Yesterday, I totally overstepped my rights as co-dweller of room 503 when I asked Liza if she would turn off her radio during my Skype session that I’d warned her two days earlier had to happen. She countered with her most repeated complaint in recent days, namely, that I type too loudly.

I type too loudly. I have a normal laptop computer with a normal laptop keyboard. It is not silent. It is also not unusually noisy. I type at the speed and volume of a person who has been well-schooled in keyboarding skills. Nothing unusual. But several times in the last few days, she had insisted that I type more quietly or stop typing in the room altogether, and arguing was useless:
(a) Liza, this is my room too. We have to make compromises to live with each other. If you can’t learn to share space, you need to find a place to live by yourself (Her response: “YOU necessary learn to share space!”).

(b)  I’m gone most of the time, so you have the room to yourself for 6-12 hours most days. If you can’t get your work done in that time and can’t work with me in the room, maybe you could find another place to work during that time. (Her response: “Maybe YOU necessary find another place to work!”)

(c) Have you thought about getting headphones? I use headphones so that your radio doesn’t bother me. (Her response: Eyeroll. [I’m sorry, is this graduate or middle school?])

(d) I can try to type more quietly, but it’s really not something I can fix, nor is it a reasonable thing for you to ask. I type the way I type. It can’t really change. (Her response: “That’s your problem!” (In what way, I wonder? Can it be my problem if I’m not bothered by it?)

Finally, I reiterated that I couldn’t listen to her yelling because I did have this Skype session to do (it was a lesson with a student, so, you know, professionality and such). To her credit–or at least not direct discredit–she did stop yelling. And left. But not before leaving me a note that said “This is not USA. You not have right to say other people to leave. You just [indecipherable].” At this point my mind was overflowing. I wanted to ask what the USA had to do with anything. I wanted to point out that she had left of her own volition. I really wanted to find out what she had called me in the last sentence.  Then again, maybe I just wanted to say, PLEASE DEAR GOD WILL YOU JUST LET ME TEACH YOU HOW TO USE VERBS AND WE’LL CALL IT EVEN?


ADVERB. It’s what you say about what you do. Don’t mix them up. (And because my friends are just the kind of people to point this out: yes, I know that “necessary” is an adjective. But “You necessarily VERB” means something different, and in Russian the adj and adv in this case are the same.)


In the aftermath of that, I did my best to focus on my poor student, and once that was over, skedaddled to anywhere but home–hence the newspaper. Liza appeared to have done the same, not returning until after 11:00 curfew, when she went to bed without a word. Neither of us could sleep. A couple of times, I made human-moving-around noises and was jerked back to full consciousness by a hiss of “Why you that!?”

Around 5 AM, she turned on music on her phone, put on her shoes, and started walking around (but not engaging in her normal morning routine). After a few minutes I gave up and got up, at which point she turned off the music and went back to bed. I, however, took advantage of the opportunity to catch Nathan before he went to sleep.

At the earliest available opportunity, I went to the housing office and asked to be moved in with a family. Much to my surprise, they showed me pictures of all the available apartments, and the girl was able to tell me off the top of her head who lived there, what their professions were, and what mode of transport connects them to the university. I opted for one in the northern, more industrial (read: depressing; also similar to Cherepovets) part of the city, because it was on the metro (which means that (a) I won’t have to worry about being late to class when it snows, and (b) when it’s 40 below, I’ll be waiting for the train underground instead of for the bus on the street) and because the girl said that the woman who lived there was kind. Her name is Svetlana Borisovna (see cultural note). Svetlana is one of my favorite names, because the familiar form, Sveta, means both “light” and “world.”

*Cultural note* On Russian naming: Instead of middle names, Russians have patronymics — so Svetlana Borisovna means Svetlana, daughter of Boris, and Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky was Pyotr, son of Ilya. In formal settings, instead of saying “Mr./Mrs. Lastname,” you call people by their first name and patronymic. In literature, this causes a veritable catastrophe of nomenclature. You could have a book whose main characters were Alexandr Andreevich Artyomov (who, depending on the situation, could be called Artyomov, Andreevich, Alexandr Andreevich, Alexandr, Alex, Sasha, Lyosha, or Lyosh) and Andrey Alexandrovich Antoneev (with an equally expansive set of names). I think that happened, maybe in Sons and Fathers —anyone have an idea? Anyway, Somehow that’s not confusing to Russians.

In business-casual circumstances (a teacher addressing a student, for instance), you use full first name only. If you’re friends or family, there’s a wide array of diminuitive/perjorative/vocative forms that you can use depending on how affectionate you are (or aren’t) feeling toward the person at that particular moment. For instance, my Russian name is Ekaterina, and that’s how I should introduce myself to new acquaintances (although they would almost never call me that). My friends call me Katja, but a professor who particularly liked me in college called me Katen’ka (one of several double diminuitive forms for my name). When I reconnect with a friend from Cher with whom I don’t speak often, they also usually use the double diminuitive. If you liked me but were also annoyed with me, you could call me Katka. If you were calling my name (to summon me, get my attention, etc) and we were on familiar terms, you could say “Eh! Kat’!”, and in theory I would come. On the one hand, the Russian system is sort of confusing and prevents an individual from having any control over what they go by; on the other one, it gives the speaker a huge amount of expressive power in little space.


