I challenge you to a duel and spit on your receipt!

Grocery shopping may seem like a regular thing in a large city full of supermarkets, hypermarkets, mini-supermarkets and super mini-markets (I don’t know the difference between the last two, but they do exist in Moscow), until you hit the cash register and, after paying, the cashier removes the receipt from the machine, folds it in half, shreds it before your eyes and tosses it onto the counter just like a musketeer would do when throwing his white gauntlet at your feet demanding a duel…

It’s a shocking and unexplainable experience that you encounter in many cities throughout Russia, not just in Moscow.

Imagine you are going through a supermarket with your grocery cart and filling it up with all kinds of things you need and don’t need. You stand in line at the check-out counter, load your goodies onto the belt where they are scanned and you collect them at the end of the belt. You’re told the total cost and you pay either in cash or use a credit/debit card for your purchase. The cashier accepts your payment and the long receipt is spit out of the printer. Nothing so far out of the ordinary that any Westerner would become alarmed about. Then she suddenlty tears the receipt from the printer, looks at it…and then with a split-second flip of the wrist folds it in half, tears it, and tosses it on the counter and gives you “the eye” that you might not readily understand. You’ve been challenged to a duel? She’s publicly humiliated you? She scoffs at your idiotic purchases? Or she’s just had a bad day?

This has always puzzled me since I’ve lived in Russia and I decided to bring the subject up in a Facebook discussion among my coworkers and friends because what the cashier has done is basically “destroyed” my receipt. I paid for it, I should get it back in one piece!

I was told it was a leftover from the Soviet times and that’s just what they do. But wait a minute! That was 20 years ago! Those young cashiers weren’t evenĀ  born in the Soviet Union, they were born in a democratic Russia.

To make a long story short, one of my coworkers actually found the existing law with an amendment to Law Number 904 dated 1998 (that’s seven years after the fall of the USSR) that says and I quote: “Receipts are considered closed with the simultaneous release of goods (rendering of services) and the use of a stamp or tearing [the receipt] in a specified location.” As it turns out, if the cashier doesn’t do this, he or she faces a large fine for not completing the transaction. I so far haven’t found the “specified location” of where the receipt is to be torn.

Discussions wtih my friends on Facebook went on for hours. No one could adequately answer my question of WHY is this done.

First, if I’m given a receipt, that means I’ve paid my money and this is my “proof of purchase.” I don’t think they would give me the receipt, let alone the products, if I hadn’t paid. Logical?

Second, if I have a receipt, shredded or unshredded, and I return to the store to grab something I perhaps forgot to buy, then anyone can compare my receipt with the contents of my bag to verify that I haven’t stolen anything extra.

Third, why has one party (the cashier) unilaterally destroyed my “sales purchase contract?”

Fourth, in the Soviet Union and in the mid-1990s many stores only had one cashier for the whole store but the shopping procedure was different. You first went to all the departments and found your item, jotted down the name and price of the item, had your vegetables and meat weighed with a total price given to you, and then went to the cashier, told them which department, what item and how much to ring up. After that, you took your receipt to the different departments and showed them your single receipt, they gave you the product and then scratched out that particular item on your receipt, thus letting others in the department know that you’ve already received that particular item.

That was 20 years ago. The grocery stores in Russia don’t differ much from any other Western (or Eastern) store any more: each cashier has his or her own cash register and you’re not getting anything until you pay for it!

I was told by our news department that handles legal issues and court proceedings that the tearing of the receipt is a type of “signature” showing that the “contract” has been fulfilled. But only one person slashed my receipt! Before paying should I tear my cash in half to show that I agree to the contract? Or instead of signing my credit card receipt, just tear it to prove that I accept the conditions of the contract?

I explained to my Facebook friends/coworkers that we, too, in the United States have some outrageously outdated laws. One example is that in Gresham, Oregon (outside Portland), if driving a car at night, another individual must walk 10 feet in front of the vehicle with a lit kerosene lantern for safety purposes. It’s still on the books, but not followed any more.

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