travel tips ► SHOPPING IN SOVIET-STYLE STORES
Russia has been left with an interesting retail format from Soviet times. Although this is slowly disappearing, you can still see it in a wide variety of food and consumer product shops, especially in areas away from city centers or in provincial cities. First, all products are kept behind a counter. You can approach the counter and view the products from a distance of about 3 feet. Sometimes the products are clearly price-tagged, sometimes not, but this is not a problem because you can always ask for the help of the friendly sales attendant (usually a plump middle age woman in a funny paper cap and apron standing behind the counter. Be careful, though - she might not be that friendly after all.) Pick out the products that you'd like to buy, ask the lady for the prices (for non-Russian speakers they'll usually write it down, or whip out an enormous calculator and punch in the price for your digital-viewing pleasure), note which department they are in (yes, even in small stores, different counters are frequently different departments called "otdel," if unsure ask the counter lady which otdel you are looking at) and then remember all of this stuff and walk to the line in front of the cash register or kassa. When it's your turn to speak with the friendly cash register attendant, tell her the prices of each product that you would like to buy but remember to put them into order by department or otdel. So, you might say, 25 roubles, 54 roubles, 88 roubles otdel 1, 77 roubles otdel 3. The friendly attendant will then ring up your bill, you pay, she gives you a copy of the bill or receipt and you bring it over to the department in which the goods are located. You then hand the bill to the friendly counter attendant and tell her which products you are buying. She then collects them all for you and marks them off on the receipt or just takes the receipt from you. Most stores will not give you plastic bags for free so remember to ring them up at the cash register or bring your own.
One of the really annoying things is when you come across a store that has different cash registers for different departments. That means, you can only use the cash register at the fish department for buying things (like fish) in the fish department. This then requires another special dance (see public transportation dance). This is the "hold my place in line" dance. This dance works in the following way: pick out the various products from the different departments, get into a cash register line for your first department and then ask the person in front of you to hold your place in line, then go to another department and get into another line and ask the person in front of you there to hold your place in line, then go back to the original line and pay for the goods and get your cash register receipt, then go back to the second line and get your receipt from there, etc. I've stood in 4 lines at once!
Now, it is quite rare to do the "hold my place in line" dance (it was mainly done during Soviet times) but if you are lucky, you really may have the chance to try it out - especially if you are in a provincial city.