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At the opening of Russian travel retailer RegStaer’s impressive new duty free store at Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport this week, the company’s Chairman Alexander Baev was joined at a press conference for Russian media by Pierre Viarnaud (pictured centre), Area Director for Russia and the CIS for RegStaer’s main supplier, Gebr Heinemann of Germany.
The eager Russian media had lots of questions to ask of Pierre. All about the new store and the merits of the duty free industry right?
Wrong? There is only one subject that is top of mind with the Russian media this week – football. Russia’s stirring journey to the semi-finals of the Euro 2008 football championships, inspired by brilliant young playmaker Andrei Arshavin and coach Guus Hiddink, has electrified the whole country. Football fever has struck and all the press corps at the store opening were clearly infected.
The opening of the RegStaer shop came just one day before the Russia-Spain semi-final, a replay of the group game which Spain won 4-1. And within hours of the press conference, Germany was due to play surprise semi-finalists Turkey (a thrilling match eventually won by Germany 3-2).
So what did Pierre think the score would be if Germany were to play Russia in the final?
Anyone worried about a potential political gaffe did not know Pierre very well. For one thing, he’s a consummate diplomat, for another – and here the name Pierre is a big clue – he’s not German, he’s French (whose team never made it out of the pool stage).
But surrounded by his (football crazy) German colleagues at Gebr Heinemann he could hardly say that Russia would win either…
Only such a skilled diplomat therefore could come up with the answer that Pierre did. “I can tell you,” he said with a smile, “that the Russian passengers outspend the Germans in duty free by 3 and a half to one. My German colleagues are hoping the football score won’t be the same.”