Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Another Cup? Dorm Living Means It's Always Tea Time




Say the word obshchaga to anyone who has spent time in a university dorm, and what visions will that term conjure up?


Girls endlessly washing their underwear in the toilet; empty bottles popping up in the most unusual places; the sheer number of them unfathomable; basins piled high with dirty dishes; tattered slippers; a carpet that has survived no less than five generations of residents. Women in bathrobes and men in jogging pants gather in the communal kitchen where a cacophony of cooking crackles, sizzles and gurgles, creating an aroma capable of chasing away any appetite. In more recent years, in keeping with technological advancements, computer monitors, laser printers and video players have appeared under mountains of cigarette butts.


Moscow has more than a hundred dormitories with an estimated 46,000 residents. Here you can find not only students, but all types: mafia thugs involved in shady business dealings; party animals; those who treat the dorm as a kind of transit camp; and those who settle down for good. Add to this cocktail an exotic mix of international flavors f residents from, for example, Central Asia, Vietnam, Ghana, each contributing their own language, national dress and cuisine f and you capture the essence of the term obshchaga.


Life inside the dorm is so well contained that many need not leave the building for days on end. Missing a dictionary, a tie, a bit of salt? You can always borrow what you need at any time of day or night. Someone is always up, and breakfast may start at 5 a.m., 3 p.m. or midnight.


Here wasting time has been developed into a science. Dorm celebrities love to linger over limitless conversations fueled by coffee, chocolate, cigarettes. And, of course, vodka. Drinking is an integral part of life in the dorm. Some students at Moscow's Literary Institute, for example, once boasted about a legendary drinking orgy that lasted for more than two weeks. But every dorm has its legendary drunkards who have been hitting the bottle for months, terms, academic years. Some residents have not been seen in a state remotely resembling sobriety.


Some people struggle to create a normal life within the chaotic atmosphere of the obshchaga. They hang curtains in their tiny 7.9-square-meter rooms and synchronize their schedules to rise, sleep and eat with the outside world. But real dorm life rotates around the real "regulars" f a small class of obshchaga natives who cannot seem to exist for long stretches at a time in the outside world. These regulars live in perfect harmony with the cockroaches, whining pipes, the flickering electric bulbs, the chipped pots and pans.