September 01, 2004

To Queue or Not to Queue

To Queue or Not to Queue

The image of an очередь (queue), winding around a street corner and stretching beyond the horizon may well be imprinted on the collective unconscious (коллективное бессознательное) of Russians, even those lucky enough to have been born in the abundant mid-90s.

Queuing (стоять в очереди – to stand in a queue, often shortened to simply стоять –  tand) for food and other essential items was a routine pastime of every Soviet citizen, with the exception of the сливки (cream) of the party elite. One often stood in queues for toilet paper – strictly four rolls for every pair of hands (четыре рулона в одни руки), for bananas, vegetable oil, for tights, for imported boots (even if only size 40 was left – остался только сороковой размер)… in short, for just about any consumer good in short supply (дефицит).

This is why a resourceful homo sovieticus (советский человек) always carried in his case or her handbag an авоська – a string-bag that could be rolled up into a very small space, but which was always at the ready, “just in case” its owner came across a queue.

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