23 November 2012

A Remont Man, Refinisher, and Brigadier Apply Russian Skills to Our Vanna

Ремонт means Renovation

I recently read A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun.  They include renovations in rural France and Italy.  Well, we’re in urban Russia, and I see that quaintness and incompetence can be found most anywhere.


Russians do a lot with small spaces.  (Measures rounded)

Russians apartments have a room separate from the toilet for the sink, tub and washing machine.  Light switches, that turn on when pushed down, are in the hallway. 

Our 1988 apartment covers 50 meters2, which includes a  toilet room 1m2, and a bathroom 2.6 m2.   (In feet, the apartment is 538 ft2, including a toilet 11 ft2 and a bathroom 28 ft2

  An average living space here is small compared to those in Britain, Western Europe, America, or Australia (with progressively larger dimensions).

Wives are motivators...

Now, 21 years after Soviet times, Russians are pouring their money into remont.   Although husbands such as I argue that if it works, don’t touch or fix it, many wives feel such an attitude is just laziness, and they demand improvements!

My grumbling...

Consumerism, which quickly becomes a vice, is rampant.  One of the keys to successful sales is to disturb people, making them discontent with their situation.  Envy is  particularly strong in the Russian psyche.

Many changes...

We decided to replace our chipped and faded tile with something more contemporary. 

Instead of one faucet that worked for both sink and tub we now have separate units.  A dim lamp high on the wall is gone, and in-ceiling lights brighten the room.

We have two new mirrors, two hung cabinets, and built in drawers under a smaller sink.

How things ‘work’ in Russia...

It seems half the businesses in St Petersburg are above the radar, while others are ‘Black Businesses’.  They  avoid taxes, lack insurance, and don’t file necessary paperwork.    Everything is verbal... no display ads,  business cards, or estimate forms.

Often they are just a few people scrapping for a living, who lay low from government and mafia harassment. But these people may be too smart by half.  With scanty paperwork, they have no recourse if they are injured or stiffed by the people they work for, and also may have insufficient information to know whether they are making a profit.

The Brigada Option...

Local papers and the Internet  advertize companies which may be more or less legit.  But the company you select could be an oiled machine of several workers who speed too quickly through the work.  It’s hard to check on quality and costs when they run up the final price with or without a contract.

Organization and communication...

An expat friend who has worked in St Petersburg several years wrote me that organization and communication are weaknesses here.  We saw these weaknesses with the friends of friends which we hired.  This husband and wife wall papered and put down linoleum in our kitchen and toilet last year. 

I asked for a written estimate, but only got a scribbled sheet of basic tasks and costs the last day. It’s hard to be specific with Russian workers.  Many are not much on planning a job, and resist setting a price for the completed work at the start.  They’ll say on work completion, “Well, what do you want to pay?” Maybe they figure they get more this way.

With my American and Scottish background I find it unnerving to not have a plan and final price agreed to at the start.  A clear understanding is more business-like, avoiding some unpleasant surprises.  Clarity is  especially hard to accomplish when a Russian spouse negotiates with other Russians.

Hey Bub, Finish the Tub!

We also used word-of-mouth to find a bathtub man.  Soviet-built tubs are large, well made, a shame to throw out. We weighed the cost of buying a new tub, installing a shell liner, or using one of the available processes to refinish the tub. 

I read cautions on the Internet about shoddy, fumy, work. We found someone who refinishes with acrylic and had good reports from another friend.

Squeaks like an angry parakeet!

The company that sold us new doors for the vanya and toilet sent a master to install them.  He is also called a brigadier, one of a  group that specializes in door installation.  Roman is tall, wears intelligent looking glasses, is carefully dressed, neat about everything, and acts with assurance. 

Master in Russia just means someone fairly competent, and has no connection to the Western master plumber  union designation. 

We had had a long conversation about the USA while he was packing up his tools.  On the way out he handed me a padarky, падарки, a lense cloth for my glasses!  Russians love to give small gifts.

Shortly afterwards, the toilet door started squeaking.  We called Roman and I asked him to return to fix it, while Larissa swung the door back and forth in the background so he could hear the horrible squeak.  He was back that evening to make things right.

Accurate is a word used in Russia to describe personal appearance.

Russians are as a rule fastidious.  The workers changed in the kitchen from neat street clothes into work clothes, draping their good outfits over kitchen chairs, sort of like a doctor entering surgery.

Fastidious about appearance, but not health or safety...

The remont man used a percussion chisel to blast off old tiles but didn’t wear mask or goggles.  The tub man applied acrylics without goggles, portable ventilation, or respirator. The brigadier gave no thought to sander dust. 

All were unconcerned about the cumulative effect of  work place pollution.  Larissa offered the tiler a mask, which he politely but scornfully refused. 

Chip, sand, saw, glue, paint... and breathe deeply!

Russians have a bravado about work place danger.  A nonchalant attitude about risk along with multiple effects of smoking and drinking, are factors in the early  death of many Russian men.

What, from where...

The tiles came  from Belarus.  Our Santek sink is Russian.   We bought a German Hansgrohe  faucet at French-owned LeRoy Merlin.  It was the first time I took notice of angled faucet spouts.  Russians are willing to pay for quality, especially if they feel a brand has status, a ‘pree-ma’ brand.

After the dust had settled...

The final cost of materials was around 36000 rubles, $1,200.  Labor worked out to about the same, so this remodeling set us back $2,500... including odds and ends.

A happy American in his Russian tub...

I think I hear Bobby Darin across the vapors of time...

Splish Splash, I was takin' a bath
Long about a Saturday night, yeah
Rub-a-dub, just relaxin' in the tub
Thinkin' everything was alright

Well, I stepped out the tub, put my feet on the floor... 1

(bubble, bubble)

1  Lyrics by Bobby Darin and Murry the K (Kaufman) with the first line and the music by Murray’s mother.


We’re curious...

How do costs compare in your country? Please let us know in Comments or by an email through the Wibiya strip below.


1 comment:

  1. Amazed you mentioned Leroy Merlin - they are big in Spain and we have just a massive new commercial centre open near us (Alicante, Spain) and now we have our own Leroy Merlin - where I plant to visit tomorrow.
    The Spanish have had their 'gung ho' approach to health and safety curtailed by the insurance companies who will no longer pay out claims when blatant breaches of H&S are evident. Not that we have much construction going on at present!


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