How was shopping done under socialism? Shortage goods and under-the-counter sales. Today people are very spoiled

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Today, we are all used to having everything at our disposal and it is rare that something is missing. If we leave aside the chapter of medicines that are not normally available, we are doing quite well and we are not missing anything. We all have everything, it’s available to everyone, and when something happens, it’s ordered right away. But this was definitely not the way to live in the previous regime, and people had it many times more difficult. So what is the main difference? That people were not so spoiled and appreciated what they had.

Nationalized agriculture and trade

The fact that private enterprises were transferred to state ownership was nothing exceptional. People at that time were not allowed to own anything of their own and had to share every piece of meat they produced at home with others. These were the so-called mandatory state levies, from which no one could excuse themselves. Compared to Poland or Hungary, socialist Czechoslovakia saw the largest transfer of businesses to public ownership. But it didn’t end there.

At the end of 1960, for example, only 50 private shops were registered in Prague, most of which included tobacconists operated by persons with disabilities, which were preserved for their survival. These changes occurred shortly after 1945, when the key food industry was nationalized among the first steps. The goal was to secure enough food for the starving post-war republic, which was struggling with a shortage of supplies, which, like during the war, were sold for food stamps.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

In earlier times, queues really stood for everything.

To the store only with an empty bag

Although many people experienced a coup in 1948, nothing extraordinary changed. On the contrary, everything remained the same and maybe a little worse. Even though the communists promised that we would have a good time and that they would provide us with a quality life, the opposite was true. No one was allowed to cross the border, and if at all, then only with permission and under strict control. We had a lot of goods under the counter and people didn’t have a chance to buy in peace.

The Stalinist approach discriminated against the so-called former people, i.e. persons who were self-employed. These people had no rights to receive food stamps and were thus forced to shop on the open market, where prices, such as for butter, were up to five times higher than in a regular store. For some, this was financially unacceptable and even liquidating.

There will be meat tomorrow, but only a little

A well-known phrase experienced by women in the regime at that time when they wanted to provide a proper festive lunch for their family. In 1959, Prague shops faced a shortage of a number of foodstuffs, especially pork and cheese. People also had a big problem getting pulses, so for example they bought lentils in Tuzex at the time. Also missing were canned milk, jam, poppy seeds, peanuts, sterilized cucumbers and the very popular Pribináček cream and curd cream.

However, the crisis escalated and even basic foodstuffs, including onions and cabbage, began to be missing from stores. People no longer wanted to grow anything and refused to share with others. And, for example, tropical fruits, which today are among the standard, were previously only sold at Christmas and only a few pieces at a time.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

The consumerism of that time, which can still be found in villages today.

Under-the-counter sales and queues for bananas

Those who had relatives or acquaintances in the shops, or were able to offer the sellers some kind of counter-service for the hidden goods, got into a really advantageous position. It was not unusual for people working in shops to help each other and hide goods that did not get to other customers. It worked by placing the goods under the counter and selling them secretly so that other customers could not see.

The fact that we can buy bananas or oranges in bulk at the store today and no one restricts us is really a luxury. Under socialism, some types of fruit were not available at all and were among the so-called scarce goods. But that’s not all. Often this fruit was only sold on a ration basis, which meant that everyone could only buy a limited amount of it, such as one kilogram or five pieces.

The article is in Czech

Tags: shopping socialism Shortage goods underthecounter sales Today people spoiled

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