Preserving Your Dignity During Repairs

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Замена батарей: Replacing radiators

For me, 2009 is going to be Год Ремонта (Repair Year).

There are two basic ways to remodel your apartment. The Smart Way is to spend several months doing research, getting bids, picking out tile and paint, and then having the whole messy job done while you are out at the dacha. The Stupid Way is to miss the dacha window of opportunity and then have to do emergency repair work at the worst possible moment. You might, say, need to put in new radiators after the city heating system is turned on, or replace your toilet after a plumbing disaster of truly epic proportions late on a Saturday night just before the holidays. I'm doing it the Stupid Way.

In case other expats live in old Moscow apartments that tend to self-destruct at the most inconvenient times, here is what I have learned so far:

Most Russians call the metal thing under the window that gives off heat a батарея (radiator). Do not, in a fit of misguided affection, call it батарейка (battery, as in what goes in a flashlight). The specialist you are discussing this with will fall on the ground in hysterical laughter, and you will have ir- reparably compromised your dignity. Apparently, the word батарея is used for radiators because they have a number of identical sections connected together. It is also called радиатор (radiator).

You know you need a new radiator when the one you have starts leaking thick, black gook. As one knowledgeable person told me, Может взорваться и забрызгать всю комнату кипящей масляной водой (It might explode and spray boiling, oily water all over the room).

After you take some tranquilizers and conduct frantic Internet research, you go to the store and discover that everything you planned to buy is out of stock. So you throw yourself on the mercy of the salesperson. You say: Хочу купить новую батарею (I want to buy a new radiator). He asks: Из чего? (Made of what?) Don't panic. You say, jauntily: биметалл (composite metal). So far, so good. Then he will ask: Сколько секций? (How many sections?) If you haven't done your homework, say: Комната примерно двенадцать на десять (The room is about 12 x 10). He'll figure out how many sections you need for the square meters in the room. At this point, you might feel confident enough to ask: "Какая теплоотдача"? (How much heat does it produce?) His answer will sound like this: Бла-бла-бла 168 ватт бла-бла-бла коэффициент бла-бла-бла тепловой мощности (Blah-blah-blah 168 watts blah-blah-blah coefficient blah-blah-blah heating capacity). You say: Отлично! (Great!) Remember: Consumer dignity must be maintained at all costs.

Then you buy whatever монтажный комплект (installation kit) he tells you to buy. You should know ahead of time the diameter of the pipes that connect the standpipe to the radiator. For some mysterious reason in this otherwise totally metric country, the diameter of these pipes is given in inches: полдюйма или три четверти дюйма (halfinch or three-quarter inch). Depending on what you have, you might need a переходник (connector) or шланг (hose).

Then you call your local housing repair office and lie shamelessly. All my Russian friends say the word течь (leak) should never be used. Always use the verb литься and squeal hysterically: Вода просто льётся! (The water is just pouring out!)

The other thing I learned: Do not accidentally drop a large hammer into your toilet on Saturday night because it makes a hole in the bowl. Every time you flush the toilet, water comes pouring out.

On the other hand, if you do this, you don't have to lie when you call for help.

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