Communal Living in Russia: Audio
Our Neighbors and Us: Switching oranges
  Summary
  A portion of a conversation Ilya held with informants about their relationship with their co-tenants. It is risky to keep your refrigerator in the kitchen.
  Basic Facts and Background
  When: December 06, 1997

Where: A midsized communal apartment with ten co-tenants on Shpalernaya St., in a prestigious St. Petersburg neighborhood.

Who: Volodya, age 40; his mother Rosalya Yurievna; and Ilya, an anthropologist conducting field work in communal apartments as part of his academic research.

Volodya and Rozalya Yurievna moved to Petersburg from a small town in the Volga region, where they had their own house.

What: Statements about stealing on the part of a co-tenant; about "substitution" as a kind of stealing; about the refrigerator in the kitchen.

  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  Ilya: So you don't have close relationships with the other tenants?

R. Yu.: There are some people I know in the building. I'm friends with them.

Ilya: But there's nobody you're friends with in the apartment?

R. Yu.: You know, that's impossible, it's just impossible, because you do something good and you're repaid with such, such meanness that I can only…

Volodya: That is, you used to be friends, and then you quarreled, why don't you say that?

R. Yu.: It's just that…I broke off relations. What's the point? If you sympathized with a person with all your heart, you felt for that person, you did everything for that person, and then that person shoves you in the hallway, then what's this?..

Ilya: You mean the alcoholic?

R. Yu.: No, no, I mean someone who lives here, a woman.

Volodya: No, the alcoholic behaves irreproachably.

R. Yu.: Now he behaves irreproachably.

Volodya: The only thing is that that one time, when he had a few, he made trouble for us, but when he's sober he doesn't.

Ilya: Uh-huh.

Volodya: The only thing we insist on is that he doesn't bring anybody here, any of his jerky pals. So he only brings them in at night, on the sly.

Ilya: His friends? They drink?

R. Yu.: He hardly drinks now, hardly at all.

Volodya: What do you mean, "hardly at all"? However much money he has, that's how much he … And that's that.

R. Yu.: He hardly drinks. Compared to how much he used to drink.

Volodya: If he had more money, he'd drink more, that's not the point. The point is that he's bringing these people in here, and we're insisting, let him, let him drink however much he wants, we don't care.

Ilya: As for those people he brings in, did you have instances of theft, perhaps?

R. Yu.: I don't know.

Volodya: No, he was the one who would steal things. Small things. And he's still doing in, he takes salt for example, takes it from the kitchen.

Ilya: Was anything major ever missing?

Volodya: Pepper…Nothing big; he's afraid.

Ilya: Well, thank goodness.

R. Yu.: No.

Volodya: He's afraid to take anything major, but he considers it his duty to steal something. For example, there was a refrigerator there, near the kitchen there, so he switched the oranges, good ones for rotten ones.

Ilya: What do you mean?

Volodya: There were the same number of them. Well, that's their communal tradition, apparently, they steal from each other.

Ilya: Uh-huh.

Volodya: Laundry detergent…and he switched the oranges, the same number. But all of them were rotten. (giggles)

Ilya: Wow. What did all of you say to him?

Volodya: He said he didn't do it. Well, what could I say? I told him that the oranges were…switched, and that's all there is to it. But he denied it.

Ilya: But now the refrigerator isn't in the kitchen any more?

R. Yu.: We had to take it out. We took it out because this one is big.

Volodya: No, that's not why, it's just… We needed it.

R. Yu.: We couldn't get it in.

Ilya: The most important thing is that the big one doesn't make noise. We put it in our room. But the other one makes noise, we couldn't keep it in our room. That's why.

Ilya: Uh-huh.

Volodya: Not because it was there, no in fact nothing was taken there, though he was rummaging around of course.

R. Iu.: It's unpleasant.

Ilya: Does anyone else still keep a refrigerator in the kitchen?

Volodya: Not any more. There's one refrigerator in the entryway. By the door.

R. Yu.: It's there. By the door.

Volodya: He's afraid to rummage around in here because here people can see and hear. And there it's far. So he rummaged around in there at night.

R. Yu.: And then he took her to court, that woman.

[Note: We do not know what the last remark is about.]

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