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By John Helmer, Moscow

Not since Raisa Gorbacheva revealed that she knew how to use a credit card for shopping and displayed the PhD she had bought, I mean earned, has the wife of a Russian head of state attracted such a display of petit bourgeois chagrin.

The backbiting has been recorded in the press from a cook, a troop of waiters, a toilet attendant, a shopkeeper, the concierge of a chocolate museum, and the burgomeister of the Flemish town of Bruges, where the Russian President’s wife, Svetlana Medvedeva, had scheduled a visit last week while her husband was in Brussels.

The citizens of Bruges had been salivating at the prospect of the generosity which highly ranked Russians are famous for showing when they pass by or dine. The chief of protocol of the town had also used the visit as his opportunity to advertise to the local newspaper how hard working he was, receiving ahead of the Russian party the Prime Minister of Nepal and Princess Mathilde, wife of the heir apparent to the Belgian throne.

Then the chagrin started. It is alleged by the restaurant known as The Carmelite that the Medvedeva changed her mind about lunching there, and opted for the Duke of Burgundy instead. It is possible that someone on the staff of the Russian visiting party had discovered these reviews of the restaurant.

At the Duke of Burgundy it is claimed the Medvedeva changed her mind over what to eat. She was also overheard complaining that the towels in the toilet were “not in order”.

In the local Flemish newspaper it is reported that she spent only a minute and a half at the Christmas market; that when she wanted to buy a 300-year old silk scarf displayed in a window, the shopkeeper refused to sell it; and that in Burgomeister Patrick Moenaert’s busy schedule, the Medvedeva kept him waiting from the appointed time of 1540 until 1730. The interval was allegedly consumed by the delays caused by what to eat and how to wash or wipe.

Offence was also caused to the staff of the city hall by a bloodhound which arrived in the advance party to sniff for bombs, and by the paranoia alleged against the security men accompanying the dog, who looked behind the paintings on the walls.

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