The traditional Russian shop or продукты (pra-duke-tee) carries an assortment of goods, all of which are safe-guarded behind a counter or in semi-locked cases. This means that in order to buy anything, you have to know how to ask for it. In other words it requires communication in Russian.
While I spent the first year in Moscow often avoiding these shops, I now live in an area that has one "Western style" grocery and many, many more small shops. Sometimes the shops are specialized, for example they carry only soaps, detergents and things. Sometimes the shops take the form of a vegetable and fruit stand. And sometimes they look a lot like a regular old American convenience store, only with the majority of goods behind the counter. Needless to say, there is a great opportunity to practice some Russian and force myself to step out of my comfort zone. I have made the resolution to stop in a produkty at least once a day to ask for something - whether it's something I need, like toilet paper, or something I want, like chips.
So far I have had a week of produkty adventures. Most of them going quite normally, but three of them teaching me something or becoming more than a simple exchange of:
"May I have some sour cream and onion chips?"
"That will be 35 rubles."
My resolution began the night I decided I needed bug spray to keep from getting eaten by mosquitoes. While I could have gone to the large "Wal-Mart" style supermarket, I chose to stop by the small store that carries household items. Before going inside, I texted Victor for the Russian word for mosquito. Комар (Kamar). I went into the shop and asked if they had Kamar Spray (the word for spray is the same). I also gestured, just in case my pronunciation was off. The man told me yes, and pointed out "Off" -- Then, just to make sure he understood what the issue was and to see if there was anything different to try, I tried to say "for my apartment" ... but ended up gesturing and just saying квартира (kvartira, which means apartment). He then nodded his head, and said something like they come out at night and bite you? I said yes, and he showed me "Off" and also suggested that I could try some tablets. The tablet idea confused me so, I just ended up with "Off." The first serious case of produkty shopping successfully completed.
After picking up "Off", I felt quite confident. As I was thinking about my dinner, I decided I needed an onion. Again, it was more convenient to stop by a vegetable stand then to go to the large supermarket. So, I sallied my way up to the stand ... looked at the different onions offered and then asked for two white onions. I later realized that I made what many Russians would consider a fatal mistake. I didn't ask if they were fresh, but I lucked out ... this time. The woman in the stand weighed the onions and said what I heard as the equivalent of "eighte..." With the traffic and my short attention span when it comes to listening to another language, I didn't catch much more. I asked her to repeat, but heard the same, so I assumed she said "eighty", which in Russian is восемьдесят (vosyem'deeset). I had a 1,000 ruble bill and three 10 ruble bills. So, I handed her the thousand with a questioning look to see if she would accept it. At first, she looked like she was going to, and then she looked again at the money I had ... and asked me if I had smaller bills. I was confused, so I took out the three 10s and showed them to her. She took two 10s, and all the sudden it dawned on me, she had asked for eighTEEN, not eighty! So, I said, "OOOhhh! восемьНАдят не восемьДЕсят (vosyem'NAdset nee vosyem'DEEset)." She just laughed and gave me my two rubles change.
Since I first arrived in Russia, I have learned many words meaning to-go, there, over there, etc., but until the other day at the produkty, I only knew one word that meant here. How did I learn it? The hard, humiliating way that language comes sometimes.
On the second day of my resolution, I decided I wanted ice cream. So, I walked into a shop and looked at the ice cream selection, it looked like I might be able to grab it myself, but rather than take the easy way out and try to open the case, I asked the shop assistant if I could. She told me to go ahead and then told me to make sure it was completely closed. Then, I tried to figure out where I could pay for the ice cream. There were two shop assistants, but it looked like only one place to pay. I tried to gesture what my confusion was, and she understood and said, "Сюда (soo-dah)." This did not clarify my confusion, I thought she meant "here" but on my way over, my brain started thinking. I knew a word that sounded similar to сюда, but it meant the opposite of here. Finally, she said "Сюда!" emphatically enough, that I understood she wanted to take my money. I had learned a new word! I quickly recovered from the confusion and embarrassment, which would have stunned me in a classroom and asked, "7 rubles?" ... She told me no, that's for the "white" ice cream, and mine was pistachio ... "15 rubles." Overall, it was a good trip, I learned a word and got some great ice cream.
Week one of produkty shopping down.