The Peculiar Charm of Russian Service

Some people may argue that service does not have a nationality. However, it is not entirely true. Similar to any other peculiarity of behaviour that is characteristic to a certain group of people, bearing the same identity or a background, service can be coloured in exactly the same palette as a flag. I may very justifiably assure you, that Russian people stand very prominently in this one.

Once Upon a Time…

Here we should start with my favourite part – the pre-history. It is important to know that in the former USSR there was a high deficiency of any kinds of products: groceries, clothes, furniture, etc. Anything was difficult to get. Sometimes people were standing in the long queue for hours, in hope to get cheese for a Christmas table, or a cake… guess for what? But the queues were long, and the amount of products was limited. So, when you finally approached the cashier, you had to buy whatever was left. Let’s say, in the best case it was sausages, or… a can of pickles. Nice, isn’t it?

Customer is always wrong!

Needless to say that shopmen and cashiers were feeling themselves absolute Gods there. Becoming a sales assistant was no less prestigious then joining the Olympus, and their uniform was as beautiful as a crown of laurel. Working in the shop, you had the prerogative to buy whatever there was before presenting it to the customers. Thus, believe it or not, it was a customer who was trying to please a shopman, not the other way round, and it was a shopman who was doing a favour by selling the goods.

As a result, most of the shopmen were behaving like selfish little bastards, taking all the worthy things to themselves, and making poor customers pray, sweet-talk, beg and fall on their knees to get the crap that was left. Therefore, there were no amiable smiles and exchanges of politeness. At least, not from the both sides.

Back to the Present

The time has changed, and, thanks to the fall of the Communism, people do not have this horrible situation anymore. However, old habits die hard, and if you go to any Russian shop you will understand what I mean. Despite the excessive amount of products on the shelves, most of it going to the garbage by the end of the day, and incredibly low salaries, people behind the cashier still think they are the stars of the Universe.  Russian customer service is still unwelcome, unfriendly and impolite. Losing all the privileges doesn’t make somebody happy, you see… But, this is not the circumstances that matter now. This is the bloody mentality. It does not mean that Russian people are like that in their daily life. Not at all! It’s just… life is a bitch. By the end of the schedule they can take you to the nearest bar, drink endless shots of vodka, talk about life and be the nicest people ever. Not at work. Ever!

Russian Service Abroad

While the character of Russian to Russian communication became quite clear in the course of the previous paragraphs, I have to draw an important exception. Living abroad usually makes us adapt to the social behaviour and habits of the cultural environment. Most of the Russians living in the UK know that they will not sell anything in this country without a smile and a polite “How are you?” in between the beeps of the cashier. They have learned how to be nice and welcome, and almost fully integrated to the society. But, surprisingly, as soon as their ear catches bits and pieces of a familiar tongue, the spell is broken, the smile magically disappear from their faces, cheek muscles relax, and brows come together. “It’s our man,” they think, “No need to pretend.

All this would be so damn funny, if it wasn’t so sad. I honestly think that this is the feature of the mentality one needs to get rid of.

If this article caught your attention, I would like to know your opinion on the following points:

  • Did you happen to notice the same kind of attitude?
  • Have you ever witnessed any other national-coloured services and/or behaviours in your daily life?


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3 Responses to “The Peculiar Charm of Russian Service”
  1. It happens to me all the time. Big shopping malls or supermarkets are no exception. The sales assistants behave like you owe them for their talking to you and selling things to you. It makes me so mad.

  2. International business speeds up the process of getting rid of soviet sales habbits. Sure not in every part of Russia yet, but if you visit a modern shopping mall, you feel exactly as in Western Europe. I see two reasons for that.

    First, young shop assistants were born after the collaps of USSR. Interestingly that it is quite common idea amoung many international companies that have offices in Russia to hire young employees for the reason that they were not exposed to sovies-style services or business practices.

    Second reason is that international brands or modern-minded companies put much effort into building a strong corporate culture of serving customers. They know there is no shortage of anything and an unhappy customer will find another shop very easily. Well, I guess it is not applied to a local bakery yet. But still you find lots of small businesses that are run by young people and have wonderful service.

    So, one day the lady from the top picture will be gone and there is a task for business to make sure she does not pass her legacy to those who come after her to serve us.

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