Monday, March 24, 2008

Memories of a Postsoviet Childhood

Chiquita. Not the bananas themselves - the stickers. You couldn't really get bananas in the Soviet Union (a fact made all the more ironic by their cheap ubiquity today), so when you got a hold of one, you treasured it. Eat it slowly, and completely, chewing the tasteless flesh off the inside of the skin, and then peel off the Chiquita sticker and put it on your desk or some other prominent piece of bedroom furniture, to remind yourself and others that you are a happening frood with access to bananas.

At about the same time, a bit later maybe, empty drink cans were all the rage. It was ages until you could get soft drinks in cans in Estonia, in the first years of independence the only thing that came in cans was beer - and then it was expensive imported beer. I don't think my parents have ever been beer drinkers anyway, but even for other kids my age, colorful cans were an awesome thing to possess.

It must have been '88 or '89, when my dad went to Sweden, and brought back a whole bunch of bananas. They were still green, and were left to ripen in the kitchen cupboard. Dad's return really was better than Christmas. A pencil sharpener in the shape of a cartoon car for me, a remarkably tiny electronic calculator for my sister, and - gasp! - a twin-deck Siemens stereo cassette player. Its recording capacity, built-in microphone, and the ability to copy tapes directly was truly remarkable.

I'm only 23, but the world around me has changed unbelievably.

Postsoviet - because Estonia in the late 80s was not entirely Soviet any more.


Anonymous said...

If the predictions come true, today's 5-year-olds could be telling their children about the yellow edible crecents. To say nothing of what that would do to the price of Chiquita stickers as collectibles.

At least I've heard that commercial bananas are in a losing battle for their survival. Maybe someone can expound. Nah...

23 -- if you have any desire for a political career, you better get moving now, before you're too old.

antyx said...

I figure I'll get elected on a wave of popular support for my clearly superior policies. I'm far too impatient with stupidity to have an actual political career.

Anonymous said...

Just make sure you are properly credited for your policies. :)

Kerli said...

Back in '87, my uncle got to go to Finland. Among other wondrous Western artefacts, he brought back with him a rather fancy wallet for my mom. I'd never seen anything like it. Mom was scared that somebody might actually try to steal it - not for the money, of course, but for the wallet itself. The warning signs were there: she was frequently approached by complete strangers, offering to buy the wallet.

But apart from the items my uncle brought with him to Estonia, my childhood entertainment was marked by the lack of proper toys. There were some dull ones made by Norma, a plastic products manufacturer in Soviet Estonia. It was fairly common to get three toy hair dryers (the worst present ever?) for one's birthday, or end up with four identical books about cats. I should know...

The rare foreign items spawned some confusion as well, and there's an abundance of absurdly comic tales about it. It could be a case of Soviet mythology, but supposedly, the same uncle also managed to get a couple of bottles of a substance resembling liquid soap, the labels bearing product information in some foreign language. He used the substance for its purpose as there was a deficit of bar soap. It was discovered only later, after a person with better foreign language skills had studied the bottles, that the substance had actually been some cleaning agent for cars. A case of misleading product design?

antyx said...

I had better access to toys, I think because it was Tallinn, and my kindergarten was right next to one of the premier toy shops in town. ;) If my dad was the one picking me up, we'd stop over either at the toy shop or at Vigri Kohvik.

As for the car soap, not so much misleading - I'm sure it worked perfectly fine for cleaning one's hands.

Kerli said...

... though I think he used it as shampoo, shower gel and possibly as shaving cream... he's always been rather low maintenance. :)

Colm said...

My parents tell me all the time about how they used to take the train from Dublin to Belfast when they were younger to buy clothes from the fashionable shops that weren't south of the border yet. Then they put on the clothes and wore them on the train for the journey home to avoid paying customs.

Still, things have changed alot in Ireland even in the period since I was a kid. We now have a real economy and net immigration to replace the mass emmigration.

We have more and are better off but I don't know if people are necessarily happier.

antyx said...

They are. Trust me.

It's a common nostalgic reaction to think people were happier "back then". I know a Dutch guy, in his 50s now I think, who espoused to me with a straight face the joys of the pre-industrial society, where people were unaffected by the evils of pr0n and Coca-Cola.

It's counter-intuitive, but things really are getting better all the time. :)

Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

Since you mentioned, your dad seemed to me more fond of the old USSR when I last time read something from his writings. So I guess it had a positive side too.


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