I will try to refute the myth (and its origins in the USSR) about how well life was in the West. Where did it go to the masses and what did it lead to?
Let's start with how a citizen of the Union and the CMEA countries could get acquainted with Western life with their own eyes. Firstly, from television reports and newspapers, in general, from the official media. Secondly, it does not matter with regard to the packaging of Western goods: widespread and not so popular and their quality (and more on that separately), whether they were smuggled inside the USSR or not. Thirdly, during a business trip or a tourist trip to a capital country. There were no other options available.
And on the basis of these data, the person compared how it is there and how it is living here. And he made the appropriate conclusions.
We will not dive into conclusions about what the average inhabitant of Eastern Europe of the CMEA countries thought. For example, in the same Albania, life, in the USSR, and in France, seemed equally beautiful against the background of theirs, Albanian.
Let's focus on the perception of everything that a Soviet citizen saw from available sources. And also on what he could learn from this about the life of the same ordinary inhabitant of the capital country.
Of the above information sources, the first two reflected only 5-15% of objective information in general. The third source gave more information, of course. But again the question arises - what kind of information? It's one thing to study the West professionally: with an eye to understanding and introducing useful things in your country, and another thing is to simply contemplate the beauties of nature on a tour.
Let's take a closer look.
Undoubtedly, many (who lived in the Soviet Union) remember how we stuck to the screens when the “Film Travelers Club” and “International Review” were shown on TV. What could we see there, besides the essence of the shown plot itself? Men - cars, roads, various equipment and technical process in production (when it slipped through). Women, on the other hand, looked out for fashion, residents' clothes and kitchen little things.
How much did it give in terms of a depth of understanding of life in each shown country? Well, if a person after the TV program did not start a personal in-depth study of the topic, then, in general, this gave the people a grain of knowledge about the West. In any country, there are very few such in-depth seekers of the essence. And for the majority of the population, only what I have listed above is enough.
Undoubtedly, we looked at these things as the Papuans looked at beads and mirrors. And largely because of the catchy design of consumer goods. And also due to the lack of diversity of the same goods in the Soviet Union (this sector was then in an embryonic state). Why? Let's leave this behind the scenes.
We will only touch on the quality of consumer goods that a Soviet citizen managed to acquire. Here it should first be noted that such goods were rare and expensive in the Union, and accordingly, the attitude towards them was especially careful.
Although there (in the homeland of imported goods) it could be the most obvious cheap in terms of quality. But here the same product was automatically exalted to the skies - in comparison with the same analogue, but the Soviet one.
I remember a case from my family's experience. In the year 1982 (plus or minus), a batch of beautiful imported slippers (analogous to our Czech women. Well, who remembers what kind of shoes they are) was brought to the bus depot as a bonus to the drivers of city buses and other production leaders.
So, everything was outwardly beautiful, the packaging shines and sparkles with color. It happened that out of two pairs, one was washed somehow. So she just disappeared into the washing machine. It was decided to take the second pair to school and translate the inscription on their packaging. Then they laughed for a long time. Since those slippers were intended for the dead. But, nevertheless, this pair of Czech shoes, when carefully worn, lived for 5 years. At the same time, penny Soviet Czech women in the "slaughter" mode served 2-3 years quietly.
The conclusion from this digression, I think, is clear - the careful exploitation of any cheap product makes its service long. And multiplied by expensive imports - and, in general, almost eternal. Which does not tell us at all about the initially high quality of this product.
But imports were still considered better here. Just because it is import.
And, by the way, a few words about this very quality of consumer goods imported into the USSR legally through foreign trade. Many people are still conscientiously mistaken, thinking that all imports from the West went to the Union as contraband. This is not true. And it is refuted by the official data of the USSR on purchases of consumer goods in capital countries.
At all kinds of construction sites of the century and in closed towns, as well as in completely open cities and villages, imports from far abroad appeared: somewhere more often, somewhere less often. But he was.
I remember when I was six I bought a huge colorful set "Imported Designer" for 3 rubles. And this was in the village of Poperechnoye, Kamensky District, Altai Territory. In an absolutely unremarkable village, of which there were millions throughout the country. And in Barnaul, we took canned pineapples and squids without queues in the summer at a quite ordinary grocery store. It is clear that not every day, but in the summer we had these goods in the grocery store.
