The North Star Project, Summer Report Number Eight, St. Petersburg, Russia — The Russian Walmart? By Marin Ekstrom St. Petersburg, Week #2

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The North Star Project, Summer Report Number Eight, St. Petersburg, Russia — The Russian Walmart? By Marin Ekstrom St. Petersburg, Week #2

Ever since my arrival in St. Petersburg, I have heard rave reviews of Lenta, a “Russian version of Wal-Mart” that allegedly stocks any random supplies that cannot be found around our immediate neighborhood. Therefore, my roommates and I planned out a weekend trip to Lenta. The journey turned out to a simultaneously enjoyable and bizarre experience that offered intriguing commentary on Russian stereotypes and Russia’s contemporary identity.

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We discovered that Lenta (which, by the way, translates as “ribbon”) is located in a neighborhood surrounded by Communist-era apartment buildings. We found this very amusing, as Lenta, with its wide parking lot and stacks of blue-and-yellow shopping carts, stands out in contrast as a corporate America-inspired hypermarket, a la Sam’s Club and Costco. Its advertisements even eerily resemble Wal-Mart, with identical colors and font used in its signs and overly enthusiastic people featured in promotion posters. The interior of the store offers further irony, as upon entering it, we all stood slack-jawed at the enormous amount and variety of goods available. Admittedly, Lenta is probably the same size, or slightly larger, than the average Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart supercenter in America. However, when fighting preconceived notions of Communist doctrine and chronic food and supply shortages, Lenta is a definite sign that we are not living in a Cold War-era perception of Russia.

After that brief moment of shock, our natural capitalist instincts kicked in (we are Americans, after all), and it was time to shop till we dropped! We scoured the aisles, marveling at the cheap prices, and ended up leaving the stores with huge bags of bakery baguettes, cornflakes, electric tea kettles, clothes hangers, packaged milk, wine, salsa (which is an elusive find in Russia), and a slew of other groceries and household supplies.

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Once we returned to our dorm and unpacked all of our stuff, my roommates and I shared our ideas on Lenta. We laughed at the fact that we just visited a Russian hypermarket, which we considered an oxymoron based on our stereotypes of the anti-capitalist “Soviet Russia.” However, it also made us realize that we can no longer judge Russia on those antiquated biases, as the country is not only much deeper and complex than those shallow impressions, but it is also carving out a new identity for itself as we speak. The “new Russia” is at a crossroads, in which it appears to be distancing itself from its Communist past, but has not defined a new identity either. There are some signs, i.e. Lenta, that give the impression that Russia is heading towards Western-inspired capitalism. However, other evidence, especially in the sphere of political and foreign affairs, tends to paint Russia in a different light. Is Russia part of the East, West, or is it a unique Eurasian empire? Is it authoritarian, or slowly moving towards greater democratization? Is it a BRIC superpower, or will its economic potential slump if oil prices go down? Is it capitalist or socialist? I don’t think that Russia can be defined in such black and white categories, and I think that it is impossible to predict what will happen. Nonetheless, peculiarities like Lenta remind me that I am in a “new Russia”, and I am appreciative to be able to explore the country in this exciting period of transition.
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For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see http://www2.css.edu/app/depts/HIS/historyjournal/index.cfm?cat=10

The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School, Dodge Middle School and other schools around the world to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see recent articles in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2014/embracing-oa-universities-adopt-open-access-policies-for-faculty-journal-publications

The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. We have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star Project students and teachers.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2013-present The Middle Ground Journal. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.

14 Comments

Filed under Marin Ekstrom, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

14 responses to “The North Star Project, Summer Report Number Eight, St. Petersburg, Russia — The Russian Walmart? By Marin Ekstrom St. Petersburg, Week #2

  1. Morgan Schmitz

    I think it is interesting the idea of a Russian supermarket. I believe it shows the human need for connivence. We do not want to run around to a million different places to do our shopping. We would much prefer to have it all in one location.

  2. Tayler

    With the amount of communication between various parts of the world it is not surprising that such similarities occur. What is odd is that even though we know this, we still think of foreign countries as exotic and unfamiliar. When I first met a friend from Germany I remember how surprised I was that they had a Taco Bell. Even throughout her stay questions people asked were targeted on the differences between her country and ours. While our differences make us unique, I think it is important to remember the similarities as well.

