A Tale of Comically Low-Level Russian Bureaucracy, or, My New Refrigerator

OY! I haven’t updated my blog in well over a month. Forgive me and I’ll promise to do better?

Rather than do a piecemeal rehash of all mundane events of the past month, I want to share just a snippet. You see, recently I’ve had an encounter with the Russian bureaucracy.

It all started when my electricity started to go out. One night in early October my lights went out for the first time. After a few minutes they came back on and I returned to watching dumb Russian TV (this was early-on enough that I didn’t even have internet in my room). No big deal. Then, it happened again, and since the problem didn’t resolve itself this time I went to the dorm guard and explained the problem. It turns out that I had thrown my breaker, and, having not just fallen of the turnip truck I realized that I needed to maybe not boil water and use my space-heater at the same time. I thus adjusted my electricity consumption habits. But the problem persisted. Sometimes the breaker would be thrown even when all my lights were out and I had unplugged everything save my fridge. Clearly there was a problem with the electrical wiring, right?

Well, that was impossible, the head of my dorm explained to me. You see, they had ESPECIALLY renovated my dorm room (including the electrical wiring) JUST FOR ME right before I arrived. Everything was new. How could it be a problem with the wiring? “You are using too many things at once,” the dorm-head said to me, “You cannot use both the heater and the water kettle at the same time. You must use them in turns.” I got this speech at least 10 separate times. “Yes,” I replied, “I understand how electricity works. I never use them both at once.” Still, no response other than to reprimand MY behavior. (It probably didn’t help that I can’t even begin to translate “to throw a breaker” into Russian. But still.)

There were many incidents, but the electricity fiasco ended with a guard yelling at me when I asked him for help (my dorm-head later told me in the most patronizing tone possible that I had mis-interpreted the exchange, that some people just have a stern tone about them), which I finally reported to my boss who reported it to her boss and according to the rules of Russian bureaucratic chain-of-command and the fact that my university is trying not to embarrass itself with its first foreign visitor in a decade, something finally had to be done. When rational negotiation fails, there is always tattling.

And this is the point where my most recent comedy begins. Unwilling to attribute my problems to shoddy workmanship (the same workmanship, by the way, that left a gap underneath my shower doors so that my bathroom floods every single time I shower), the heads of my dorm placed the blame on my large, admittedly old refrigerator. I told them that since they fixed my electricity I had had no problems, so it probably wasn’t the fridge. So they got me a new fridge. As per the order of the head of my University. I’m not kidding. In the one conversation I’ve had with this man he asked me 1.) what I hoped to contribute to the university this year and 2.) how my fridge was doing.

It took them a month to get my new fridge. They decided to install it on a Friday morning. I was not warned before, so when they knocked on my door I had not yet dressed and my room wasn’t exactly tidy. Two men of questionable hygiene installed the fridge (I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but seriously the smell of their body odor lingered in my room for hours, which did absolutely nothing to allay my general annoyance at this never-ending epoch). I signed at least 3 documents after the fridge was issued. And then I had two fridges.

Yesterday, more than a week after the installation, one of the the women who works in the dorm knocked on my door (again, with no warning and at an inconvenient time). Apparently, the university’s accountant needed my fridge’s factory number and date of production–information that could be found on stickers on the back of the fridge. First of all, SERIOUSLY? Second, instead of letting me find this info or looking herself, this episode included yet another strange, smelly man coming to my room with no prior warning. And I laughed out loud because it was just so dumb and everybody here probably thinks I’m a crazy, spoiled American princess. Because they renovated my dorm room and bought me a new fridge.

Maybe I sound like a jerk. Like a jerk who doesn’t appreciate the fact that my university bought me a brand new, if utterly unnecessary fridge because “our electricians did a shit job the first time” is an unfathomable explanation for a very simple electrical problem. But I don’t appreciate having my privacy violated on multiple occasions, my paternalistic dorm-head entering my room while I’m in my bathrobe, peering into my bedroom and telling me that too many things are plugged in. And I find it embarrassing to be forced to discuss minutia like my refrigerator with the head of my university. I dislike that my home life always seems to make it’s way into my work life. For example, the dorm staff took it up with my boss when I returned home at 3am for the first time. I had to negotiate the terms of my curfew VIA THE HEAD OF MY DEPARTMENT. I could have died from embarrassment. Another, albeit less unsettling incident was when my colleague reported to me that the director of the local philharmonic had seen me at a recent concert (but didn’t actually introduce herself to me at said concert). There are spies everywhere! God forbid I should start dating someone, right?

This has been very rant-y and very negative, and for that I apologize. In my recent lessons on Thanksgiving with my English major students I’ve been talking about the importance of reflection and being aware of the things we have to be grateful for. I haven’t forgotten that! But if I can’t rant to you, then who else do I have?

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