Communal Living in Russia: Essays
Communal Apartments: "Normal" relations
  "Normal" relations between co-tenants assumes mutual support.
  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  Mutual support is a natural part of "normal" relations between tenants. The most common form it takes involves looking after children (including feeding them) when the parents are out, and helping sick or disabled people who live alone. With these kinds of relationships, food can be shared, and people will go to the store or the pharmacy for one another, and call for a doctor to come to the apartment. Even when sickness or disability isn't an issue, tenants who have "normal" relations can say to each other, "I'm going to the bakery. Do you need bread?" Or "Where is your garbage bag? I'm going to the garbage bin, I'll take yours as well."

"Normal" relationships permit entry into private space. A neighbor in a friendly relationship can stay in another neighbor's room if circumstances demand it—for example, if a child has forgotten his key and has to wait until his mother returns from work. The fact that tenants know about each other's professions and useful acquaintances allows them to ask each other for informal assistance of various kinds. Living together in the same apartment is a form of "blat" (connections), which can be put to use. Knowledge about somebody's potentially useful co-tenant can spread surprisingly far. For example, an elderly lady asked a friendly co-tenant if he would speak to his ex-wife, who hadn't lived in the apartment for a long time but with whom, as she knew, he maintained good relations; the elderly lady asked if this ex-wife would speak to her boss about hiring the lady's son's driver, who lived elsewhere and had never seen the ex-wife in his life. In order to set this into motion, the initiator needed to know at least to some extent how her neighbor's ex-wife got along with her boss.

Neighbors share not only daily responsibilities but also leisure. The combination of "normal" relations and a certain level of shared interests—if only television programs—results in visiting one another, watching television, smoking, drinking coffee, and so forth. Their children play together in the apartment and in the courtyard. Often they go to the same school, and walk there together. Naturally they know each other's birthdays. Exchanging gifts and greetings on birthdays and other holidays (most significantly, on the New Year, when Russians exchange presents), is common among friendly co-tenants. For the all-important New Year's celebration, somebody will usually invite solitary neighbors or at least bring them holiday food. It is important that relationships like these transcend all possible social boundaries and do not mean that the people in question even like each other. Behavior like this is simply part of the "normal" relations between "good neighbors."

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