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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In the Capital, A Foreigner Is King No More

I call it the Russification of Moscowville. There was a time when a foreigner, with his pocketful of hard currency, was the ultimate Moscow consumer. In the predatorial world of marketing, the foreigner was at the top of the food chain.


In order to serve Moscowville's needs, cashiers spoke foreign languages, signs were posted in foreign languages, advertising was often only in English and sales were in foreign currency.


This is how it was before the coming of the well-to-do Russian. With his abundant cash and free-spending lifestyle, he has evolved into the most advanced species of consumer inhabiting Russia's capital.


Get used to it, residents of Moscowville, these days you are viewed as the tightfisted foreigner. You are the poor shopper who checks prices, comparison shops and asks awkward questions about such things as guarantees. How annoying you can be!


The good news is that the number of stores, restaurants, cleaners, delivery services and bars has exploded in Moscow.


The bad news is they were not opened specifically for residents of Moscowville. Shopping for a top-of-the-line television set in Moscow now has all the charm of buying a matryoshka doll at Izmailovsky Park.


So don't get in a huff when a store doesn't accept credit cards. You'll only get blank stares -- these stores do a cash business, the preferred form of settlement for Russian clientele. You are in their world now.


I felt this estrangement myself most recently while shopping for a microwave oven. I found the largest selection at the Samsung store on Leninsky Prospekt. I pushed and elbowed my way to the display of microwaves and savored the variety, which topped any of the traditional foreigner-only stores. While I contemplated whether to spend the extra $50 for a browning element, a Russian woman was putting questions to a salesman as though he were a political dissident in Lyubyanka.


I listened in and to my amusement, it was clear that, though she was determined to buy a microwave oven, she had no idea how they were used.


"Come on," a man beside her said impatiently. "Just pick the best one and let's get out of here."


She bought the top of the line. It cost $750. Her companion paid cash.


Meanwhile, I had settled on a $250 model, but as the store did not take credit cards I left empty-handed. Is it any wonder no one got particularly excited when I entered the store?


Similarly, the entire spectrum of Moscowville's services are becoming Russified. Call a foreign air carrier and odds are they will answer the telephone in Russian. Try to buy goods at your favorite grocery store and, as required by law, they only accept rubles. Book a tourist package out of Moscow and your companions will almost certainly be Russian.


To be sure, many stores and services still value their foreign clientele. But the most ambitious are broadening their businesses to service these rich Russians. The market is maturing, as well it should.


For Moscowvillians comes one additional benefit: The days have finally passed when a foreigner must feel like a colonialist sneaking out of Stockmann carrying bags bulging with groceries.


I, for one, am much more comfortable as the tightfisted consumer than the mythically rich foreigner. Aren't you?