Uh. You’ve got a point, there. I’ve had no idea how to tackle this in both a fun and informative way, so I’ve given up and I’m just going to dis-engage my brain and let my fingers co the talking.
I can’t tell you about Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is a large and diverse country. Me telling you about Kazakhstan would be like a Kazakh who has only lived in Calgary telling you about Canada, and Calgary just ain’t like the rest of Canada. (Although, the way the wind is blowing, in a few years’ time Calgary won’t have chuck wagon races either, so I guess it’ll be a tiny bit more like the rest of Canada when that happens.)
I live in Atyrau. Actually, let’s make that statement a bit more honest: I live in the ex-pat community in Atyrau. This means that I don’t know squat about Atyrau or its people. This is exacerbated by the fact that I also don’t speak Kazakh or Russian and few of the people speak English. The people tolerate the English speakers, though. I think they must simply be used to us by now and know that we are not going away until the oil does. That and a lot of us (most of us?) pay over the normal price for things simply because we don’t go to the big markets. As for those markets: no, there is no (doesn’t have to be any?) bartering. The prices are displayed and you pay what is displayed. This is a good thing. Bartering is miles outside of my comfort zone. If I had had to barter to buy things in Atyrau I would have taken the next day’s plane out of here: the thought of having to barter makes me want to sit in a corner whimpering and rocking.
Shopping places range from shops as you and I would know them (sort of) and big markets with lots of stalls. For instance, in the mall next door, the shops on the ground floor are kiosks or stalls with walls and windows. They are very small — sometimes long and very narrow, sometimes square; sometimes free-standing, most of them not — and hold a very limited amount of goods that range from jewellery to children’s toys to phones to hair clips and watches. There is also a pharmacy and a shop that sells prescription glasses. There is a little train that is driven around and for the equivalent of 50 pence, your child can ride in the train for two loops of the mall. (The girls though they had died and gone to heaven.) The second floor (first floor to Brits) holds the grocery store, the electronic goods store, Timberland, the beauty products store, Pierre Cardin, the cinema, a juice kiosk, and many other things. Yes, Timberland. There will also be a Burger King in a couple of months, but no Starbucks or Nero or [insert name of coffee chain].
Of brand names that we in the Western world know, there are plenty: Dr Oetker, Pepsi and Coke, Pringles and Lays, Lindt, Milka, Merci, Ferrero, Mars, M&Ms, Kinder, Huggies and Pampers, Sugar Crisp and a billion other sugary cereals, Frosch, Fairy Liquid, and many, many more. There is an ex-pat food aisle where one can buy peanut butter, Heinz baked beans and ketchup, soy sauce, spaghetti sauce, pasta, noodles, coconut milk, and so on. I have not yet found brown sugar and the rolled oats are what we in the UK and Canada would call ‘old fashioned’ (none of the stuff that turns to mush when cooked in the microwave for half-a-minute). There is icing sugar, but I have not yet found food colouring. There are sewing machines, but if you’re a quilter, bring your own material and threads in. I’ve been told that the ones here are of poor quality and hard to find in Atyrau (not so in Almaty). Bring your own ground coffee if you like decent coffee. What is called sausage over here is what I would call hot dogs. Sorry, Brits, but they don’t do bangers, not that I’ve found.
Of restaurants, there are plenty with a wide variety of food, just no Mexican or Tex/Mex. I’ve been to a lovely sushi restaurant, a yummy Indian restaurant, and excellent Turkish restaurant. One restaurant that does the most amazing lamb kebabs, but don’t order their pizza. There is Booblik, which has the best tasting cakes I have ever eaten. Husband goes there once a week to get a cup of coffee that makes him melt into a puddle of joy.
And Daracha is now demanding my attention so I’ll post this and sign off. I’ve not proofed this, so you’re just going to have to live with the grammar and spelling mistakes.