Letter from Prague Blasts from the past

27-07-2008 03:05 | Ruth Fraňková

Ever heard of pedro, céčka or jarmilky? Apparently, they are some of the most successful products of the socialist regime – at least according to a survey recently carried out among the users of the Novinky website. I myself did not take part in the voting, but I followed the process closely. Just like many other people of my generation, I too enjoy endless debates on what we used to eat or wear or play with in the long-gone communist days.

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I must say I was slightly disappointed by the choice of the overall winner, which is Pedro, a bright pink chewing gum with a distinct taste of artificial flavouring. For the price of fifty halers you could get a short-lasting pleasure – since the flavour was gone after a few minutes of chewing.

I would have personally voted for Vitacit, a powdered drink made of sugar, citric acid and artificial colouring. As far as I remember, I have never actually seen anyone using Vitacit to make a drink. We used to put the powder in our palm and lick it, which made our hands all sticky and our tongues either bright pink or yellow - depending on whether we had a strawberry or a lemon flavour.

Something that obviously couldn’t be missing from the list of the best socialist products are céčka – little plastic hooks in the shape of the letter C, which were originally made to be linked up in chains and hung in the doorframes as beads For some reason, céčka became a collecting craze among the children who grew up in the 1980s. Being brought up in an intellectual family, I found it too embarrassing to ask my parents for céčka, but I secretly wished I had at least a few.

I could obviously go on for ever, but don’t worry, I only want to mention two more things. One of them are “jarmilky”, white slip-on plimsoles used in a PE class. The word Jarmilka is a diminutive of a girl’s name Jarmila, and I have no clue why it was given to a tennis shoe. When my own pair of jarmilky was too worn out to be used at school, I would make my own cool version - cutting off the front and dying them black.

Surprisingly, along with the tennis shoes, girls’ shorts for PE class have also made it to the top ten. The shorts or trenýrky were made of artificial, intensely uncomfortable material, which was supposed to be elastic, but usually held on to the body only thanks to a tight rubber band in the waist. I guess that with a certain distance of time even unpleasant experiences can turn into sweet memories.

And that, I guess, explains the whole point of surveys like this one. Those who take part in the voting are not longing for the socialist days to come back. They are just getting older and want to return to their childhood at least for a while.

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