just maybe a little less expensive! Fresh fruit is the thing, along with some other produce. Oh, I actually found some raspberries from Watsonville in the grocery store. Our local fruit brand! And EXPENSIVE here! Probably twice US price. On the other hand, for local raspberries I paid 50 rubles ($1.75?) for about a pint and a half of garden rasberries. The stalls have them for 150 to 190 rubles for a kilo. I think a kilo is just about what I got from the babushkas who sold me the local ones.

Clothing:
In terms of clothing, the weather has not been what I expected, nor have the clothing styles matched my expectations. I packed a few pairs of chino-like pants, since in my experience they fit in everywhere. Men wear lots of dark clothes, pants, suits, and even shirts. Not exactly tasteful or stylish by American standards, but it is also not particularly unstylish. Generally, the range of clothing in Moscow is very similar to an American city. A little less branding, the suits are a slight bit different, the colors, as I said, are different (but then, look at Boston). The textures of the cloth are slightly different. But all in all, Moscow could be an American city, and feels as much American as European. I do say that I felt a greater cultural difference in the clothing when I was in Dublin than here in Moscow. Can't say if that is still true - it was a long time ago that I was in Dublin. But that is how I call it.

As for buying clothing and woven material goods, there seems to be plenty of choice here. I think that reports from even 5-10 years ago are seriously dated. That is not to say that everything you could find in the US is here. It's not, but neither do towels, blue jeans, or plain white work shirts seem rare or valuable as they are often purported to be.

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