Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A guide to the Общежитие - part 1

The общежитие is basically a Halls of Residence, and mine is called ДАС (Дом Аспиранта и Стажёра). There are several in МГУ, but none as bad as this one. I'm not just saying that - before I got here my Russian teacher in London told me the worst thing that could happen would be that I ended up in ДАС. So of course I emailed the school before I got here to ask where I would be living, and whether there was any possibility of choosing, but, as in everything, they were singularly uninformative, instead repeating the mantra, "just come to Moscow. Everything will be sorted out when you get here". I'm not quite sure why I fell for this. I must have temporarily taken leave of my senses.

ДАС on a good day. This is actually entirely the wrong kind of light for ДАС, which should only be photographed in drizzle under a steel grey sky in order to accurately capture the atmosphere of the place

More ДАС I'm afraid. But look - the snow is melting!
And so it was, that at 6am one dark, decidedly autumnal morning in late September I pulled up outside the building, right in front of a collection of those massive bins that populate New York alleys and exist solely for vampires, murderers and cats to jump out at you from behind. At this point, it did occur to me that this might be one of the bigger mistakes I have made in my life. What I could see of the building looked like it should be condemned. The driver took me into the totally deserted entry hall, where after some discussion, the guards let me through. I was then taken along a corridor, complete with paint peeling off the walls, and after banging on one particular door for some time, the driver abandoned me to the mercies of the old woman who opened it. She told me that the room I had been assigned was already full, but that this wouldn't be a problem, they would fit me in anyway, and packed me off with a slip of paper to find another old woman at the other end of the building six floors up. This woman, who should be given a part in the next film about the Bastille, or some medieval prison, had a cough which sounded like she had the plague, was mostly covered in an enormous shawl, and had the biggest collection of keys I have ever seen, all strung on a massive metal circle. I kept expecting her to cackle as she looked for, and then tried to prize off the requisite keys from the keyring.

We set off to find the room. Naturally when we got there the keys didn't work, so the old woman bashed on the door until it was opened by a half-asleep and totally bewildered girl who is now my room mate. Although there were two beds in the room, one was on its side against the wall with a desk in front of it, and the mattress had been moved to the other bed. The undaunted old lady broke the desk into pieces and dumped it in the hallway before departing, and I exchanged a few words with my new room mate before she went back to sleep and I lay awake on my bed, trying to calm myself by reciting poetry. Unfortunately, I soon ran through all the don't-let-the-bastards-grind-you-down, madness?-This-is-Sparta poems I know, and went onto Julius Caesar and the inevitability of death, which isn't the best for cheering yourself up.

Actually, I was very lucky to end up in the room I got, because as it later turned out, some people sleep six to a room, and have to do their homework on their knees sitting on their beds. I can imagine this for a few weeks, but for four years of a university course?


  1. I lived in the A building of the DAC in 1983, there was a natural culutral shock, but most of the few hundred preparatory students were acclamatized in few months. The ones that looked downs on the locals were those who never had a culture-sensitivity training, or never saw the need for one.
    Having finished an Executive MBA in Finance in the U.S.,my chosen home,specifically in Boca Raton, FL, I was glad that the Executive Programs at FAY, in almost every course and team, they disseminated cultural sensitivity awareness for successful buisness interaction with the rest of the world.
    I wish you good luck in never insulting another culture in your future. Respectfully, Michael Hamze

    1. Thanks for your comment. I certainly did not mean to insult Russian culture - to me this post is not even about that. It's just a description of a particular post-war building, similar examples of which you could find in many countries, including my own. I have read over what I wrote, and while I still don't think I have insulted Russia, maybe this is your point about cultural sensitivity - just because I wouldn't be offended if someone wrote something similar about Britain doesn't mean Russians should feel the same way. Anyway, I am sorry you were offended. I actually like this country and its culture a great deal, and I am very happy here. I didn't intend any disrespect.

  2. Your blog is so incredibly spot on! I am living here now and laughed so hard while reading this description of it! Write more, and add the part about the coal plant next door and the centipedes that find their way into the bathrooms to lap up the standing water on the floors.

  3. What a shame that many don't want to know that had it not been for the 20 million people that Russia sacrificed in WWII, our trips to Moscow could not have been possible, nor would that dorm have been erected at all! Give them credit where it is due. Having said that, I so despise their regime's actions all over the world.

  4. Great post, the Floridian clearly benefited from visiting this общага prior to the collapse of the USSR.

    I stayed 4 weeks in общага near prospect vernadskovo. Great experience, students of the Russian classes would meet outside in good weather and drink. Students from non anglophone nations said each year their English improved but their Russian, less so.

    Most Russian students had gone home for the summer so we had a limited number of people to speak with.

    To make up for this, us students would go out on the town and try out our Russian.

    It had (has) a rich soviet charm. Slightly broken in places, rickety elevator, warden (вактер) to keep out unapproved guests, столовка.