Moving Is Like Putting Out 3 Moscow Fires

Переезд: a move

For the expat community, summer is the time of moving in and moving out. If you are not moving, it's a great time to snap up some moving sale bargains. If you are moving, it's a great time to buy a case or two of vodka.

All Russians appreciate the pain of moving; they only argue about how to quantify it. Some people say: Переезд -- это стихийное бедствие (A move is a natural disaster). Others say: Один переезд трём пожарам равен (One move is equal to three fires). Still others maintain that a move is only equal to two fires.

I think they are all wrong. I think a move is a natural disaster, fire, bankruptcy and divorce all rolled into one.

True, gone are the days when a Moscow move meant cadging boxes from the local store, buying tons of newspapers for packing, cajoling friends into helping and moving at night because that was the only time the friend of your second cousin could get the vegetable truck from the local store. Today you can buy all kinds of упаковочные материалы (packing materials) and hire companies to do the work for you.

Here's what you need to know:

1. To pack up a Moscow apartment, you need картонные короба (cardboard boxes), короба для одежды с вешалкой (wardrobe boxes, sometimes called чехлы для одежды), воздушно- пузырьковая пленка (bubble wrap), лента-скотч (packing tape), and maybe защитные уголки (protective corners). You will need 10 times more than you think of everything.

You will also need моющие средства (cleaning supplies) because you will discover that you haven't cleaned the inside of your cabinets since you moved in, as well as мусорные пакеты (garbage bags) because after a back-breaking day of arduous packing, you will decide that you'd rather toss out than pack up. You will also need a good sense of humor, a large supply of tranquilizers and/or alcohol, diminished standards of personal hygiene, a list of take-out restaurants and a chiropractor on call.

2. You will probably need грузчики (movers). These guys are specialists in the раз-/рас- verbs: разбирать (take apart), раскручивать (unscrew) and раскладывать (taking items out of the closet and drawers).

Then they know how to pack up (упаковывать) your possessions so that nothing breaks. They will be able to lift 200-kilogram boxes with one hand, fit them all into your tiny elevator and pack them into the truck like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

If they are good, they are worth their weight in gold. To keep them happy, add to your shopping list: икра (caviar), копченья (smoked meats), салаты (salads), торты (cakes) and прочие деликатесы (assorted delicacies). Consider кубинские сигары (Cuban cigars) and скотч -- the liquid kind, not the plastic tape. Or at least a couple bottles of vodka and a generous tip.

3. You will need to master a number of phrases to work with your moving team. The most important word is Осторожно! (Be careful!)

You might also need to say: Выбросить? Вы что?! Это антиквариат! (Throw it out? Are you crazy? It's an antique!) Моя бабушка подарила мне эту вазу (My grandmother gave me that vase). Да, вижу, что вы промаркировали коробки. Но что значит "ст. ку."? (Yes, I see that you've labeled the boxes. But what does "st. ku." mean?) Не лучше ли написать "стекло кухня"? (Isn't it better to write "glass-kitchen"?) Вы упаковали все мои туфли? Все?! (You packed up all my shoes? All of them?!)

When you realize that all the clothes you were planning to wear on your trip home are now packed in mysteriously marked boxes, it's time to crack out the vodka and order in pizza. Это не конец света -- это просто переезд (It's not the end of the world -- it's just a move).

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.