There is also an important detail to understand. The Soviet Union officially purchased only high-quality consumer goods. That in itself formed an image of the superiority of capitalist goods among the population: after all, we were fenced off from a huge wave of frankly low-quality their junk. It was simply impossible to compare and understand what's what, good or bad product. Plus neatness to rare things. And again we get a cliché in my head that our products were worse.
I do not argue with statements that the quality of our goods was not very good. Well, so today in the West there are conditionally Maybach / Maybach and cars Ligier / Ligier. And so in all product groups. We did not have such strong imbalances.
Total. What from the considered second way could an ordinary citizen understand about the life of capitalist countries? And even less than in the first case.
Traveling to the capitalist country on a tour package or on a business trip. It is somewhat more complicated here, since the bell towers (both the field of view and the openness of the brains), as well as the awareness of people from this category, vary greatly.
Let's start with tourists. Where, by definition, are the tourists taken? What do we have, what do they have? Right. In tourist areas - look at different beauties. The amount of tinsel and external glitter in such places will, by definition, go off scale at times in comparison with the ordinary life of the country.
Electronics in Akihabara, for example, is much more expensive than anywhere else in Japan. Outward gloss, livability, vodka and nesting dolls are many times better on a tour of the Golden Ring than in any other city in our country in the “souvenirs” department. Especially when viewed from the sightseeing bus window.
What will a citizen or an artist of large and small theaters think of himself, having been on a tour at that time? In addition to the external tinsel, he will not see anything (in fact), but he strongly believes in the superiority of the capital country in everyday life. It is because of this tinsel and facade. After all, then it was problematic for a Soviet person to freely walk around the country, due to the actions of the intelligence services, not least of all.
Therefore, at least superficially to compare personally what is behind the tinsel, it was difficult (and seekers, as we understood, are always few). But the conclusions were unambiguous: they say, they live there, but we have sandals and we do not produce anything except galoshes.
Those citizens who had been to the West for work and work could more clearly see the difference between the screen of tourist places and the real life of the population of the host country. Some - because of their official duties, and who, like sailors and journalists - because of the long total time spent. And upon arrival in the Union, they told what and how it actually works there. But there were few of those from the entire Union. And their voice was almost inaudible in the general mass of tinsel lovers at that time.
For example, here is a photo of the famous photographer Nick Hedges, taken in the working quarters of the English city of Birmingham in 1970. And these are residential areas of a large industrial center in Great Britain. The houses belong to a large enterprise where these people work. Mick Jagger grew up in such an area and says he joined the gang before he could write. And it was massive, and not isolated cases.
And now we recall the conditions in which the Soviet worker lived at the same time, and in large numbers.
The same applies to the automotive industry, machine tools and more.
Both in our country and in the West there were middle peasants and outstanding specimens. The Union was actively purchasing various machinery and equipment for comparison. Based on the test results, I ordered the best or took a production license.
We bought a lot of finished products (for example, Magirus), also with machines. At the same time, it is hushed up in the mass opinion that the Union also sold many of its machine tools and other things to the West, and not just to the CMEA countries and Africa. What if our product was unusable? They wouldn't take it. However, they bought it very willingly, which indicates its relevance.
By the way, newspapers and TV regularly brought to us this dark side of the gloss of capstran packaging. But now you yourself understand what the opinion of the media is, when a person himself cannot compare with his own eyes. What are the stories of a few skilled workers, military men and journalists against large masses of the population, which in many respects refuses to believe and perceive it? And also against the background of the then prosperity and, seeing the shiny beads in their hands, people simply believed that this propaganda was fooling them, and that this (bad in the West) simply could not be.
Now let's remember what categories of citizens of the USSR were actively drowned for the idea of superiority of the capitalist countries over the USSR during perestroika? Small-scale actors and officials, mostly. And the loudest. And what could they, in fact, know about the real problems of the capitalist countries? And what were they able, in general, to discern in episodic trips to shops exclusively in the sector of the same external tinsel?
In principle, professionals were not given the floor. And those who made their way to the media were very quickly defamed and booed by the whole crowd. And today it is the same. Let's remember the videos about joyful pensioners who want to work on the central TV channels.
As a result, a noisy minority, in pursuit of personal philistine happiness, ruined millions and a great country.
What such a one-sided belief in shiny beads leads to, we citizens of the USSR are still seeing.
And in England, such an attitude towards their population in the 70s backfired in the future by the IRA group and Ulster in the 80s ...