Jan 302008

Dan Harris at the China Law Blog has a post today wondering whether in some countries, like China or Papua New Guinea, you are treated better if you are a foreigner, citing certain examples that would suggest the answer is yes.

Reading it reminded me of the first time I went to Russia, back when the Russian ruble was still a completely soft, overly-regulated currency few non-Russians would ever want to trade in, which I posted about in the comments:

[The situation described] reminds me of Russia in the early 1990s when there were “hard currency shops.” These shops were always brightly-lit and fully stocked with European-imported goods – a far cry from the regular, grim Russian shops whose own stock reflected, in both paucity and quality, the not-yet-loosened Communist economy.

My host family once took me to one of the hard currency shops (in St. Petersberg, at the Hotel Pribaltiskya, I believe), and the only reason they could get in was because they were with me, and I had a US Passport. Otherwise they were banished like all the other dollar-less Russians to the regular grocery store, which in April 1992 I remember was stocked with piles of cucumbers, piles of potatoes, some scary looking meat patties, tins of apricot juice, and that’s about it…

Interestingly, though, by that time Pepsi had started being sold in Russia. In the regular grocery store you could spend 12 rubles for a glass bottle with “Pepsi” printed on the label in Cyrillic. At that time 12 rubles = 12 cents (although still a fortune to a local). Whereas the hard currency shops sold European-imported cans of Pepsi for a dollar, which even in 1992 was expensive by anyone’s standards. I bought one just for the hell of it anyway, so we could take a “Pepsi Challenge” against the one from the regular store. If memory serves, the Russian one was actually better…

As it turns out a friend of mine is at this very moment traveling in Russia. Guess I should have asked her to report back on how the soda tastes…

 Posted by at 1:23 pm

  2 Responses to “Pepsi challenge”

  1. The last time I was in Russia, I was held by the police until 2 am for not having a visa to be in Vladivostok — yes the city. The next morning (actually the same morning) I flew to Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky and our plane was diverted to Magadan due to bad weather. The airline just basically told us to get off the plane and I ended up staying in Hotel #4 at the airport, which had no heat (like the rest of the city). It was January. The next morning, I took a plane to Moscow, spent a night there and then flew to New York and then home. My conclusion: It really sucks being a foreigner in the Russian Far East; It ain’t 1990 in Russia no more.

  2. A visa for Vladivostok??? I don’t know how visas were handled for that first trip because I went with my high school, who took care of it. For my other trips when I backpacked in (during summers of 1995 and 1996) I had sent away for them from a place in Washington. Those moments on the train at the border as they were inspected always felt very fraught but it turns out that the Finnish customs officers were generally more daunting than the Russian border agents.
    Nonetheless, hope my roommate makes it back ok…

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