Finnish and Russian cultures meet in lines at the cash register
Soviet-style queueing is annoying in hypermarkets favoured by Russian tourists
Nobody stops to stare when once again a Russian bus deposits its passengers in the centre of Lappeenranta.
This is an unspoken fact of life, as almost a million Russian tourists visit the city every year.
The Russians are familiar guests around here, and their buying power is welcome.
However, there is one surprising place where the two cultures can still clash: in the cash register queue at a hypermarket.
”One individual reserves a place in the queue, and when he or she gets to the cash register, many other people may automagically appear there with their trolleys”, describes Taina Villa, the head of cash services at Lappeenranta’s Prisma store.
According to Villa, now and then someone wants to pick at the Russians’ queueing habits.
The tourist shoppers who are not familiar with the local customs tend to reserve places in queues, while the Russians’ smaller sense of personal space may annoy some Finns, and at the tax-free point, a queue may turn into a noisy crowd.
These encounters do not come as a surprise to translator Jukka Mallinen, who has long been living in the Soviet Union and Russia.
”Finns have an awfully disciplined way of queueing”, Mallinen says. ”The Russians’ queueing ethic was largely developed during the Soviet era”, he continues.
In Russia, queueing has been necessary because of the large crowds of people, shortages of goods, and the bureaucracy that dates back to the Russian Empire ruled by the czars.
The habit has been turned into a virtue: while waiting their turn, people do not sulk but turn around to talk to each other.
Particularly in the Soviet era, it was customary to reserve a place in a queue. The most experienced individuals reserved places in several queues, and yet they managed to handle all their matters efficiently.
Even Russians do not tolerate queue-jumping. However, the gift of the gab could help, as using a real or invented reason in order to pass the person in front of you can succeed in Russia more easily than in Finland.
Eilina Gusatinsky, Editor-in-Chief of the Russian magazine Spektr, cannot get inspired to draw a difference between the Finnish and Russian ways of queueing.
”It depends entirely on one’s upbringing, not on nationality”, Gusatinsky argues.
Nevertheless, unlike in Finland, queueing is part of the culture in Russia. The theme is found even in the Russian classics.
Nikolai Gogol’s short stories tell about people sitting in the waiting rooms of government offices. Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita describes an unruly queue, ”a kilometre-long snake”, for a black magic show.
In Vladimir Sorokin’s novel The Queue, coincidentally translated into Finnish by Jukka Mallinen, the reason for several days’ chaotic queueing eventually remains a mystery.
And since it is Russia, there is an endless number of anecdotes and jokes about the theme.
What is a hundred metres long and eats cabbage?
A queue in front of a butcher’s shop.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Proposal for traffic signs in Russian sparks anger in Lappeenranta (14.6.2010)
Russians bring revenue to Eastern Finland - but also arouse suspicions (27.5.2011)
Visa-free travel between EU and Russia would lead to rush of Russian tourists to Finland (24.5.2011)
Tourism from Russia increases tax-free sales in southeastern city of Lappeenranta (22.6.2010)
Pasi Nurkka knows what Russian customers want (26.10.2010)
Record number of Russian tourists this year (12.11.2008)
Surge in property buying by Russian citizens in Saimaa region (15.1.2008)