As I will be in the air for an extended amount of time in the near future, I’d like to leave you with an anecdote that characterized the first year and a half or so of my life abroad.
Clean clothes. Such a simple concept yet we take it for granted so often. We Americans are spoiled- we have dryers. Until I traveled to Russia for the first time in 1999, I’d never seen anyone hang clothes outside of films or TV. After you wash your clothes, a mere 45 minutes is all you need and you can wrap yourself in the warmth of freshly dried clothes. But soon after I moved abroad I would learn that while a dryer is simply a luxury, a washing machine is essential in our modern, urban life.
Our story begins in Prague, where I first arrived in the beginning of March, 2006. I was there to take a course in
subverting the Russian government for the American neocon deep state establishment teaching English as a foreign language, and the school running the course offered students rooms in apartments that they owned. Thankfully, this apartment had a washing machine, so everything was in order. No worries, other than that time I got so hammered I threw up in “the biggest club in Central Europe!” and was later nearly robbed by a woman posing as a cab driver, but that’s a story for another time.
Once the course was over, naturally, they wanted you out, and even if they were to let me stay the room was very pricey, so I set about finding a new place. I eventually got a room overlooking Ječná street. It wasn’t the best arrangement. The most obvious deficiency was the lack of the washing machine. But the landlord, an Afrikaner man married to a Czech woman, promised he’d get one within a week. Needless to say, he didn’t get it within a week. I don’t remember how long it took exactly, but it was much later. And within a few days it was clear that it was broken.
Naturally the only solution while we waited for the landlord to “replace” it was to wash stuff by hand. Needless to say as an American I have no experience washing clothes by hand. Even us poor folk had access to washers and dryers, though they were often coin operated. I never managed to get the smell of soap out of my clothes. I suppose there could be worse smells. Every once in a while, like if I was going out at night, I’d treat myself by having a load of laundry washed at this place that did it for you (not drycleaning, just ordinary laundry). They also pressed it, which was a big plus.
Eventually I ended up moving far from the center of town to an establishment known as Hotel Dum, a name which sounds funny regardless of whether or not you pronounce it correctly. I lived on a floor for long-term residents, most of whom were students. Naturally my first question was about laundry. And of course, I was to be disappointed.
There was a “laundry room,” but it contained only one washing machine. The procedure for using said washing machine was ridiculously complex. What you had to do was leave a deposit with the front desk in order to get a key to the room for 24 hours. However, since there were many other people on the floor who wanted to do laundry, you had to find out from the front desk who had the key and when they would be returning it (assuming they were going to return it around the end of their 24 hours and not early). You’d need to coordinate with this person so as to make the handoff. Of course some people were happy to let you use the washing machine while they had the key, but this meant you had to coordinate your schedules for the day. I probably managed to use that machine maybe three times, about once a month. Needless to say I still paid those people to do my laundry a few more times, most notably when I moved to Russia in late August of 2006.
The Holy Grail that I had sought in Prague in vain. Would I find it in Russia?
Moving to Russia was the realization of a dream I’d had for roughly six years (my Russian and Ukrainian readers are most likely rolling on the floor with laughter at this point), but now it was the potential fulfillment of a great desire I’d had ever since I’d left that first apartment in Prague. Because I would be working in a small town in the Moscow region, I was entitled to my own company-provided apartment (Moscow-based teachers had to share). When I arrived I was quite pleased to see how modern and spacious it was for a one-bedroom. Sadly, it wasn’t modern enough to have a washing machine.
No worries though- the school administrator promised to get me a washing machine within a week. Spoilers: It was more than a week, but they did actually deliver the damned thing. Once it was delivered, I had to wait for the handyman to install it. Of course it was missing some parts and couldn’t be connected as is. The handyman promised to get the parts and return one day.
Unfortunately that day didn’t come soon enough. You see, two new teachers, a married couple, arrived at our humble school and didn’t like the idea of sharing a washing machine with me, a slovenly bachelor living down the block in another building. Thus my washing machine was moved to their apartment. Sharing the washing machine, especially as the weather began to turn unpleasant, wasn’t really practical. But the final insult was still to come.
I want to stress that both these people were extremely pleasant and competent teachers, and we got on very well. But apparently they didn’t take kindly to Russia. These people had taught in China and traveled throughout Southeast Asia, seeing a great deal of underdevelopment and poverty all along the way- and yet they loved it. Russia, however, managed to break them in about two months. My washing machine was torn from my life and given to them, and yet they left. The administrator decided to leave the washing machine where it was, since they already had a new teacher to replace the couple that left. I would spend the rest of that contract washing my clothes by hand, with the same terrible results.
At the end of that contract, I transferred to Moscow. I would be sharing an apartment. Unfortunately this one was old and dark, and the room where I would spend the next year and two months was practically the size of a walk-in closet. But that didn’t concern me when I first arrived. I looked in the kitchen, and there, under the counter, was a washing machine! One that worked! The nightmare was over. I would have clean clothes all the time. I had zero fashion sense and my clothes were cheap or old because my salary was still quite low in those days, but they were clean and didn’t smell like detergent.
From that day on, I would never be without a washing machine. Even when I was in Ukraine for most of this year I was never without a washing machine, because contrary to what you might have read on Sputnik News or novorossiyanews.info, Ukraine has no shortage of washing machines. I can personally attest that Ukraine’s washing machine game is on point.
Since that first rough year abroad I have called many washing machines my own, including two in one place (the door broke on one and it nearly flooded the bathroom). Over the years I’ve noticed something funny about some of these washing machines here. They all tend to be Italian-made. That wouldn’t be particularly remarkable except for the fact that it seems that some of these Italian manufacturers decided that they could overcome language barriers by using a system of hieroglyphic symbols, numbers, and random letters as opposed to words on the front panel of the machine. The second-to-last washing machine I had was impossible to truly decipher. I had to download a manual and it always seemed like no symbol actually did what the manual claimed it would do.
Panel of a Zerowatt washing machine similar to the one I had. Nothing here makes sense. It only provides the illusion of control. For in reality, the machine controls you.
It is possible that one must not only decode the symbols on the machine, but also say or chant a magical incantation while setting the dials in order to actually get the desired effect. It shall forever remain a mystery. Thankfully the washing machine which replaced that ancient model is clearly marked with Russian words and works perfectly, a real testimony to Italy’s prowess at producing washing machines. Bravi!
Anyway, I hope this light-hearted saga from the early period of my time abroad proved amusing to you, the reader. Hopefully it will serve as a temporary but welcome distraction from the horrendous awfulness of our modern world. A distraction from things like this, for example.
See you on the other side of the world!*
*Where we have dryers too!