Long before Lyft and Uber or even smart phones Russians have enjoyed an informal taxi service whereby passengers wave at traffic and regular folks swerve over to the sidewalk, negotiate a price, and take you where you want to go. The accommodations are not usually very nice, but at least the driver smells like vodka, not always the case with the official taxis. Just like with Uber, the cab companies hate this arrangement and informal taxis are actually against the law. This law, like so many others in Russia, however, is rarely enforced. Such as extrajudicial killings.
Anyway, one day I was going to Peterhof, a palace built by Peter the Great to be the Russian Versailles. It’s a wonderful place to see: a castle with golden statues in a cascading fountain leading to the Finish Gulf. Because St. Petersburg is surrounded and woven with water the city’s underground railway (metro) is not as extensive as the one in Moscow. I took the train to the Baltiskaya metro station and then decided to take one of the informal cabs instead of the train the rest of the way.
One downside to the informal taxis is that change is not made; without it you will round up to the nearest bill you have. Before grabbing a cab I realized the only bills I had were large—100 rubles when the cost of the ride would only by 30 or 40. Like any American would I went to the nearest store to get change. There is a nasty rumor that Russians are terrible at customer service. Whoever said that must have been speaking from experience. Here’s what happened.
I found a convenience store and asked the clerk if she would make change.
“You have to buy something,” she replied.
Still an American I did what any American would do and looked around the counter for the cheapest thing available. I’m sure the world over the cheapest thing at a convenience store counter will be a single piece of gum or candy and this store was no different. I handed a piece of candy to the clerk. She punched the cash register and said, “One ruble.” I handed her my 100-ruble note. She looked at the bill, then she looked at me and asked, “Do you have anything smaller?”
If you enjoyed this essay please forward it to a friend and share on Facebook. If you want to keep reading please try my novels: