Reading «Мастер и Маргарита»: Chapter 9 Posted by on Aug 2, 2010 in language, Russian life, Soviet Union

What is «жилплощадь»? Ah, the wonderful or rather wonder-inspiring language of «Совдепия» [Sovietdom]! «Жиплощадь» is short for «жилая площадь», meaning «обитаемая, предназначенная для жилья площадь дома, квартиры» [floor space of a living areas of an apartment or a house]. So why not say «квартира» [apartment] or «комната» [room] when referring to one’s living quarters?

Back in the days, including when «история Мастера и Маргариты» [story of Master and Margarita] took place, few individuals or even families could boast living in separate apartments. Instead, a certain number of square meters of living space was allocated to each and every city dweller.

Do you know the old Communist principle «каждому – по потребностям, от каждого – по способностям» [to each – according to his needs; from each – according to his abilities]? Except when it came to «получение жилплощади» [obtaining living space] it was exactly the opposite and «каждому – по способностям» [to each – according to his abilities], specifically – abilities to make all the right moves and pull all the right strings.

One couldn’t buy «жилплощадь» [living space]. Instead, they could «достать» [to obtain], «выбить» [to wheedle out], or «получить» [to receive] the coveted square meters from «жилотдел» [office responsible for keeping track of and allocating housing]. In order to do this, one had to «встать в очередь» [to queue], «подать заявление» [to submit application] or «предъявить претензию» [to file a claim], «собрать справки» [to collect supporting documents], and «ждать» [to wait]. Thanks to «долгострой» [never-ending construction projects], insufficient resources directed to the public housing and all-pervasive «волокита» [red tape] such «ожидание» [wait] could last «до второго пришествия» [‘til the Second Coming].

The problem of insufficient housing existed long after hapless «председатель жилищного товарищества дома №302-бис Никанор Иванович Босой» [chairman of the housing committee of #302-B Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoi] fell victim to «Коровьевские штуки» [Koroviev’s tricks].

You’d think that now that Russia embraced capitalism, the housing difficulties «остались в прошлом» [are left in the past]. No such thing! In fact, catchy late-Soviet «каждой семьеотдельную квартиру к 2000 году» [a separate apartment for each family by the year 2000] slogan notwithstanding, the issue has never been resolved.

No one knows how many Russians still live in «коммуналки» or «коммунальные квартиры» [communal apartments], but by some estimates it’s 1 out of 10 Russian citizens. In case you don’t know, «коммунальная квартира» is a large apartment shared by several individuals and/or families. Each family has its own room and all share common areas – bathroom, kitchen and hallway. If you’d like, you can have a virtual tour of a typical «коммуналка» from the comfort of your home.

No wonder that Russian language has quite a few words that deal with «жильё» [housing]. For example, in addition to the already-mentioned «жилплощадь» and «жилотдел», there is «жилуправление» – a department that deals with maintenance and repairs issues staffed with «жилуправленцы» [bureaucrats working at the housing maintenance and repairs department].

Agglomerations of faceless apartment buildings built «по типовому проекту» [according to generic design plan] are referred to as «жилмассивы».

Not to mention a slew of acronyms, including «ЖЭК – жилищно-эксплуатационная контора» [local building and utilities office]. By the way, while the word «контора» [office] is feminine, the acronym «ЖЭК» is masculine thus determining the ending of the word «реагировать» [to react; here – to respond] in the following sentence – «крыша протекла, а ЖЭК не реагировал на жалобы» [the roof leaked, but ZhEK did not respond to complaints].

Needless to say, many of the officials in the building and utilities sector, including the aforementioned «Никанор Босой» [Nikanor Bosoi] were corrupt and used their «служебное положение» [position] « в корыстных целях» [in order to ingratiate themselves]. Not only were they, using Korovyev’s description, «выжиги и плуты» [greedy rogues and cheats], but «взяточники» [bribe takers] as well.

As to the ordinary Russians, in addition to communal flats, they had such wonderful inventions as «семейное общежитие» [dormitories for married couples and families] and «подселение» [a situation when one room in a single-family apartment is allocated to another individual or even a family]. Individual apartments were (and many still are) small, often housing three and even four generations under one roof. Understandable, «квартирный вопрос стоял остро» [housing problem was acute].

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  1. Ксения:

    “квартирный вопрос стоял остро”

    Это выражение не правильно составленно, у нас в России никто так не скажет.

    Можно вот так:
    Этот квартирный вопрос был острый

  2. Yelena:

    Сказываются годы жизни за границей…

  3. Diana:

    Да, действительно, вопрос вполне может стоять. Его очень часто ставят, и иногда даже ребром 🙂

  4. Julia:

    Yelena, выражение “квартирный вопрос стоял остро” часто используется в русском языке. И вы его правильно употребили. И, как метко подметила Диана, он частенько стоит ребром 🙂

  5. Yelena:

    “Этот квартирный вопрос был острый” – вот это как раз не по-русски, полное косноязычие. выражение “Вопрос стоял остро” в данном контексте вполне допустимо.