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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LOVE & DEATH: Bridging Cultural Gap On Wave of Cold Water




I'd been dreading June since January. The longer winter lasted, the longer I felt safe. But as the snow began to melt and the trees turned green, the advent of summer heralded hardship and anxiety: It announced the beginning of the end of the hot water.


Another author in this space recently romanticized the annual ordeal of summer water shortages. Count me out on that romanticism. When my significant other and I signed our lease in January, the subject of having a water heater installed reached the boiling point when our landlords insisted that the best water heater is a pot on the stove. As the only Russian speaker on my side of the negotiations, I tried to translate the meaning and tone of our arguments until I resorted to the tactic that seems to work best in heated situations: I cried. Turning on the waterworks suddenly had our future landlords melting, and they agreed to split the cost of the water heater and pay for its installation.


As the warm-weather months approached, I lived in fear of finding the inevitable notice in our podyezd warning that our hot water was being turned off. It didn't help matters that Mr. Landlord, his wife in tow, had tried talking us out of the water heater each time they'd come to collect the rent. It's only for three weeks, they said. It's going to be so expensive and difficult to install, and where, by the way, did we suggest they put it? Mr. Landlord, whose background in radio electronics qualified him as an undisputed expert in the installation of water heaters, claimed they'd been to several santekhnika stores and could save us the pain of going to inquire ourselves if we would only listen to reason.


Now, many have told me that by pressing this issue I'm missing the point of living here. Perhaps I'm still scarred from the childhood camping trip when the dimes ran out in the campground shower and my cousin left me standing naked with shampoo running into my eyes, but the prospect of nearly a month of sponge baths in the year 2000 does not resemble my concept of civilization.


Finally, after Victory Day, Mr. Landlord called a water heater "specialist" to come counsel us. Indeed, the three torturous hours we were forced to sit with the landlords and make polite conversation while waiting for the Specialist, who never showed up at the appointed hour, truly were therapeutic. Eventually, the Specialist did come, and by the time he had sold them on the cheap and easy process of installing the water heater, we were laughing like old friends.


I have no doubt that they still think we're nuts to have made such a fuss, but I would like to think that for just one minute they were able to abandon the perspective that these traditional hot-water shortages are a given, that "life is like that."


My life isn't like that, and their lives don't have to be, either.