I was in the checkout line at the supermarket this morning, and watched the middle-aged guy in front of me picking out some gum. I assumed he was Russian, but there was something about his manner that made it hard to place him on my mental map of the St. Petersburg social structure. I decided he was a professor and inched my cart forward.

As he was checking out, one of his Ritter Sport bars didn’t scan, and the cashier put it aside and told him to get another one. “I don’t understand…” he said in British English. I explained to him what she had said. “So she won’t sell it to me?” “She said you could pick out another one,” I said. “Do you want me to grab one for you?” “No, I think it was the only one of that kind,” he said. “They’re not very good with that customer service bit, are they.” “No,” I said, “no they aren’t.”

There was a pause while both of us, I think, considered continuing the conversation with “So what are you doing here, anyway?” But in the end he just said, “Thanks,” and went on his way.