First exhibition day in Moscow: after a Pythonesque interlude when our stand was occupied by a squad of workmen wanting to add extra letters to our company name on the fascia, we are ready to go! I am pleasantly surprised by the quality of the show: stands both large and small are obviously designed with care and some attention to effective presentation – well up to so-called “Western” standards. The visitors too are mostly professional, many technically well prepared. Curiously, there are also elderly ladies with woolly hats and string bags, who go round collecting samples of any kind.
In the spare moments we can observe the latest Russian fashions: black leather jackets are all the rage for men, whilst women range from the miniskirted with very high heels (I wonder how they walk in the slush outside…) to the downright dumpy. Whilst I manage to pick up the basic Russian words: spasibo, zdrastujte, da, nyet, voda, pivo, vodka, I still have difficulty in interpreting the cyrillic signs. An interpreter is absolutely essential here as very few Russians appear to speak any other language than their own, and even the business cards are only in cyrillic! Fortunately Tanya, our interpreter, is an efficient, dynamic lady who picks up the basics of our products quickly and we get a lot of visitors. I wonder how we will manage to pursue the contacts we are making here!
In the evening, the fair organisers have organised an reception for the exhibitors. It is held in a former Imperial Army officers’ club not far from the exhibition. It has a large ballroom, very grand, all columns and chandeliers. Here I take part in a very strange buffet: there are a dozen lines of long tables, with everyone standing still, no milling about, no socialising apart with your immediate neighbours, and everyone just eating from what was placed in front. We found this all very odd and odder still that people glared at us if we helped ourselves with food from other tables! A major breach of Russian etiquette? Would we have been drummed out of the regiment in Imperial days? The questions remain unanswered, but being a roving gastronaut I have to sample the dishes: excellent sandwiches with smoked salmon, sturgeon and red caviar, assorted pickled vegetables, large mushroom vol-au-vents, little bread rolls stuffed with a spicy mincemeat, fresh fruit. The locals concentrated on the plentiful alcoholic offerings: rather than the horrible red Georgian wine, or an insipid French white vin de table on offer, the vodka was much nicer! Proceedings are enlivened by a Russian rock n’roll band that at last encourages the people to move away from the vodka and onto the dance floor!
Soon after we stroll back to the hotel passing through a small park. It is spring time, which here means above zero by day, but still well below freezing at night. The lake in the middle of the park is frozen solid, but some hardy souls have made a hole in the ice with some steps leading into the water, so as to “enjoy” an invigorating swim! Supposedly very tonic for the circulation. Methinks a gin and tonic works better…