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wundayatta's avatar

If you ever visited the Soviet Union, what impact did that have on your life?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) January 24th, 2013

I was 15. Brezhnev was the Premier. We took the train across Europe to get to Moscow and when we were there, we were given personal tour guides. Mine was a beautiful young woman dressed in a leopard skin patterned coat. She was the daughter of a diplomat who had lived in NYC and spoke English well.

We had some amazing conversations about Marxism and Russia and literature and the Russian soul and I fell in love.

As a result of that experience, I became engrossed in all things Russian for the next four years, and it ended up being my major in college. To this day, even though I haven’t studied it any further, I probably still know more than the average bear (lol) about Russia.

What about you?

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9 Answers

bookish1's avatar

Great question man! But tour guides… You mean keepers, right? Did they ever let you out of their sights?

I was born a few years before the USSR was dismantled… I have never been to Russia or a former Soviet country. I was very interested in Russian and Soviet history in college, but decided that as a visibly queer person, it would not be very safe or pleasant for me to spend months on end doing research there. I know I made the right choice, but I still find Russian history fascinating.

I’m excited to hear others’ stories!

wundayatta's avatar

I’m telling you, @bookish1, that even you wouldn’t have minded being kept by this girl. I was 15. There was really no reason to worry about us conducting clandestine operations, although we were all freaked out about not bringing the wrong things in our suitcases. Chewing gum and badges were ok. Certain literature, not so much. Chewing gum and jeans, actually. These were the things the Soviets wanted more than anything.

Perhaps our hotel rooms were bugged. There was a lady on every floor, called a dezhurnaya, and you had to check in and out with her whenever you left or entered your room. It was creepy.

I really hope some other jellies visited the USSR before it disbanded and can share stories.

Sunny2's avatar

This was before the fall of Communism. I learned that a country that was considered one of the top powers in the world was having serious everyday practical problems. It was hard to get building done because materials that were needed were often not there at the right time. Delivery and coordination problems. Some of the toilets in the hotel didn’t work. We had a non-working light in our bathroom. We told the floor lady. She came and looked at it and then pounded her fist directly on the light bulb. It worked after that.
The Russians themselves told us not to drink the water in Leningrad, so we used beer and the kids used orange soda. We had good food, but when we visited markets, there wasn’t anything to buy. My second trip, our food wasn’t as good, but there was more for citizens to buy in there markets, which eased my sense of guilt.
One interesting occurrence was in Leningrad where there were 2 museums to see. The guide asked which one we wanted. Of course there was not an accord, so we said to take a vote. She tried, and we were about evenly divided, one side having maybe 3 votes more. She was not able to say, “Okay, this side has more.” so she said to go to either one. There was enough time to see both, which worked out fine.
My daughter and some teachers with our group went to a market. They were arrested for taking photos too near the railroad station. A phone call was made and they were released. You were very much aware of police. When we left, we each felt a load of oppression had been lifted from our shoulders.

bookish1's avatar

@wundayatta: I understand they were also desperate for Western music… You could have made a killing smuggling records ;)

@Sunny2: When were you there?

JLeslie's avatar

I’ve never been, but a classmate went when we were in our late teens. He brought several pairs of jeans with him to sell. That all made me very nervous, I would never have the guts to sell something illegally like that in a foreign country. He loved his experience in Russia, said he wanted to go back one day. Growing up my family gave me gifts of Russian Dolls, my family (grandparents and great grandparents depending on the side) is from Russia and Latvia. I want to go to Russia one day. The closest I have come is Alaska, where there are quite a bit of souveniour stores with Russian trinkets since we bought that land from the Russians, not that I think it counts as having actually visited Russia. A girlfriend of mine came from Russia about 8–10 years ago, she just went back for a visit with her American husband. I haven’t had a chance to speak to him about it, but if he has some good info, I’ll post it here. My friend, the Russian women, I have spoken to her about politics a little and America, I don’t know if she represents most of Russia, but she seems to be very open to hearing all sides. And, I think she voted republican (she became a citizen this past year) because of the peope she is surrounded by in Memphis, but when I talk to her, I believe she is a liberal, but doesn’t know it. She is around 40 years old, so her life has been basically after communism fell there. I’ll be following. Interesting Q.

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Sunny2's avatar

@bookish1 I’d have to look it up. I don’t tend to remember things by when they happened, although I understand why it would make a difference in this case. I’ll see if I can find it.

mattbrowne's avatar

I once visited the Ukraine, but it was in the mid 90s. The experience was still shocking. All the run-down buildings, electrical cables taped to walls…

bookish1's avatar

@mattbrowne : Now it’s just Ukraine, because it is no longer Great Russia’s “border.”

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