Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Plug In, Fill Up, Turn Off

Although Christmas was kind of crappy this year (actually non-existent), and New Year was just another day with the added exception that I was sick with a head cold, I immensely enjoyed the 10 days off, doing nothing. Katya and I watched a lot of Amazing Race and Hell's Kitchen (I have turned her into a reality-TV junky. Best of all, she watches them in English). I visited a Russian banya for the first time, and resolved to never do that again.

Going back to work in Monday was exceptionally painful, and it immediately put me into a foul mood. As I resumed my normal schedule, I thought about the end of the day and the 2 hours of travel just to get home. It is a routine I call "Plug in, fill up, switch off". Basically it involves finding a seat and plugging in to my ipod, then, once that is accomplished, filling my stomach with a schwarma or whatever food I found, and when I have completed that task I go to sleep until I reach my stop.

The problem with finding food to eat is that there is so much crap in Moscow and, even worse, shitty customer service. I can even put up with bad food if the service was exceptionally good, but I can't tolerate bad food AND bad service. It seems to me that Russians just don't understand how a free market works. I do, and I continue to crusade against bad businesses by not giving them a kopeck of my money, and by remaining a loyal, paying customer to those businesses who make the grade.

To keep organized, I've compiled a little list of businesses that pass or fail. This is by no means comprehensive (duh).

Burger King: FAIL

I have only visited the Burger King location at Metropolis shopping center at Voykovskaya, and on both occasions I went there I left not only disappointed but filled with anger (a the wrong emotion to instill in one's customers). The people at the serving counter were so completely rude, even demanding exact change like some babushka at a produkty. I watched as the staff clawed over each other to be the first to grab fries or burgers that had come up as if they were on the metro at rush hour, instead of working together as a team. My fries were soggy and my whopper had been sitting under a heat lamp for hours, and both times I went the cashiers treated me with such contempt that I resolved to never eat at any Burger King in the world again.

Every Produkty in the Moscow Oblast: FAIL

These stores make absolutely no sense to me. Go to one counter for your bread, pay. Go to the counter next to that for your milk and cheese. pay. Go the counter across from that one for your meat and pay. Go to another counter for a beer and pay. Why? Why not one counter?!? This isn't rocket science!!!

It has been explained to me that this is because several owners operate the different counters, and being Russian they don't trust each other with division of the profits if there was only one cash. As a consumer that isn't my problem. It's theirs. Adding to the difficulty in picking up a few items for the house is the incredibly bitchy and rude customer service that is encountered at every produkty in this country. Exact change is always demanded, and I've even been refused service for not having 20 kopecks. I resolved to never spend a rouble at any produkty again.

Hesburger: PASS

This fast-food burger chain from Finland has become my favourite fast-food joint in Moscow. They are dotted all over the city but I find the quality and service is fairly consistent. The customer service is outstanding, especially for Moscow, showing that Hesburger is committed to training their managers and supervisors correctly (unlike Burger King). The food is also fantastic, and I love their menu. The Mega Burger and the Hess Burger are two of the best fast-food burgers I've ever tried. The restaurants are kept in good, clean order and, best of all, the prices are cheap and fantastic! I continue to be a loyal Hesburger customer!

Moscow Oblast DPS (Traffic Police): PASS

Despite rampant corruption, racism, incompetence and thuggery, the DPS earns a pass mark from me for several reasons. First, they have been cracking down on unlicensed drivers throughout the oblast over the past month, resulting in nearly 6,000 arrests and 12,000 fines and making Moscow drivers a little bit more afraid of the law (which is a good thing in this lawless land). The DPS has always fought very hard against drinking and driving, and most drivers in the region don't dare get wasted first and then go cruising around Moscow. Finally, and I saw this one with my own eyes, two little girls wearing backpacks and obviously coming home from school exited a bus and tried to cross the street at a crosswalk, where who I assumed was their mother was waiting. Traffic, however, wouldn't allow either the girls or the mother to cross, as the drivers were ignoring the lights and simply driving through (including my bus driver).

One of the girls was crying, but just then a DPS car turned on his lights and pulled up to the two girls. One cop got out of his car and walked into the middle of traffic and brought everything to a halt, while the other cop took the girls by their hands and calmly walked them across to their mother. Then both cops got back into their car and drove off into the sunset, a display of humanity and generosity I have never seen in a police force, not even in Canada. Kudos to the DPS (for now).

That's my list of compliments and complaints for today. I'm sure I'll think of more on the elektrishka tonight when I plug in, fill up and turn off.