Imagine this scenario. The year is 1977 and you are a foreigner from England who has moved to Moscow on contract from the Soviet state to help in building a bridge. What will things be like considering you come from a middle class background with a relatively comfortable life. Will you be able to eat the same amount of food, live in the same conditions, or will you have to be a bit tougher?
Happiness is in your ability to love others. - Leo Tolstoy
When I moved from the ex-USSR to Australia in the early 90-s, I had a tough time at first too. Don't know what was tougher -- culture shock or severe budgeting. So I presume a newcomer Englishman in Moscow would feel the pinch too, regardless whether it is 1970 or 2011. Another important thing is -- or rather was, because I can only tell how it was in Russia back then and don't know how it is there now -- that Soviet people in general were INCREDIBLY benevolent towards foreigners and would WILLINGLY go out of their way to help out, it was quite normal for instance to let a foreigner buy a ticket or something without having to wait in the queue, and nobody in the queue would protest, even if they had spent hours queuing themselves. I experienced something quite similar recently in China and was completely overwhelmed with nostalgia (because in the West, at least in English-speaking countries this is generally not done) -- a local boy, after being asked about directions, spent hours of his time taking us from one place to another explaining what to do there, and when I offered him money for his help he gave me a look I'll never forget in my life.
About the food, well I was a kid in 1970-s and never had to go to bed hungry. There were no starving people in my neighborhood either. The food was ridiculously cheap and quite nutritious, e.g. a schoolboy would get 20 kopeck from his mum in the morning and that would buy him a plate of meatballs with mashed potatoes and a tea or "kompot". His parents would have lunch in a company canteen and wouldn't spend more than a rouble each for a 3 course meal. Of course the menu would be different from a typically British one, but I doubt that an ordinary Englishman in 1970-s would indulge himself too much in luxurious or exotic food.
Thank you very much for your insight. Indeed it is tragic that in the West today we do not find such an equal sentiment towards foreigners. What was your experience like moving from the former Soviet Union to Australia and if I may ask, what prompted you to leave? Was it the chaotic post-Soviet situation?
Happiness is in your ability to love others. - Leo Tolstoy
Following on, if you don't mind me asking Aodaliya, what was it like for a youngster growing up in the USSR? As a youngster, what was there to do for you? What type of activities did the youth engage in?
Political Interest wrote:
The experience was like someone took me by my legs and smashed me against a brick wall. Honestly. Even the separation from my friends and family, or having to adjust to lots and lots of simple stuff that people here take for granted (like writing resumes to apply for a job -- which wasn't done in the USSR -- or remembering a lot of PIN-codes for all sorts of cards) -- all that didn't frighten me as much as letting go of parts of my personality that i depended upon but found useless in the new life. That "dying from within" was something I never expected to experience and wouldn't like to go through again for a million bucks.
As to why I left, I won't lie to you and say I was begging for food or lived under a bridge in the USSR -- part of my decision to move was sporadic, part was because we have relatives in Australia, part was because we Russians suddenly become unwelcome in the non-Russian republics, even if we'd spent all life there and could speak perfect local language. But in my first two years I got two approvals of my decision to leave the old home: the first was right on the day of my departure when we watched on TV tanks firing at the Government building in Moscow (that was in 1993), and the second was when about a year and a half later I came back to visit my mother and saw the locals counting zeros on price tags in the shops -- everybody became a millionaire but those millions were cheaper than toilet paper.
Apart from obvious stuff like fishing or soccer playing, we loved going to the movies, there were special kids' tickets for 10 kopeck (adult ones were 20 kopeck, sometimes more, depending on how long was the movie), there were popular domestic movies as well as Western ones, I think I watched "Mackenna's Gold" at least 10 times, French cinema was extremely popular (Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alen Delon etc), also a whole series of East-German spaghetti-westerns with Indians as good guys, we loved watching them too.
On a more creative side, there were local academies for kids to learn arts or technical stuff. I used to go to a musical school to learn playing the "bayan" (like an accordion but with buttons instead of the piano keyboard http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accordion ), my mother payed 12 roubles a month for the pleasure, but like any kid I didn't like practicing and soon left the school. There was a free school for technically inclined kids, I went there too making models of airplanes (that's probably why I'm still playing Flight Simulator on my computer).
Sport academies were available for kids, too. Swimming was very popular, track and field, soccer, weightlifting, boxing. Some crazy ones did sky-diving, too. Martial arts were illegal until late 80-s but Russian "Sambo" was popular, as well as Judo.
Also, there was a CULT of reading in the USSR, one's reputation within his(her) group would heavily depend on which books he(she) reads. So a Sunday trip to the local library was a usual thing to do, everybody had book collection at home as well, so giving a popular book as a Birthday present was a very good thing to do. Even now, living on the other side of the Globe, I'm still collecting books. Magazines like "Around the World" were publishing popular sci-fi or adventure novels, I remember how we coul hardly wait for the next issue when they published "Orphans of the Sky" by Robert Heinlein! Ray Bradbury, Isaak Asimov, Stanislav Lem -- you name them, we read them (which makes me think who actually was behind the Iron Curtain).
There were also summer "pioneer camps" for kids, but I didn't like them so can't tell you much. A lot of my buddies went there though and they had really good time there.
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