Visiting a Russian Grocery Store: A Test of Endurance and the Will to Survive

Auchan is a French retailer that has claimed a stake in several European markets. In Moscow, you can find everything from 7/11-style markets to massive Walmart-style emporiums. If you happen to get a visa and see Moscow, see Lenin’s tomb. He’s been so thoroughly preserved that he’s the color of Cheetos. But, like Anthony Bourdain does in every episode, he goes to the local market. And for a large majority of Moscovites, that is the Auchan.

When you enter a Moscow Auchan, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer size and scope of everything. It’s dazzling and disorienting. Auchan’s color scheme is a delightfully garish combination of bright yellow with stripes of red. Absolutely nothing is in English. And, by far the most shocking thing is that no one stops to stare at is the fact that there’s several aisles of vodka bottles that are as big as your face.

In fact, a whole wing of Auchan is devoted to alcohol. This isn’t your usual mixed aisle of whiskey, vodka, tequila and a few mixers that you see in grocery stores in states. Instead, there is nothing but vodka for as far as the eye can see. And not your college freshman’s Smirnoff. A good majority of this aisle is devoted to what pretentious folks call “the good stuff”. It’s the kind of liquor that makes Grey Goose taste like paint thinner.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the most shocking thing in the liquor wing of Auchan. Instead, it’s the sad little-costumed teenager at his beer brewing booth. You can get a plastic bottle filled with Auchan’s finest, watery-est brew for just kopeks on the rubel.

Etiquette is important when embarking on an Auchan trip. Auchan etiquette can best be described by the phrase, “It’s every man for himself”. If you are in the way of a kindly looking babushka, she will have no problem knocking your butt to the ground. Also, you are allowed to abandon your cart. It is assumed that no other customers will rummage through or move your stuff.

The next must-see is the massive tubs of vegetables. In the US, a poor high-schooler has to spend their shift carefully arranging and stacking picturesque peppers. You will get no such coddling in Moscow. Instead, they have a series of huge, dirty cardboard boxes on pallets that are filled with misshapen vegetables. A fair amount of them will still have dirt and worms. But that’s okay because it proves that it’s fresh. At least, that’s what you have to tell yourself.

Visiting Auchan is a cultural experience. You might be lucky and only have a 30-minute experience. But, like many others, you will have years taken off your life due to the sheer stress and confusion.

Upon returning to your hotel, it’s best to look at propaganda photos on President Putin riding a horse shirtless or hanging out with fuzzy animals. It’s the only thing that can truly bring you back to life.


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