Doing (the) Business in Moscow

As someone who had to start their own business 20 years ago to avoid being unemployed, it always fascinates me what people will do to make a living, especially when you get out of the comfort of the “western” world where it is more common for people to cry off to the dole office to avoid having to do something that they might consider below themselves or too much like hard work.

Here in Moscow the city is littered with people making a living in some of the harshest conditions imaginable, doing some of the most inane, boring things, sitting in a small box or tent like structure exposed to the elements in all weather conditions.   There are a lot of little convenience type stores which are nothing more than about a 3m x 3m container with a glass front and side and a small sliding window to the street.  The windows are covered in an assortment of goods, from chocolate bars, drinks, fruit, baked goods, toys and magazines which they sell often un-sticking the item from the window to give you when you buy it (obviously the busier the stall the more chance you won’t get the display item….).  Other types of stalls include tent like structures selling magazines, fruit or clothing among other things and then there are the little stands which are no more than a rack of shelves or something similar on a footpath outside a Metro or in an underpass with some old Babushka hawking off various odds and ends.   Once you hit the underpasses and Metro entrances, you then hit the rows of small shops basically similar to the containerised convenience stores, just in a more permanent structure, where you can buy an even wider range of goods including underwear, clothing, souvenirs, etc.   Through the Summer and Autumn you will also find the streets full of street-side Watermelon stands, where a large wire crate is deposited beside the footpath in a strategic location and filled with hundreds, maybe even thousands of huge watermelons and then some poor bugger sits there all day, every day selling melons until his crate is empty (there are about 300 or more such crates permitted throughout Moscow in the melon season).   What fascinates me the most with these small businesses is the hours that these people work, they seem to be there all day and generally till about 10:00pm at night some of them.   When it comes to winter and it starts snowing they don’t cry off for foul weather they rug up and carry on, I guess when there is no plan B (government support), you have no option but to work rain, hail or snow to put food on the table.

Now the business that really takes the cake for me here is the business related to doing “the business”.   All around Moscow you will find little collections of 3-4 port-a-loos, some just regulation colour port-a-loos and some gaily decorated port-a-loos.   At each location there is one loo converted into an office for the facility “manager”, while the other loos are available to rent for 25 – 30 roubles (about $1).   Today we had the need to check out one of these facilities first hand as Molly developed a crook gut as we headed to Izmailovo Kremlin to do some more Christmas Shopping.  After exiting the metro and making our way to the Kremlin, she let us know that she need to go to the loo and pretty urgently.  Luckily there was a mall handy so we went in there, up to the third floor and got her sorted, bythe time we got back down to the ground floor again, she needed to go again, so up to floor 3 again to use their loo again.   We decided that I would take her back home while the others carried on as planned, so we turned around and walked the 3 minutes back to the station, by which time she was saying that she needed to go again and that we would have to use one of the Port-a-Loos as she wouldn’t make it back to the mall.   She took her place in the line and shortly got her Loo.   Upon coming out she said that it soon fixed her problem, she was scared to sit down on the seat and there was no where to wash her hands, so we headed into the Metro on our train and back home as quick as we could, where she promptly ran inside and washed her hands.

Public loos, Moscow style

Public toilets around here can be pretty horrible, as I also discovered once early on in our time here, when I was coming back from town and needed to go urgently.  I came out of our Metro and into the park, where I knew that there was a toilet facility underground near the entry.  I headed down the stairs with that felling of relief you get when you know the toilet is near and you can start loosening your grip only to find that they were the most disgusting squat type toilets I had ever seen with not a scrap of paper in a single cubicle.  Whoops, so with even more determination now we were off through the park as fast as I could comfortably walk, to the mall in our neighbourhood, where I had seen the toilet while walking around.   Again as we neared, I shot off to the loo, only to find that while they were sit down loos and marginally cleaner the only paper I could find were the scraps on some rolls in the rubbish bin, too bad, “when you gotta go you gotta go….”   Needless to say after that experience we made sure we had a roll of loo paper in our bag wherever we went, just in case.

To see another expats experiences with loos here in Moscow check out the English Dad in Moscow Blog

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Tony Fitzpatrick
Architect, Dad, Traveller & Head Rover at Around Rock 3
After a brief flirtation with Japan in the early '90's, and some occasional trips to Australia since, I have had an unrequited love affair with Japan and general desire to explore the world for the next 20 years while reality prevailed and I found myself pretty much stuck in my home country of New Zealand (not that is an entirely bad thing...).After a chance opportunity arose in mid 2012 to relocate our family to Moscow, Russian Federation I finally set off on my OE with my family in tow. It has been an amazing journey that has seen us experience life in Russia, Japan and now Finland, as well as visiting around a dozen countries so far in our adventure to date.While my family situation has changed along the way, I am continuing to explore the world with my tri-lingual son and enjoy sharing the adventures we have had with my followers.

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