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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Neighborhood Watch: Rental Life in Moscow

Last week we touched upon the Law of Russian Neighbors -- the law that dictates that at some point in your rental adventures in Moscow you will find yourself overhearing some very loud and heated arguments coming from next door. There are more laws, of course, because sharing a building with 500 or so other people is not a simple business. Four hundred and ninety nine of them have already spent years and years bumping into each other on the elevator, and they all know exactly how to behave. For a newcomer it's harder.

The reaction a person can expect during the first few days after moving into a new building falls somewhere in between the Welcome Wagon and the deep freeze. It's true that the Wagon is an archaic Western term that went out with the 1950s and the end of stable neighborhood relations as we know it, but people to this day still feel some sort of deep-seated compulsion at least to introduce themselves to their new neighbors out by the mailboxes, if not to bring over a nice casserole and help them unpack.

Here, you can live in an apartment for years without ever even finding out your neighbors' names.

These nameless neighbors, however, can really come through in a pinch. If they decide that yes, they will open their reinforced steel doors when it's you they see through the peephole, an incredible range of free-for-the-asking services are suddenly yours. They can help if your lock breaks or your bathtub overflows or if you need a couple of eggs. If there have been unsavory characters hanging around your door or your cat has jumped out the window and disappeared, they'll keep you up to date on the latest developments. If someone in the building passes away, they'll dutifully collect money -- the same amount from everyone -- to help pay for the funeral. They'll even provide last-minute babysitting services, uncomplainingly. It's nearly enough to make you become a parent.

No reason to get excited, though. It's not all bliss. These are the same neighbors who will quickly close their doors when they see you coming up the stairs, and deliver very shrill lectures when the cat, back safe and sound after its time on the street, is climbing onto their balcony and chewing on their plants. They'll call the police at 11 o'clock on a Friday night when they think your party has gone on long enough, and they'll suspect that you're to blame when the light bulb in the hall gets stolen. And if you're so ill-fated as to share a telephone line with any of them, forget about it. You're going to find yourself reduced to a pathological random dialer, calling, calling anyone, just to keep your neighbor from hogging the phone. And they'll be doing exactly the same.