“Don’t You Know What’s Going On?”

Spoiled by grocery delivery services, I am rarely in supermarkets these days and don’t see all of life’s nitty-gritty.

Today I went into the Dixie [a Russian discount supermarket chain] near my house. Everything seemed pretty normal. I went along the shelves, but I really like buckwheat groats [a staple cereal grain in Russia] and wanted to buy some, and there was no buckwheat. I didn’t need sugar but when I saw there was no buckwheat I looked at the sugar shelf — no sugar. Also there were no Always pads, and I needed some. Probably there was lots of other stuff missing too, but I didn’t have time to make a thorough study. I put some of what was there into my basket and got into line for the register. I never remember prices, alas, so I didn’t particularly notice whether anything had gotten more expensive over the last month. But this would be cleared up shortly.

A woman and her friend come running into the store, right up to the register, and she starts complaining loudly that she bought ketchup for 146 rubles [$1.33 today (3/15/22) — trans.] as per the shelf tag, but at the register they charged her 194 rubles [$1.77], which she only noticed when she got home and checked the receipt.

“Why would I want ketchup for 194 rubles! You have to sell it for the price that’s written on the tag. Give me my 48 rubles back!”

“We’re not giving you anything back: our prices don’t match the shelf tags. You can return the ketchup and we’ll give you your money back.”

“What do you mean, the prices don’t match? You are obliged to show them!”

“On your website it still says that ketchup costs 146 rubles,” the woman’s friend interjects.

“The prices are changing every other day here, you think we’re going to go around pasting up the new ones all the time?! Don’t you know what’s going on?” screams the cash register lady.

“We’re not the ones setting the prices. They change by themselves in the system. They don’t even send us shelf tags: we just scan everything here at the register!” adds another cashier supportively.

“Why is the store management suddenly changing the prices?” I ask.

The line, the cashiers, and the woman with her friend all look at me with stern incomprehension and even an element of disapproval.

“What, you don’t know,” someone mutters angrily, and everyone again looks away, down at the floor or at the checkout conveyer belt.

Everyone knits their brows in silence. The older cashier quietly tells the younger one how to do a return, take cash and calculate the correct change, because many people’s bank cards aren’t working.

No one says out loud that President Putin is waging war in Ukraine or that “NATO-the Americans-who knows who” is to blame. No one discusses why the prices are higher and why there’s no buckwheat. No one says anything at all and everyone looks at the floor.

Only the man who was standing behind me went back to the shelves and grabbed a third bottle of vodka.

Source: Alexandra Polivanova, Facebook, 14 March 2022. Translated by the Fabulous AM with the author’s permission. Photo by the author

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