We bought some fruit from a road-side kiosk on the way to my in-laws for Sunday night dinner not long ago. August and September are melon season.
The sellers keep their Astrakhan watermelons caged up like wild green tigers. I love to watch them in action – our fruit dealer swaggered around the produce corral, rolling his beasts along with expert taps, and swinging them up on the scale to measure them. Then, in two swift movements he yanked a plastic yellow “Naik” bag off the wall, and tied up our three melons to go. He even brought them to the car for us! What service!
The giant fruit in the car trunk and friendly melon man waving out the window sparked our front-seat conversation. We talked about how yummy our first juicy, pink bites of the season would be, and how nice it was to have such considerate customer service. Economist husband said he was glad to have found such a friendly dealer, and that we would buy from him again. I started bragging about how I’d found the best fruit sellers in the neighborhood – they’re friendly, polite, and don’t cheat you!
Smirking a bit at my swaggering naivete, Economist husband told me that ALL fruit sellers in Moscow rip you off. Some worse than others. He said they always add on a few dozen rubles to the total price.
I’ve been cheated before, but it was still slightly shocking to hear such a confident assertion that ALL fruit vendors are swindlers. After several bad experiences getting expensive bags full of half-rotten fruit, I thought I had had a pretty good strategy. The best thing I’ve found is to ask for a bag, and fill it up myself, instead of letting someone sell me moldy grapes. I’ve seen lots of other Muscovites do it. I heard one old Russian man ask to fill his own bag at the fruit market a few weeks ago. The woman refused to let him do it, and he was like, “What, do you think I was born yesterday?” like it’s common sense to expect swindlers at every stand. And I guess it is.
But riding along with melons bumbling around the back of our car, we were pretty proud of ourselves for locating a good melon man. Our confidence and good will lasted for several hours. In fact, it lasted right up until we cracked open the green rind, and found our watermelons to be mealy, nasty, and oozing foul orange juice.
It bugs me that they cheat you! It’s bad enough to add money onto the total, but selling overpriced rotten fruit?
I started wondering if I should try carrying around a calculator to run up the numbers they calculate. I also mentally went through several scenarios where I coldly denounce fruit sellers to other customers, exposing their cheating ways, and ruining their businesses. Of course I won’t do any of this, but it still bugs me. Does anyone else have a better strategy? Surely there must be smiley AND honest fruit sellers out there somewhere!
*Photo from novaya.com (all in Russian) where Ukraine’s early азбуз season made the news…