As Ukraine continues its path towards Europe, it gets harder and harder to find those little Soviet-style quirks that make life in this country so unique. But if you want a truly Soviet experience, why don’t you just queue?
Queuing in the Soviet Union is the stuff of lore. Ukrainians fondly relate that the biggest road catastrophe in the USSR was when the Kyiv queue crashed into the Moscow queue.
If you’ve ever wondered how many babushkas it would take to cut in line before you start throwing elbows, well – this is the place for you. I got to nine, for the record. And while I tell that story 20 years later, I’m sure those grannies still have fond recollections of the potatoes they fought me for.
Although Ukrainians are making strides toward more European queueing norms – banks are beginning to use ticketed numbers and marshrutka lines proceed with relative order – the more important the appointment, the more Soviet the queue. Ever been in line to get an official document? Hoping to see a doctor in a state hospital? Or waiting to buy your ticket 10 minutes before your train departs? That’s exactly when the Soviet queue comes to life! From the offensively false “it’ll just take 10 seconds” to the always-handy “I was here already” to the heart-wrenching “my babushka is waiting outside”, Ukrainians have made queue-cutting into an art form.
A personal favourite is the old slip-into-the-line-unnoticed trick. These masters of subterfuge slip into lines like a magician sliding a playing card back into his deck. Sporting events and concert queues are where the most nefarious queue-cutters come out to play. You’ll be able to play the time-honoured game of ‘spot the foreigner’ by looking for those about to lose their minds… Of course, these hard-to-shake habits also spill over to driving. Many an accident has been caused by someone looking just a little too aggressively to cut in line.
Your sense of honour when it comes to queue-cutting will surely be put to the test in Ukraine. But remember – our hosts honed their craft back in the days when there just wasn’t enough toilet paper to go around. So, you can either sit back and enjoy the shenanigans, or you can go local by getting your elbows up.