Friday, October 16, 2015

When Boris Yeltsin Went Grocery Shopping in Clear Lake, Texas

A post earlier this year on Houston’s Reddit that mentioned late Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s wide-eyed trip to a Clear Lake grocery store led to a trip to the Houston Chronicle archives, where a batch of photos of the leader were found.

It was September 16, 1989 and Yeltsin, then newly elected to the new Soviet parliament and the Supreme Soviet, had just visited Johnson Space Center.

At JSC, Yeltsin visited mission control and a mock-up of a space station. According to Houston Chronicle reporter Stefanie Asin, it wasn’t all the screens, dials, and wonder at NASA that blew up his skirt, it was the unscheduled trip inside a nearby Randall’s location.

Yeltsin, then 58, “roamed the aisles of Randall’s nodding his head in amazement,” wrote Asin. He told his fellow Russians in his entourage that if their people, who often must wait in line for most goods, saw the conditions of U.S. supermarkets, “there would be a revolution.”

Shoppers and employees stopped him to shake his hand and say hello. In 1989, not everyone was carrying a phone and camera in their pocket so Yeltsin “selfies” weren’t a thing yet.

Yeltsin asked customers about what they were buying and how much it cost, later asking the store manager if one needed a special education to manage a store. In the Chronicle photos, you can see him marveling at the produce section, the fresh fish market, and the checkout counter. He looked especially excited about frozen pudding pops.

“Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” he said.

Read the rest here.


  1. I used to cross the Detroit River in the 80s and 90s all the time to ride my ten speed on the empty Canadian farm roads that are between 8 and 40 miles from Detroit. When he was ag minister in the USSR in 1983, Gorby came to Leamington, Ontario to learn about Canadian farming. I bet he was as impressed as Yeltsin. Seriously. I learned about this because it was in a travel brochure for the town at the Welcome Center where they advertise how much fun it is to see all of their farms.

    Detroit area Canadian hack and ag minister Eugene Whelan shows Gorby a Leamington, Ontario seedless cucumber 1983:,339956&hl=en

  2. 'He [Gorby] came to Windsor and introduced him to the life of a Canadian,' Chretien said. 'He was amazed at the food processing in Canada, to have all the food available so quickly. Later on, they were driving and he was marvelling to see two cars in front of every house.'

    The group stopped in front of one blue-collar home.

    'Gorbachev said, "Do you know them?" And Gene said, "I don’t know them, but they know me,"' Chretien recalled. 'So they knocked on the door and went into the house. Gorbachev was very impressed by that.

  3. “At the end of that tour, the Whelans hosted a farewell reception for Gorbachev at their Amherstburg home on the evening of 19 May 1983, but Whelan himself was delayed in arriving. In what has since been called "the walk that changed the world", Yakovlev and Gorbachev took a walk in a nearby orchard, strolled among saplings and then past fields of corn, soy and wheat, had an earnest discussion, and resolved that the old ways in the USSR had to end.[21][22] According to Yakovlev's own words, this was where perestroika was born, with 80% of its features covered in that brief time in Whelan's back yard.”

  4. In the early 80's I made it a point to tour guide for co workers from our office in Rome while they were attending meetings in LA. All the young women wanted to visit the supermarket first thing. Most of them brought an extra suitcase to bring stuff home with them. I thought they were crazy til I started working in the Rome office.