The magic “maybe” bag – the more central government control, the more maybe bags will exist.
In September, 1979, I was in a fusion energy meeting at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow and, during a coffee break, I began to talk with one of the Russians about some research. He opened his brief case to get a paper for me that he had written and this net-type bag fell out. He explained what it was for and how often the central planning group in the Soviet Government would screw up in having the right amount of an item produced for a particular area or city. In particular, he said he was looking for a pair of his size of dress shoes and, since they didn’t provide a box or bag at the store, he needed something to carry them if he were lucky enough to find his size. He called it his “maybe” bag, as in maybe I’ll find what I want/need.
может быть, pronounced “mozet beet” (means maybe in English) – is a Russian phrase used to describe such a string bag that resembles a basketball net. The space-saving bag was designed and widely used in the country
during those Soviet times. The “maybe” bag – an “accessory” for both women and men – easily fit in a lady’s handbag or in a man’s case and could be unfolded in a grocery store.
The word, which would just mean uncertainty in any other language, had a wider meaning in the USSR. When most things were hard to come by and there was a deficit of certain products even in grocery stores – the “maybe bag” was a kind of scoop-net.
People took it with them in the morning just in case, they might catch a certain goody by the end of the day. “Here’s my maybe-bag. Maybe I’ll get something into it…”
Imagine being responsible for shoes for the USSR. Your group would have to plan what designs would be produced, in what colors and sizes, where they would be made and how many would be shipped to what city/area at what time!!! They couldn’t let the market take care of the choices and distributions. No wonder the maybe bags were everywhere.
And inefficiencies were built into the system, often to maintain jobs for people, no matter whether needed. For example when you wanted to buy something, say in GUM, the biggest department store in Moscow, you chose it, if they had it, at the display case, told the attendant there who gave you an identifying slip which you took to the nearest cashier (who may be using an abacus) to pay. The cashier then gave you a receipt which you took back to the first lady who then gave you the item. So wasteful!
The country seemed so drab and depressing, yet there were many interesting things to see. However, those sites were most often remnants of the Tsarist past such as huge, extravagant, castles. Our visit was made more unusual because the Soviets had recently invaded Afghanistan and Carter had just boycotted the 1980 Olympics. (Which made for some interesting side discussions during our meetings!) I am sure the country has changed significantly in the last thirty years, especially since now, Russia is largely capitalistic.
My wife and I had flown from London to Moscow on Aeroflot, the Soviet airline, to experience their service. Once was enough. We chose British Airways on the return, it was largely filled with Brits and Europeans, and when the plane lifted off the runway applause erupted from the passengers. The two and one half week trip was very interesting for us but we felt like we were finally decompressing as we flew off to the west.
The more there is centralized government control the more “maybe bags” will appear. The Soviet Union proved that correlation during its terrible period. We in the USA are not near maybe bags yet but sometimes I worry about our “creep” in that direction.