It was fascinating to read Jane Zavisca’s piece on Housing the New Russia. This reading includes a number of interesting stories, such as the great desire of Russian people to have their own space, Russians’ opinions on house rentals, mortgage, and legal property rights. In addition, it was interesting to see how contemporary Russian people think there were only pluses with regard to housing in the Soviet era and how they feel disappointed in the current housing policy and situation.
However, throughout the reading there was one thing that grabbed my attention. Though it might have seemed trivial to other readers, the expression that the author used to describe the apartments, such as “two-room apartments” or “three-room apartments” piqued my curiosity. For example, on page 107 the author says that “Mikhail was living with his mother in a two-room apartment” and on page 109 “Svelana was living with her children, her mother, and two adult sisters in a four-room house.”
People in the US usually say a “two bedroom apartment” instead of “two-room apartment.” Even if they say two-room apartment, it usually implies two bedrooms plus some kind of communal space, like a living room. It is the same in Korea, too. When we say “three bedroom apartment, it is common to imagine that there are three bedrooms and a living room.
However, in Russia a living room is also regarded as a room (комната) and it is included in the two or three room count.
In fact, it drew my attention because I have an experience regarding this when I was in Russia. It was a basic Russian conversation class with a Russian professor. There were some exercises in the textbook where I had to answer the question, “How many rooms do you have in your apartment?” However, it turned out that I had to add one more room because the living room is also counted! The professor even looked surprised when I asked why the living room is regarded as a separate room in Russia.
However, it actually makes sense because there are many cases in which Russian citizens, who are neither wealthy nor poor, live in apartments which do not have a living room. For example, in the reading on page 108, the author talks about a young couple living with their parents and their child in a two-room apartment, where the grandparents live in one room and the couple and their baby live in the other. Considering that the author says the couple and in-laws only meet in the corridor and the kitchen, there is no living room in this apartment.
It reminds me of my experience in Novosibirsk, Russia. I rented one of the rooms in a three-room apartment. There was a kitchen that we shared together and a bathroom. However, there was no such space that could be classified as a living room. Of course, there are many better apartments with living rooms in Russia, but I want to emphasize that the apartment I lived in was just an average apartment located near Lenin Square (the center of the city) and the rent was not much cheaper than that of the other apartments in that area. In fact, I paid 8,400 roubles which was equivalent to around 350 dollars, cheap by DC standards but reasonable by Novosibirsk standards.
My room in Novosibirsk
Apartment that I lived in Apartment door in the winter
Of course, there is living room in expensive apartments (My friend’s place)
Considering that there are many apartments without living rooms in Russia, it is understandable to count a living room as a bedroom, since it can provide extra space to an apartment. However, if we think about the Soviet Union period, communal space was always prioritized. How did Russia, which emphasized the communal life style for decades (in the Soviet Union era), not build the living room in average Russian apartments?
Residents in a communal apartment
The answer is simple. As we read in the previous reading, the space that one person can have in Russia was only 7 (?) square feet, which is much smaller than in any other country. In this kind of situation, it might have been a luxury to build living rooms in all the average apartments in Russia.
A playground in the apartment complex that I lived in
It just reminded me of the previous class discussion on playgrounds in Russia.
A metro station in Novosibirsk