[Vom 12 März 2016, J Holmes]
The onset of spring is greeted with the shrills of drills and the battering of hammers. As the ice thaws, so do those half-finished home projects, and work continues more or less where it left off.
‘Remont’ (ремонт) is that all-encompassing term used in Russian to denote almost any kind of home improvement. For the uninitiated or those unacquainted with the concept, you may be surprised to learn that remont rarely has anything to do with ‘repair’ and certainly bears no relation to equestrianism.
“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” But here’s the thing – there’s often no fixing involved. ‘Remont’ can mean any number of activities, depending on the context. It equally applies to your ‘cosmetic’ home improvement (wall-papering, painting, laying of laminate flooring) as it does to renovation (re-wiring your flat, installing a new toilet, knocking in a wall and changing the general layout). It’s also typically seen as a form of maintenance – perhaps (as cynically viewed by some) to justify trying something new.
“‘Remont’ is never finished, you just have to stop it”. That’s what Russians have to say about this seemingly unremitting practice. It may be down to the lack of funds that ‘remont’ tends to drag on for years in so many cases. For others, it really is just a futile quest at attaining perfection, frittering away precious earnings at a desperate attempt to fill some inner spiritual void. Put a stop to it before someone gets hurt! I speak from experience when I say that ‘remont’ can be addictive.
Talking about hurts, it’s not rare for ‘remont’ to cause family break-up. Reaching a consensus on home design is no easy task for some. Nowadays, there is also so much more to choose from. Metal profiles, plasterboard and PVC windows are a relatively recent luxury in Russia. Russians just used to make do with what little there was available in the past, even as recently as the nineties (which was, generally speaking, a tough time for most Russians).
There are quite typically three camps of ‘remont’. There are those who never do ‘remont’, and whose flats are known as ‘virgin’ ones, having never experienced as little as a paint job. Here you’ll truly feel like you’ve crossed a threshold in realities, emerging in the sixties or an even earlier time period. Then there are those flats which are fairly traditional in style and will typically opt for rosewood or ebony flooring and doors – something of a classical style. Conversely, flats that embrace ‘Western’ styles are said to have had ‘evroremont’ (literally – ‘euro’ remont), hence implying a less-than-Russian style.
‘Remont’ is a loaded word. It connotes something of a lifestyle, a process and a stir of emotion. It also means so much more than any one English word. English tends to use less hazy terms, so when translating the activity of a Russian’s ‘remont’, it is, indeed, necessary to determine what work is being done (‘painting the flat’, ‘have the flooring done’ or ‘the loft insulated’).
Translation should be left to professionals. A hotel I once visited had a sign at reception reading something along the lines of: “lift not working – hotel under reconstruction”. But rather than running roughshod over guests’ safety (unwittingly snoozing away on the fourth floor while wrecking balls supposedly pummelled the west wing), this was, indeed, a case of a botched in-house translation involving a Russian faux ami. Hotel staff appreciated the observation, and I’m sure they hadn’t meant to shake up their dear guests. It was renovation after all, rather than reconstruction.