An American Sponge’s Adventures in the Soviet Union

I have a feeling that people don’t hate my true stories from the Soviet Union, so here is another one.

The planned economy of the USSR was heavily invested into creating weapons and heavy machinery. There was no interest in producing consumer goods, and very few resources were allocated to their manufacture. As a result, everything was in short supply. Look around yourself right now. All of these things you see were in short supply (except the ones that have been invented since then, of course). Are the walls painted or papered? Doesn’t matter, because both paint and wall-paper were impossible to find. Paper, pens, books, shoes, underwear, condoms, cheese, nail polish,paper napkins – everything had to be hunted down and purchased at a huge black market price. The only quality consumer goods we had were the ones people brought into the country from trips abroad. Such goods would then be sold and resold for exorbitant amounts of money.

This dish sponge you see on the photo always makes me smile whenever I see it. Oh, the memories this seemingly insignificant object brings! In the Soviet Union, possessing such a sponge was a matter of great prestige. People would buy one on the black market for an amount equal to – taking into the account the difference in salaries – about $150 USD.

Of course, nobody would actually use this precious sponge to wash dishes. We had old, torn stockings for that. The sponge would be taken out of the place where it was stored together with other family treasures and placed next to the sink whenever one expected guests. People would moisten the sponge minutes before the guests’ arrival to let them know that using such expensive imported sponges was a matter of course for them.

Since the guests probably had a prestigious sponge of their own that they used to show off in the same way, this trick wasn’t fooling anybody.

Still, it felt so good to stand there by the kitchen sink, holding the precious sponge and imagining yourself for a moment as the fortunate, sophisticated, worldly person who could use these pretty sponges whenever she felt like it.