The one in the dorm was terrifying - so many of us got food poisoning on a weekly basis that we eventually got back the money we’d paid upfront for the semester and tried our luck in the local supermarkets, ration coupons and all. (I still have my leftover ration coupons - sugar, tea, soap, and laundry detergent were rationed.) The cafeteria on the university campus was decent, by Soviet standards - at least I never got food poisoning there.
Most of us did buy a few things, in an attempt to stay warm and/or blend in. (The poor guy from St. Thomas, who thought a fleece-lined windbreaker and high-top basketball sneakers were sufficient winter attire, for one- he was sick all semester. At least I’m used to cold weather and brought a proper coat and boots.) Lots of people bought fur hats, in particular, though the decent ones usually needed to be bought on the black market. In Russia there is no conception that wearing fur is a Bad Thing, and I can’t say that I blame people for wearing fur hats when it’s 40 below zero.
Selection? Bwaahahhhaaa! Actually, by 1989 there were a few “cooperative” (capitalist) clothing stores, and I did buy a couple of things (a nice wool shawl with flowers painted on it, which I still have). And a purple naugahyde book bag (which, as one classmate joked, was made only from the finest naugas), because a backpack was dead certain to mark you as a foreigner ripe for pickpocketing. I did a pretty good job of blending in, and was frequently mistaken for an Armenian.
Not leaders per se, but just policies they saw as idiotic. My first roommate was studying for her doctoral comps in Arabic literature, but she also had to take a whole other set of comps in communist theory in order to continue with her studies. 1989 was the last year anyone had to do that - she had studied hard, and boy, was she pissed.
Yep. Also, at harvest time, there was the kartoshka (literally, “potato”), in which all students and military personnel had to drop everything and go out to the fields to bring in the harvest. My BF figured that as he had served in Spetsnaz and been injured in Afghanistan, though, the kartoshka could basically fuck off, and nobody ever bothered him about it.
Music videos were INCREDIBLY tacky and mostly looked like they had been made in someone’s basement. Investigative journalism was just developing; one program was 600 Seconds, which did a lot of local expose-type things.
There were a few homegrown groups which had a HUGE impact on musical thought, not to mention on democratization; my favorite was Kino, headed by Viktor Tsoi. Musically they weren’t so hugely differnt than what was going on in proto-alt-rock in the West at the time, except that the lyrics had all sorts of veiled metaphorical references to Soviet life, which was to be expected.
A hell of a lot more than most Americans knew about the USSR, except that the view of race relations in particular was really skewed. I think your average Soviet had no idea that there is a black middle class in the U.S. When my boyfriend came to Chicago the following summer, he was astonished to see black cops and made me ask if he could have his picture taken with them, because he said his friends at home would never believe that America had such a thing.