Sunday, March 30, 2008

Community standards

When I was young we used to rent a summer place in a town named Solnechnoye (Ollila for those of you whom Russians chased out of there during the WWII). It was a very typical resort town, consisting of summer cottages, and with a huge beach. There were maybe a 1000 people living there all year round, 5000 people living there in summer, and 10000 people present there on the beach on every sunny summer weekend.

There was a paved path from the beach to a narrow highway, a grocery store and an ice cream kiosk on the other side, and a tiny road from there to the railway station. That was about it.

Like in all the Russian beach resort towns and all of the western ones I've seen, the swimsuit-clad people tended to go to the kiosk to buy ice cream.

One nice summer day I went there too, as usual. In a swimsuit. I was 12. OK, I also had D-sized breasts. (This probably explains a lot about my personality. One reason I don't believe the slogan "violence has never solved everything" is that for a 12-year-old with D-sized breasts violence solves quite a lot.)

When I was crossing the street a cop suddenly grabbed my arm.

"Where are you going? Are you not ashamed of yourself?"

The answer to that was obviously "no", but I knew better than to talk back to a cop.

"I am just going to get some ice cream!"
"No, you are not! You are wearing a swimsuit! If you want ice cream get back to the beach and put your clothes on!"
"But we always buy ice cream in swimsuits! It doesn't bother anyone."
"You are offending the community standards!"

During this exchange about 50 of the community safely crossed the street behind his back. Every single one of them was wearing a swimsuit. About a 100 more of the swimsuit-clad community giggled at us from the kiosk line. There was about 300 people in sight, and not a single one of them was dressed, apart from the officer.

"Where are you going?" he grabbed two young men in swimming trunks.
"To get some ice cream."
"If you want ice cream get back to the beach and put your clothes on! You are offending the community standards!"
"Er, dude," said one of them, whose mother clearly didn't teach him not to talk to cops, "if we are all in swimsuits and you are the only one dressed, aren't you the one offending the community standards?"

I never heard the end of this conversation, because I figured this was a good moment to go away and cross the highway 50 meters down the road. I joined the huge kiosk line, and continued watching the lone warrior for the community standards from there. He was totally overwhelmed by the community and its standards, but not giving up. It was a poignant sight, and highly symbolic of the whole country.

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