  3. Maddie Kust

    First, it was fascinating to read about your experience at Lenta. I am especially compelled by the fact that they have chosen to market themselves using the same font, colors and ad styles as Walmart. Second, I love that this experience transformed into a broader exploration of identity. It’s evident that the identity of Russia is layered and nuanced by its history, geographical location and global stereotypes… Identities are always evolving and your experiences and thoughts are certainly a testament to that.

  4. Austin

    All of the questions you asked were great because there isn’t a singular answer and they are very complex. The entire time I read the experience you had at Lenta reminded me of visiting Walmart in San Jose, Costa Rica. The entire store was fenced in and build much higher on a concrete base to avoid the flooding during the rainy season. At first I felt as if we were visiting a jail or going through security at the airport. They had guards all along the premises and you were questioned briefly and ID’ed before entering the parking lot. Even though none of our group spoke much Spanish we still could easily navigate around due to the layout being almost identical to every other Walmart in America! I guess its pretty tough to avoid the capitalistic Walmart or McDonalds anywhere you travel, even if its labeled a different name.

  5. Bri Curtis

    I feel that since we are so distant to other countries, we think they have entirely different ways of doing things, but in all reality, we are so similar! When we see something we like, we embrace and enhance it, and that’s what they have seem to have done. Since Walmart is such a high profitable and large corporation, they probably saw it as a wise investment! It’s amazing how similar completely different areas of the world are in all aspects (politics, economics, etc.)

  6. Maria O

    I personally find the Soviet Russia narrative extremely interesting. It has been over 20 years since it collapse, and Russia has changed radically since–and yet despite all the time that has passed, the narrative has not disappeared yet. It makes me wonder if it has persisted due to there not being enough time for it to dissipate yet, or if it is because the ‘West’s” propaganda campaign to create a negative image for Russia was that effective.

  7. That is fascinating how they have a store nearly the exact same as Walmart and I find it interesting how you use the term ‘new Russia’

  8. Steffanie

    This was really a really interesting perspective. I had thought of Russia in the stereotypical way that was described in the article. I would have never thought that they would have had a walmart type hypermarket. I think that maybe this could be a way of the country moving to more a more capitalized economy.

  9. The idea that there is still a developed countries that are so foreign and different from us in this world in 2014 is a concept I think that many Americans still like to believe. The truth is though, much like the lent, many of “our” stores, “our” food, and “our” culture can be found in other parts of the world, which is a fascinating part of globalization. One research question I have though is what company owns Lenta? It would be interesting to see if it’s the same company that owns Sam’s Club and Walmart here or if it is different company specific to Russia.

  10. You bring up intriguing questions at the very end of your report that should be addressed . I am not surprised that Russia didn’t fulfill every expectation you had but I would have never prior to your report think that a place like Lenta would exist. More so, Russia and the United States tend to be the opposite of one another. Your experience in the store is evident how unaware U.S citizens are when it comes to outside their borders. I enjoyed your story and hopefully this is a step forward in a positive direction of how similar the two countries are.

  11. Zhiyu Yang

    The perspective of the author’s observation is very creative and fresh. Talking about shopping in supermarkets is a very interesting way to talk about the unique experience in a foreign country. Just like food culture, the supermarket culture shock is also very powerful and thought-provoking.

  12. Katy Goerke

    Did this Russian Walmart come complete wierd Walmart people? Could you hold (and did you) sock sliding competitions down the isles? Or are these great bits of Americana not yet imported to this massive megaplex? My questions though random are trying to figure out whether the big box store phenomenon is universal reguardless of location, or if it becomes different things to different cultures.

  13. Miranda King

    It was cool to hear about the “Russian WalMart” which to me says that we all have similarities in needs around the world even though different places can have a vast amount of differences.

  14. Becca

    This was so interesting to read about! It’s funny how similar things in different countries can be. I wonder how similar these types of stores are in other parts of the world, but I’d imagine that they are fairly commonplace.

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