The following story is true. Although the particulars of what happened are specific to me, it is nonetheless a good demonstration of what life is like here in this country.
I am a renter, that is every month I pay cash (in literal Euro notes) for my apartment. The money is technically due on the first day of the month but generally speaking, my landlord (who lives in another town) comes on the first weekend after the first, usually on Saturday.
Therefore when he showed up around 7:30 pm last Saturday evening to collect the rent, I was expecting him. He came in and we shook hands and exchanged general pleasantries (I’ve known him for years) and all the rest.
About a week earlier, the faucet in the bathroom sink wouldn’t close or shut off properly. Even when using two hands, the facuet wouldn’t stay completely “closed” and would drip. One of the benefits of being a renter (as opposed to being an owner) is that when there’s a problem, you tell your landlord and it’s his job (and cost) to fix it.
I know almost nothing about plumbing or I would’ve fixed the problem myself but I knew what the problem was – a leaky washer. There’s a small silicone or rubber ring that functions as a gasket inside the faucet mechanism (I have two, one for cold and one for hot) and it needed replacing. All that was necessary was take apart the faucet enough to get to the washer, replace the washer, re-assemble, job done.
The following is a close re-enactment of what happened (albeit all in Romanian since my landlord speaks zero English):
Me: Okay here’s the rent, sir. And by the way, the faucet in the bathroom is leaking and needs fixed.
Landlord: Oh. My. God. Oh my god. Ohmygod! At this hour? On a Saturday night? *wail* What can I do? What can be done? Oh my God.
(pause several minutes while he stands there open-mouthed and silent, clearly freaked out)
Me: Well it’s not a life or death emergency. Perhaps another day?
Landlord: Oh my God, what can I do? No stores are opened and I don’t have the necessary tools. Do you have the necessary tools?
Me: Heck no, I’m not much of a “handyman”.
(another long pause)
Landlord: Wait, I know. There’s that guy who lives in the next apartment building. I’ll go visit him. Hopefully he’s in a good condition to work.
The Landlord leaves and is gone approximately 30 minutes.
Landlord: Well bad news, turns out the neighbor is drunk as hell and too messed up to come fix the sink. But the good news is his son is pretty much sober and so he’s on the way over.
So we wait and here comes the Sober Son, who sees my cat Mr. Zig and immediately remarks on how he (Mr. Zig) is fat and would “make a good meal in North Korea” and other sundry remarks along those lines.
Note: The Sober Son never has a chance to make witty remarks about eating my other cat, Noodles, because she is hidden away somewhere in the back of the closet, as she always is when the landlord comes over.
After the “pleasantries”, Sober Son and the Landlord spend a tremendous amount of time in my bathroom complete with clanking and banging sounds, taking approximately 40 minutes to disassemble the faucet.
Finally they summon me to the bathroom, Sober Son making some inanities in his poor English and supposedly the faucet is now fixed. I do note that the entire bathroom is filthy and Sober Son has made a tremendous mess which of course he completely neglects to clean up (no one in Romania ever seemingly does when installing/repairing things).
Sober Son packs up his tools and whatnot and departs after I hear him have a conversation with the Landlord, charging him 150 lei (about 50 USD), which is a rather hefty sum for such a small job.
The Landlord and I go into the bathroom to turn the water on and find out that Sober Son has screwed up my faucet even worse than how it was before! The hot water knob is so loose it spins freely and cannot be completely shut off and so water is flowing freely into the sink.
Now my Landlord is about to have an apoplectic fit. He sits there for another long minute, mouth agape, both angry at having just paid for incredibly shoddy work as well as the fact that now he’s got to go chase this guy down.
Landlord departs and is back within 10 minutes. Apparently Sober Son has “gone to the store” and will be back. So we wait. And wait. And wait. After a good half an hour, here comes Sober Son, still jovial and in a good mood, acting all shocked and surprised that the faucet is still broken.
More clanking, fussing and banging as the two of them are in the bathroom. Mr. Zig keeps trying to go and investigate and the Landlord is delighted at having something to do and so talks to Mr. Zig in Romanian kitty talk, shooing him out of there.
Okay now the faucet is supposedly fixed again. Sober Son makes a big jokey show of how I need to be careful not to use my “incredible power” to twist open the faucet “too hard”.
In front of both men I dutifully open and close each faucet, showing that yes, indeed it is now working. I notice that the hot water is especially stiff but the main thing for me is that yes they shut off completely and so no more dripping and leaking all night.
Sober Son packs up and leaves again. The Landlord then makes me twist and fiddle with the faucets several more times, each time asking me if it’s “okay” and with a very worried look on his face. I keep telling the Landlord that the faucet is now fine but he keeps looking worried and is bitterly complaining about the poor workmanship, the drunkenness of the father and how nothing ever works right.
Even though I’m satisfied, the Landlord keeps fretting over the hot water. Nonetheless I think the encounter is over but I come back in the bathroom a minute later to find the Landlord on his hands and knees, cleaning up spilled gunk and dirt off my floor using wads of toilet paper.
I keep telling him not to worry about it and that I clean my whole house every Sunday morning (which is true) but he isn’t having any of it. He doesn’t stop until he’s cleaned up all trace of the mess and filth that Sober Son sprayed all over the bathroom.
Total time from start to finish: about two hours.
Note: Finding a plumber from a phonebook or some other source (like the internet) and calling one out to the house is virtually non-existent in this country. A couple of years ago I had a major problem and couldn’t find a plumber even after searching high and low.
I suppose they exist, somewhere, in a magical place but then again I’ve heard the same thing about unicorns :P