The girl in the housing office phoned Sveta, who asked me when I would like to move in. I replied ASAP–which actually sounds much more urgent in Russian: “As possible faster!” They asked me how 3:00 sounded. I said that would be just dandy.

My classmates (whom I had asked to be on the lookout for Kate’s New Home) were pleased to learn that my problem was potentially solved. One classmate, whose name is hard to remember but who is the only Korean in the Europe group (how did you get here, dude?) commented, “Oh, I live at the same station as you! It’s dangerous there. Lots of drunks.” I pointed out that the dangers of drunks are easily avoided by running in a zig-zag pattern, and he seemed placated–or perplexed; I really couldn’t be sure.

Korea wasn’t wrong, though. As soon as I stepped out of the station and into the open-air market, a man passed out in front of me and rolled around on the floor while passersby clicked their tongues in disdain–and he wasn’t the only one*. In spite of that, the area reminds me a lot of Cherepovets. At the market you can fulfill all your daily needs for dried fruits, meat pies, vegetables, smoked fish, and chats with Georgians selling alluring mixtures of spices.

Across-The-River (as this district of the city is called–guess where it is relative to the river?) isn’t polished like the central part of town. The sidewalks are cracked, the brightly-painted classical-style buildings from downtown have been replaced by concrete high-rises, and the people dress less fashionably and walk more slowly. There’s grass growing wild everywhere, and a shopping center next to the metro station looks like it’s been embroidered with pearl beads (I think it’s meant to imitate some kind of headdress? Picture will come someday).  It only took a few minutes of exploring to realize: “This is what I meant when I said I wanted to go back to Russia!”

Sveta and Sasha’s apartment, like most urban Russian homes, is characterized by a depressing and poorly-maintained exterior that turns into a palace once you pass through their door. It has huge, bright rooms and a glassed-in balcony that’s currently overflowing with onions and apples from their dacha. Sasha didn’t talk much — which was good, since I have a lot of trouble understanding him–but Sveta had enough to say for the two of them. They’ve hosted at least a dozen students, and once I managed to convince her that no, I really had just eaten and didn’t want any soup, and yes I meant it, but thank you, you’re very kind, she proceeded to tell me all the things their former students had done that they didn’t like: stay out late without calling, be drunk all the time… things anyone wouldn’t like in their home, and things that I have no intention of doing.

They told me that their daughter, Olya, just graduated from college in Canada, and they rent out her room to help pay for her tuition/room/board. They haven’t seen her in 4 years and were denied visas to attend her graduation. Perhaps the empty nest prompted Sveta to immediately start treating me like part of the family, addressing me by my double-diminished name (Katyusha) or by “dorogushka,” the diminuitive form of “dear”, even before we’d agreed that I would move in. At every pause in the conversation, Sveta would say, “Takie dela, dorogushka”– “That’s the way things are, my little dear.”


According to our contract (a term that I apply very loosely), the family is supposed to provide me with a private bedroom, access to a bathroom, and daily breakfast. Sveta was very interested to know what I like to eat for breakfast, which was a terribly uncomfortable conversation: I feel wrong having someone cook me breakfast anyway, and being choosy about it just seems absurd. Really, just put any kind of grain in the cupboard, and I’ll find and cook it myself. Finally, they pulled it out of me that I think buckwheat is the absolute worst (it really is), and they were satisfied with that. Then Sveta informed me that I should join them for suppers, too (“What are we supposed to do, cook and not feed you? Nonsense!”). Then we had to have the food talk again. But this time it was easier: Sveta said that after hosting so many foreigners, she knows better than to try to serve them fish aspic (thank you Jesus), and she laughed off my confession that I can’t eat goat or sheep milk products –“Good, we can’t afford that anyway!”


Sasha and Sveta offered to let me move in that evening, but I had tickets to Fiddler on the Roof and hadn’t packed. They’re at the dacha today (maybe next weekend I get to join them?), and when they come home tomorrow evening they’re going to come get me and all my stuff! The dorm informed me that I’m not allowed to move out on a Sunday because no one will be here to inspect the room. I said I’d wait until Monday. I forgot to mention the part where I’ll still be taking my stuff tomorrow and sleeping somewhere else.



*This isn’t really an appropriate use of the footnote, but I wanted to mention it and didn’t know a more graceful way to work it in. Russia has a bad habit of treating addiction like a personality flaw rather than a disease, a mindset that causes them to have a huge problem with (obviously) alcohol and (slightly less obviously) HIV/AIDS. But yesterday, I saw a sign in a cafeteria that said something like this: “If you’ve fallen into a bad place and can’t get out on your own, you deserve anonymity and respectful help” followed by a phone number. Maybe, just maybe, things are starting to change.