You may have heard this Soviet anecdote:

It’s February 3, 1976. A man is applying to get a new refrigerator. He waits in line and finally gets to the front and fills out the request form. The official informs him that his refrigerator will be delivered on February 3, 1986.

“At what time?” the man asks. 

The official, understandably caught off guard: “How could it possibly matter? It’s 10 years in the future!”

“Well, you see,” explains the man, “the plumber is coming that afternoon.”

As we were walking past some abandoned apartment buildings at the Lichtgrenze, Olga was telling me about how getting an apartment used to work. You fill out an application, wait for a period of time that could be a few months, a few years, or never (you know, if your country and way of life cease to exist), and then you get an apartment for free. You didn’t get much say in what kind of apartment you got.

This morning, I’m working on an application for a student apartment (the closest thing they have to a dorm). There are about 20 or 30 complexes all over the city. All of the dorms have a waiting list, some as long as 24 months or even more (which is why I’m applying now even though I don’t need the room until April or May). If they give me a room and I decide I don’t want it, my application is voided, and I have to reapply and go back to the bottom of the waiting list.

So basically, I find myself back in the USSR, with one exception: the apartments are no longer free.

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