I will start with a paragraph in my previous blog, since this will set the stage for what I would like to say today.
“Toward the end of the regime, into the eighties, people stayed in line the whole night to buy food. The regime calculated ‘scientifically’ how much food the population needed, all the rest was sold at dumping prices in other countries.”
Let’s start with the lines to buy food. Sometimes it was so crowded, that people could not see what was for sale. So, they had to ask those already in line. But the whole mentality was so altered, that the question was not “what is for sale?”, but rather “what do they give us today?”
The worse were the butchers and the groceries selling legumes and vegetables.
All shops were owned by the state, so, all those working in shops were employees; but they behaved like they owned the place and the customers had the feeling that whatever they put in your bag it is final, useless to complain if something was altered or not quite right for some reason; it was ‘take it or leave’.
The butchers… they stripped most of the meat to sell it overpriced at the backdoor, so, the regular and honest people, those waiting for hours, had to buy what was left. They payed for 1 kg of meat, but most of it was fat and bones. As for chicken, it was proverbial, all that was available were chicken paws. And by the way, you could not buy the quantity you wanted, it was rationalized, well, for as many as possible in the line to get something.
I have to be honest and say that no one died of hunger, because it was bread for everyone, with little or no line; the only drawback was that the customer had to have the exact money, if not the seller rounded up, they always claimed that there was no change. Also, I could buy milk (and that was my task in the family) at a distribution centre near my building. At 6 AM the line was about half an hour waiting, but for lazy ones, after 8:30 am – 9:00 am … no more milk.
One day, walking the street I saw a line and found out potatoes were for sale, about one-hour waiting line. A big chest, right on the street, full of potatoes. When my turn came, I asked for 4 kg of potatoes. Note: the customer could not touch the merchandise, but after he payed. So, the seller using a scoop took potatoes from the pile and dumped it on the balance.
“There is a lot of dry dirt and sand with those potatoes,” I said.
“What do you want me to do?” asked aggressively the seller. “When the truck dumped the potatoes into the chest it was with the dirt and sand. And the whole weight was measured, I have to sell it as it is. Do you want to buy or not?”
“Can you put only potatoes on the balance?“ I tried.
The seller put the potatoes back into the chest, then looked straight to the next in line, and said with an authoritarian voice. “Next.”
I did not want to move, but I had no chance, the whole line starting pushing ahead, drifting me away. An angry voice somewhere back shouted: “The man told you, buy or leave, you had your choice, now move, we stay in the cold for a stupid loser.” Obviously, many in line did not care what was right or wrong. They wanted the potatoes.
That day, in my neighborhood, the potatoes were for sale, so, few streets away, I spotted another chest with potatoes. I bought without complaint. Back at home, I weighed my bag ... 3.8 kg, not 4 kg that I had to have. The salesmen had different tactics to do it. First, they dropped the goods on the scale of the box and took it before the needle stopped. Secondly, the needle itself has been tampered with to show more than the actual value. If they were caught, they solved it in a simple way, paying a ransom to the inspector ... So, after cleaning the potatoes and removing the sand, I had about 3.5 kg. Then, by removing the damaged parts of the potatoes, the final result was a little over 3 kg of good potatoes.
All right, that was the everyday experience buying food, but I also have to say that there were some honest inspectors and some of the sellers lost their jobs or spent some time in prison; but these were exceptions, not the rule. Or, maybe, the inspectors had to have a number of solved irregularities to keep their jobs.