Magazine article Management Review

A Survivor's Guide to Soviet Business Travel

Magazine article Management Review

A Survivor's Guide to Soviet Business Travel

Article excerpt

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," Dorothy confided to her fellow traveler. I found myself repeating that line time and again throughout my recent trip to the Soviet Union. And although the Emerald City and Red Square have little in common, business travel in the Soviet Union sure won't remind you of, well, business travel.

So in preparation for the next time your golf partner brags about a recent trip to Moscow, Management Review gives you the skinny on what may really have happened on that trip. Who knows, this survivor's guide may also help you plan your own excursion to the wild, wild east.


At the airport, a multitude of policemen are likely to await you and watch you get off the aircraft, watch you move through customs, watch you reclaim your suitcase, watch you attempt to catch the attention of a porter. Are they trying to keep you from hijacking the aircraft? Smuggle goodies into the country? More likely, they are just watching. The socialist work ethic requires a lot of watching. As the Soviets say in reference to the country's policy of 100 percent employment, We pretend to work, and the government pretends to pay us."

Before you go through customs, you will be asked to fill out a form that lists all the currency, traveler's checks and valuables you are bringing into the country. Don't lose this document; you will need it whenever you change money and-even more important-you must relinquish it in order to exit the country.

Picture-taking is not allowed at military installations or commercial airports; despite my longstanding interest in Tupolev aircraft, I quickly discovered that this was not the place to pull out the old Nikon. Be advised: Despite five years of glasnost, the Soviet police do not come equipped with a sense of humor.

When you check into your Intourist hotel, you will be given a card that guarantees entry into that hotel. Show this card to the 24-hour attendant on your floor to procure your room key. You will be expected to exchange the key for the card whenever you leave your room. Our attendant was happy to sell me bottled water and postcards; no other room service is available.

Sleeping accommodations are scarcely commodious; hotel beds are approximately 30 inches wide. Full-sized people are out of luck.

Most hotel rooms come complete with private bathroom; but in cities other than Moscow and Leningrad, the shower may consist of a spigot in the middle of the W.C. ceiling. Bring your own soap, toilet paper and personal supplies. Your shaver should be designed for European electric plugs and 220 voltage.

Many Intourist hotels and restaurants seem to be specially designed to frustrate handicapped visitors. At the Pribaltiyskaya Hotel in Leningrad, for instance, the restaurants are located on a lovely mezzanine overlooking the Baltic Sea. The hotel, which Odor's travel guide describes as "one of the USSR's largest and pleasantest," is equipped with elevators, but since they don't stop on the mezzanine, hungry foreigners are left to hoof it up the stairs to their breakfast.


Although it is technically illegal for independent merchants to conduct trade in Western currency, many prices-particularly in Moscow and Leningrad-are quoted exclusively in dollars or Deutsche marks. Most Moscow taxi drivers refuse to pick up Soviet passengers, in fact: They will work only for Westerners who are known to proffer greenbacks and Marlboros.

Tempting exchange rates will be urged upon you by waiters and sales clerks and pre-teens. This form of free enterprise is equally illegal, and sporadic crackdowns by the police are reported. Be warned.

The government is as interested in separating you from your hard currency dollars as are the black market capitalists, however. Special "Beriozka" shops, located for your shopping convenience in hotels and at the airports, sell goods only in foreign currency, and accept major credit cards. …

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