Audio > Our Neighbors and Us > A nail and a sweater
expand/collapse this text box Summary
A part of a conversation Ilya held with informants about their relationship with co-tenants and the consequences of envy.
expand/collapse this text box Basic Facts and Background
When: December 6, 1997

Where: An apartment on Shpalernaya St., in a prestigious St. Petersburg neighborhood; a midsized communal apartment with ten co-tenants. Rozaliya Yurievna and Volodya have two small rooms in this apartment. One of them is entirely taken up by a piano and a bed.

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

Mentioned in the conversation is Rozaliya Yurievna's other son, who gave her the sweater; he is a pianist.

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

What: The story of how a once close friendship with a co-tenant turned sour. The co-tenant could not control her envy after Rosalya Yurievna showed her the sweater that her son had brought her from Korea. According to the story, this woman then drove a nail into a narrow section of the apartment hallway, so that neighbors would bump into it and tear their clothes (including the object of envy, the sweater).

expand/collapse this text box Translation of the Russian Transcript
R. Yu.: Or here's another example. My son brought me a present from Korea, he went there for his job, I have another son who lives here, so he brought me a sweater as a present, a nice sweater, pretty. I showed it to my neighbor in the apartment. Well just showed it, you know, without any…

Volodya: Come on, get to the point.

Ilya: So, so…?

R. Yu.: And that was the hidden reason behind the quarrel. What do you expect.

Volodya: What kind of quarrel? What happened with this Zoyka?

R. Yu.:I don't want to talk about it. Anyway I didn't quarrel with her, I just stopped talking to her.

Volodya: But what did she start …what did she say?

R. Yu.: She didn't start…she... it's because of the nail.

Ilya: What do you mean, because of the nail?

Volodya: You mean after the sweater she put up the nail, right?

R. Yu.:Of course.

Ilya: What about the nail? Tell me.

Volodya: The nail? So it's a narrow hallway there, and she put in, she hammered a nail in there, so we would run into it.

Ilya: How could that be? How awful! Where? In what place? Just there somewhere..?

Volodya: How could that be? We're telling you.

R. Yu.: You're asking how that could be? We're telling you.

Volodya: A little nail. I was the one who got caught on it, so I tell her, take the nail out, and she starts yelling.

Ilya: She was using the nail to hang something up, probably?

R. Yu.: Well, you know, maybe she needed it there.

Volodya: No, there was no need for it there, absolutely none. She just hammered in a nail. If she wanted...she is using it now, she says, instead of a door handle. A door handle costs a thousand and a half, we had one put in. She'd never spend money on something like that, she's been opening it fine for years without a nail, for ten years. She says that all her life there were nails here, and nobody ran into one, and I say well I did, and what if one day I come in wearing good clothes?

Ilya: In the dark.

Volodya: What?

Ilya: In the dark because in the narrow…

Volodya: It's not dark, it's just that the hallway is narrow, you don't see it, the nail, it's small.

R. Yu.: And you know, sometimes people have to pass each other, let's say you're coming out of the kitchen carrying plates or pots.

Volodya: It's in the corner. The nail is in the corner. I ran into it and almost tore my sweater this way, you see?

Ilya: Uh-huh.

Volodya: I tell her to take it out, but she doesn't take the nail out.

Ilya: So she did this right after you showed her the sweater, she hammered the nail in on purpose?

R. Yu.:I don't know, maybe I'm making a connection that doesn't exist.

Volodya: It seems like it was right after, yes, right after.

R. Yu.: We had a very nice talk, and she liked it, and she said wear it in good health, and things like that. It's just…Well, you can imagine…

Ilya: And then she stopped talking, stopped having friendly relations.

R. Yu.:Maybe the sweater didn't mean anything, I really don't know.

Volodya: Maybe, maybe we were the ones who stopped talking to her. Now I don't talk to her at all. I don't say hello, I don't talk.

R. Yu.: You know, there are people you're better off just having formal relations with.

Volodya: I have no kind of relations, I don't talk.

R. Yu.: I say hello. I say hello, and she says hello.

Volodya:I don't.

R. Yu.: We pass by each other say, we meet, we try to let the other one pass. Both of us do that. That suits me. But I'm not that kind of person, I'm used to doing it differently, somehow.

Volodya: You're used to being social.

R. Yu.: No, that you can't have here, that you can't have here.

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