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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

I've Finally Come Clean After 10 Years of Fear

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It took me nearly a decade of living in Russia before I got up the nerve to visit my local dry cleaner, or khimchistka. My fear of the khimchistka was not completely unfounded. When I first arrived in Russia, I was told that I had to remove all of the pugovitsy i molnii, or buttons and zippers, from each article of clothing before I submitted it to such a rigorous cleansing process. I opted, instead, for Woolite.

Even as supposedly kinder, gentler khimchistki started popping up all over town, I was still reluctant to trust them. But my resistance melted when I picked up a dress at the "Western" dry cleaners, only to find the bill was as much as I originally paid for the dress.

Gathering up my dry-clean-only washables, I headed to the khimchistka in my courtyard. Forty-five minutes later I realized that it was too soon to completely abandon my 10-year aversion to Russian dry cleaners. There is no such thing as a quick trip to the khimchistka. This is a time-consuming procedure — one that required a written protocol for every article submitted.

Not all soiled items are so readily accepted at the khimchistka. In fact, I walked away with two rejected items, a silk blouse and a pair of velvet pants that I was not permitted to leave behind — even bez pretenzy, or without any right to complain if my clothing is returned in tatters.

The first 20 minutes of my visit were spent negotiating over the down comforter. A visiting pet had left an indelible mark — and smell — in the middle of the blanket that I wanted removed. Koshka napisala, I explained. A cat pissed on it.

My announcement raised a few eyebrows. The manager went running for the phone to see if they could get permission from a higher authority to accept a blanket with cat piss. A compromise was found: They would accept the blanket for a stirka, wash, not a khimchistka.

Then we moved onto the other items, each scrupulously examined by the attendant. "What's that?" she asked, pointing accusingly at a dirty patch lying low on a pants leg. I didn't know. She decided to write it up as dorozhnaya gryaz', or road dirt. Sorting through the pile, she also found pishchevaya gryaz', or food stains, and zhirnaya gryaz', grease stains, before she got to my velvet pants.

A vy ran'she otdavali ha khimchistku? she asked, wondering if they'd already cleaned the pants before. I said no, and was sent away with the pants. But when I returned the following week, I brought the pants along. The woman was still skeptical. She asked, once again, if I had cleaned them before.

"Yes," I said this time. And they took them, only to send them back with a note asking me not to submit them again because povtornaya chistka ne uluchshit vneshny vid izdeliya (a repeat cleaning will not improve the item's appearance).