looking back: the American and the Soviet century


The opening of McDonald’s on Moscow’s Pushkin Square in 1990 was a sensation. The Moscovites who were used to standing in line for an entire day to buy anything from cakes and school notebooks to vodka, cars or toilet paper, were quite happy to spend hours in an unmoving queue just to be there when the Soviet Union’s first fast-food restaurant opened its doors to the public. Consumerism, it seemed, had triumphed over communism. But it was not so much the taste of hamburgers and cola that drew in the people. It was something else they wanted to see: a service culture in which the guest was not treated as a pesky visitor or even enemy, but who had to be wooed as a customer. It suddenly became clear that a business would only flourish if customers got their money’s worth. Things had to happen fast, and friendliness was included in the price. The question in these late Soviet times was whether, under the rush of the crowds and the pressures of everyday Soviet life, the staff would be able to maintain the standards they proclaimed at the outset.

more from Karl Schlögel at Sign and Sight here.