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Talk to Terrie: True or False?

June 9, 2021

June 9, 2021

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Fact or Fiction?

Growing up during the Cold War, my teachers would tell us stories about life in the USSR, our enemy during that time. I imagine this had a dual purpose. One was so that we would appreciate our lives in the United States. Another possible could have been why America and our allies needed to rescue the citizens of USSR from the grasp of their government.

I look back now and wonder if the stories I heard were true, embellished, or outright propaganda. As I will explain below, two of the stories I heard were surprisingly true.


Communal Living

One account I remember is hearing that multiple families shared living quarters.  It was hard for me to believe this. We – my parents, sister, brother and I – lived in a semi-detached home that was only 1200 square feet.  One time my parents took in my father’s niece, husband and 5 children when they fell on hard times.  It was chaotic and sometimes tense, to say the least.  But we knew we were helping them get on their feet and the situation was temporary.

The difference between that situation and what was happening in the USSR is that we were relatives and knew each other. Communal living was different in the Soviet Union because strangers shared a common area to cook and bathe but families would only be assigned to one room to sleep and participate in normal day to day activities.  There was an informal set of rules on how to navigate the situation. This situation was the norm in the Soviet Union from shortly after the Bolshevik to around the mid- to late 1980s.


Availability of cars, food, and appliances

Another story I remember is how people couldn’t buy cars, washers, televisions, etc., anytime they wanted to, unlike us. We wanted or needed something, we went to a store and bought it with our parents’ hard earned money.  This first-hand account states that it was common practice for workers to be awarded coupons in order to purchase such items,

…Russia had a distribution system based on coupons. Originally, the ration coupons were given as part of a motivation system. An outstanding employee would be given a coupon entitling him to receive a TV, a pair of shoes or something else. Without those coupons it was very difficult to buy those items.

Even with the coupons it would sometimes take years to be able to purchase the item.

Life for citizens of the Soviet Union was certainly different than Americans back then. It’s comforting to know that, at least in these two instances, what I was told about the daily lives in the USSR was accurate.