16 March 2010

It Is Not the Size, It Is How You Use It

Russia is a big country. Russians are big people. Russian consumer goods portions are small.

I lived in Texas and California for most of my life. I am used to big things. My sister's Texas-sized house is about 600 square meters (6,400 square feet). I did most of my shopping in Costco, where milk comes in 2 gallon (7.5 liter) packages and size 4 Huggies diapers come in a 200-pack (yes, eventually, your little baby will poop that much).

Earlier, I wrote that one reason for Moscow residents being thinner than Americans is big prices for little portions in restaurants. The same big-price-little-portion philosophy applies to nearly all consumer goods. A walk down to the local grocery store in downtown Moscow reveals that milk packages come in 1 liter (quart) sizes, baby diapers come in 36-packs, and paper towels come in smaller, thinner sheets in less hefty rolls.

There is a perfectly good explanation for why things are the way they are in downtown Moscow: Living spaces are smaller, long distant travel is more difficult*, few residences have an attached garage that leads directly to the living quarters, and the use of car is not nearly as common as it is in the US. This makes hauling big packages around - grocery or otherwise - a difficult proposition. Consumer items are thus sized for urban living.

I did have to adjust to the Muscovite shopping model at first. Emulating my previous behavior, I compensated for the smaller packages by buying more of them. Then, going through my days as I had to, I realized that I was using less than I was using in the US.

I have not fully understood why my consumption is less in Moscow, but it is. Although I am walking some 6 km per day (3.5 miles), I am eating less food. This means I drink less milk and eat less bread. And although I wear just as much clean clothes as I did in the US, my laundry load is smaller.  The most likely explanation is that I was significantly overusing resources in the US.  Here, in Moscow, groceries and consumer goods just seem to go farther here, despite smaller packages.

So, it is not how large it is, it is how you use it. The trouble is, I still have not figured out just exactly how I use it; I just know that it has gotten smaller.
* Long distant travel means anything over half a mile (800 meters) - the distant that usually prompts the American to use his car.  In congested California, my 12 mile commute to work took 30 minutes on the worst days, and was usually done in 20 minutes or less.  My 5 mile work commute in Moscow has taken more than 2 hours (in a car) on one occasion, and usually takes 30 minutes or more.  This is why I prefer the metro - reliably, it gets me to work in 1 hour or less.

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