I’d never thought about this much until I began to travel. Growing up in the UK, with its stress on “home ownership” and not “pouring money down the drain” on rent, the first priority was to get a house and make it a home. The difference between the (largely unskilled) builders and the skilled do-it-yourselfers in the UK is not much, and so fixing up your home is taken for granted. Even new homes need a style imposing on them. So this was always my priority at first.
Already on my fifth home fixing up, I embarked on travel to the Ukraine, where I spent most of the year living in rented accommodation pouring the EU’s money into some lucky Kiev resident who by the lottery of birth, or influence under the old system, had acquired a flat in the centre of Kiev and could rent it out to foreigners.From castles
The first landlady, who under communism had been a famous artist in ceramics with commissions by UNESCO, could not really cope with a life that removed her status as an Artist of the Ukrainian SSR with a guaranteed high salary, forced her out of her grand flat in the same street as the Government Building, and left her to try to sell ceramics to tourists. My complaining about the décor and furniture was not really an option. Another landlady was paying for her daughter’s education in Paris with my rent, which seemed fair, except that she always found a reason why I should pay for any problems. Another landlady’s husband complained when we left, that we had broken a clock. I pointed out that he could surely afford to replace the 5 dollar clock out of the 12,000 dollar rent he had collected. He felt I was a goose that laid golden eggs, but didn’t need feeding as well.
Under these circumstances, far from home and my family, it was doubtful whether I needed a second home in Ukraine. Indeed our family had just pooled our first home in Wales and second home in Birmingham, deciding that one home in Somerset would be enough. However, I found I could not just live anywhere, as some of my colleagues did, regarding it just as a flat where they slept, and did try to make it somewhere I could enjoy spending time in.
At that time, it was practically impossible to find a flat with three bedrooms. Only if it was a “kommunal’ka” was this possible. Then three families had to be found new flats and compensated before they would move to a better life, while an Embassy family moved into their old home after everything was stripped out and serious “remont” had taken place. Only Embassies, big companies or “new Russians” (there are never any “new Ukrainians”) could afford “capitalny remont” or “Evroremont” as it was advertised for rent afterwards.
So the flats that we rented were usually "two or three rooms" with a wide variety of furniture: either accumulations of furniture during the Soviet period, possibly a few items bought while abroad, or rather garish new furniture in a style later to be called Italian brothel in our family.
I did not go out much to bars to drink or to restaurants which were expensive and had bad service. My largely Ukrainian friends came to dinner or for a drink. They wanted to see how westerners lived and what I read, what music I had, what I bought in Kiev, as shopping possibilities expanded. Why did I have so many clothes asked one to Nina, who replied that it was not normal to have only one or two sets of clothes.
Why did I have two bedrooms when I was only one person? Because I could afford the space, seemed to be the only real answer, though usually I said that it was so my children could visit. But to families who had grown up in communal flats sharing a single room with their family and the kitchen and bathroom, it must have seemed obscene.
In practice, we mostly just sat around in the kitchen and talked and drank wine. The kitchen was the warmest and cosiest place since in the worst case we could turn on the oven.