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Ternovskiy was supposed to show foreign tourists around the shop, pulling various nesting dolls, lacquered boxes, and kitschy Soviet paraphernalia from the bright vitrines. “I was really excited to work there, because I met, like, hundreds of different nations in a day,” Ternovskiy said recently at a coffee shop near his mother’s apartment, in the far reaches of northwestern Moscow.
He worked tirelessly, and began to learn German, Spanish, Italian, French, and even some Turkish. By the second week, he could size up a customer’s nationality and address him in his own tongue.“I couldn’t just make people pay the money,” he says, laughing.“I just couldn’t feel the value of the money.” He was fired within a month.The following summer, Ternovskiy holed up at home and began to toy with the code for a new site that would re-create the atmosphere of the store.He didn’t, however, take quite as well to the business side of things.He would talk and joke with the tourists, but he didn’t push them to buy anything.
If someone asked for a discount, he happily obliged.
This rankled his uncle, but Ternovskiy didn’t see the problem.
Andrey Ternovskiy, an eighteen-year-old high-school dropout from Moscow, has a variety of explanations for why he created the Web site
According to one story, he got bored talking to people he already knew on Skype; according to another, it was a fund-raising ploy for a bike trip from Moscow to Amsterdam.
The most reliable version, however, centers on a shop called Russian Souvenirs.
It is an upscale outfit owned by Ternovskiy’s uncle Sasha, who hired his nephew to work there as a salesman during the summer of 2008, five days a week, eleven hours a day.