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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Plastered, Sealed and Delivered

Грунтовка: base coat, sealer, primer

My remont-from-hell is now in its sixth month, with no end-date in sight. But the guys are now doing отделочная работа (finishing work), so there is a glimmer of hope that I won’t spend New Year’s at the dacha, huddling by the space heater and trudging to the outhouse through hip-high snow.

Meanwhile, my construction lexicon is expanding exponentially. But I still get tripped up by words that have very different meanings in different contexts.

Take, for example, the word фартук. It’s an apron, right? So imagine my surprise when my contractor asked: Вы уже выбрали фартук? (Have you already chosen your apron?) Why would he care what I’ll be wearing to cook dinner?

But it turns out that in kitchen terminology, фартук is the backsplash — the wall tiles between the base and wall cabinets. It’s also roof flashing (which I know because we’ve been fixing that, too).

And then there’s грунтовка. Ah, a word I know. It came to Russian from German via the word грунт (earth, soil, ground) and refers to any base or prime coat, like the first primer or sealer used on a canvas before painting. In my apartment, грунтовка was goopy white stuff used to prepare the walls for штукатурка (plaster).

The plastering reintroduced the concept of the 90-degree angle: thick gray glop slopped on the walls to straighten them. I was shocked to see up to three centimeters of the stuff at the top of my walls. Were the walls really that crooked? My contractor called out: Где уровень? (Where’s the level?) I’m thinking: Уровень чего? (The level of what?) But then an assistant trotted up with a level — you know, that metal thing with a bubble in the middle. I get it. Cool.

Having mastered this concept of грунтовка, I was deeply concerned when my contractor told me he’d sand the floor, then put on грунтовка before the varnish. So why are we covering my beautiful oak floors with white paste? It turns out that грунтовка по дереву is wood primer. It’s used, he said, чтобы выявить рисунок дерева (literally, to bring out the sketch of the wood). Brief moment of panic. Were they planning to draw a picture on my beautiful oak floors? No, рисунок дерева is the wood grain. Got it. Client heart attack deferred.

I’ve also expanded my Russian vocabulary of blue collar professions, for which I have the greatest respect. Some of the titles are easy to understand: паркетчик (parquet layer), плиточник (tile layer) and маляр (painter). Some are a bit more subtle. For example, монтажники (installers) are guys who, say, fit your windows into the gaping cement holes (from the verb монтировать — to install). But сборщики are the guys who, say, assemble your kitchen cabinets (from the word собирать — to put together).

There are a few professional titles that I understand but can’t yet translate. For example, замерщик. This is the guy who measures your kitchen cabinets in millimeters for the countertop or the earnest fellow who takes the exact measurements of the hall for your шкаф-купе (sliding door closet). My American friends who have done remodeling tell me that there isn’t such a profession or job description in the United States. So I’ve taken to calling them “measurers” or “measuring guys.”

Or because they are so good at what they do and so important to the success of my remodeling: Most esteemed, blessedly obsessive, tape-measure-wielding professionals.

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