In order to get tickets to the popular Taganka or Vakhtangov theaters here, a Muscovite is forced to also buy tickets to a performance by a second-rate amateur dance group.
In the Ukranian city of Kharkov, consumers lined up to buy rotten apples - they had to buy a pound of the spoiled fruit in order to get two pounds of scarce oranges.
As a rule, according to Larisa Shendra, the only way she can get cotton is a part of a "package deal" in which she must also buy unwanted medications or toothpaste.
In the West, a "package deal" is simply a marketing gimmick. The buyer can usually save a little money compared with the price he would have to pay if the "packaged" items were bought individually. Sometimes there's no cash saving, but the items are "packaged" as a convenience. The customer can also buy them separately.
What turns this capitalist marketing gimmick into a socialist consumer fraud is the fact that here, there is no "deal" in a "package." The total price is the same the customer would pay if he could buy the "packaged" item separately.
"Let's call a spade a spade," wrote the newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta recently. "Trade in 'package deals' is nothing but an illegal and completely unsanctioned price increase for goods that are in high demand."
WHILE IT MAY BE ILLEGAL, the tactic is nevertheless commonplace here - and, apparently spreading.
"Year after year, trade in 'package deals' expands, acquires new refinements, and becomes a long-term, chronic phenomenon, "said Literaturnaya Gazeta.
Trade officials meanwhile, simply wink at the practice. And some here suspect that even the occasional article in the official press calling for a crackdown is meant, primarily to pacify the general public by growing the impression something is being done.
The psychology of constant shortages so infects consumers here that it works as a powerful ally of those officials who prefer ton look the other way at such abuses. "People generally don't complain," said a Moscow woman. "If they do they won't have the opportunity to buy the things they want."
The package deal has thus become one way that the planned socialist economy can clear the shelves of unpopular, outdated, and poor quality goods by making their purchase a condition of buying sought-after, contemporary, and high quality items.
The closest parellel in the United States is the new car dealer who is fortunate enough to handle a particulary hot-selling new model. Often, the dealers "load" such models with every conceivable extra-cost option, confident that most customers will pay extra, even for unwanted options, rather than wait for another car to be ordered from the factory.
What greed has wrought in the United States, "the plan inspires here. Soviet factories respond not to consumer demand, but to the judgments of the economy's central planners. Once the goods are produced, they must be sold - one way or another. Prices are cut only as a last-ditch measure.
During a serve coffee shortage last winter, jars of instant could be found "packaged" with items like stale cakes, or poor quality tea, according to one Moscouite.
"Package deals" are expressly forbidden in a series of Ministry of Foreign Trade directives. However, Literaturnaya Gazeta discovered that the orders are "ineffective because their menacing words . . . are not backed up by carefully considered, effective measures."
WHEN APPROACHED by Literaturnaya Gazeta, trade officials generally chose initially to play down examples of "package deals" as "isolated" or "atypical" incidents. Some argued that "the sale of goods, even in 'package deals,' is in the state's interest."
That arguement doesn't hold up, the newspaper countered. The state has an interest in studying and satisfying genuine, not distorted, demand . . . Why should the customer pay out of his pocket of someone else's negligence and irresponsibility? Rather, the newspapers said, "the compulsory sale of otherwise unmarketable goods is an antistate practice that rewards bunglers and shoddy workmen."
There are apparently plenty of ideas around on methods to curb such tactics.
One suggestion is that notices be posted in every store informing consumers of the trade ministry rules. Let customers know that they have an unconditional right to demand that combinations of goods that are not manufactured as sets be broken up if scarce items contained in such combinations are not sold separately in the store," said Literaturnaya Gazeta.
A NO-NONSENSE leningrad man said that the practice should be classified as "petty hooliganism" and made punishable by jail terms and fines.
That, Literaturnaya Gazeta said, is "an extreme view." It urged instead that administrative sanctions be toughened. A first offense should mean a 25 ruble ($37) fine for the director of the store.A second offense would be cause for dismissal and permanent blacklisting from retail trade.
Whether the latest outcry against "package deals" will actually lead to reform remains to be seen. The track record, however, is far from encouraging.
One Literaturnaya Gazeta reader sent the newspaper a collection of 11 similar articles on the same subject dating back to 1967.