I live in a small flat in a working-class neighbourhood with four other people. The owner of the flat is an immigrant from Bolivia who has a teenage son. She’s of the best sort. She works hard, is respectful of others, has common sense to excess and a cutting wit. Her son has his moments, teenagers often do, but is a polite, respectful and pleasant young man who happens to be very clean! Both are! They’re lovely to live with. We make sure not to violate each other’s personal space and, when we share common spaces, rarely fail to have a pleasant conversation – sometimes for hours. If ever I do her a favour she immediately repays it. For example, I helped her clean a cooking pot that she managed to burn and she gave me a few custards or I lent her a lemon and she gave me a lunch of roast meats and potatoes.
The other two flatmates are a couple from Romania. The husband is a decent sort. He has a good sense of humour and a healthy sense of curiosity. His wife is a different matter! She is well-rounded in the morbidly obese way. Her personal hygiene is as lacking as her physical attractiveness. I can smell her presence long after she has left a room. She is loud, vulgar and crude. She spends much of her day on her mobile telephone blathering away in Romanian. Or, instead, shouting into it with no regard for anyone else in the building. On several occasions since April neighbours have come to complain to the landlady about her. She is terribly loud! She has woken many up early with her constant blabbering. She’s a chain-smoker who seems to think that leaning her expansive upper body out a window is adequate to prevent cigarette smoke from bothering others. Never mind that most have their windows open to allow for air to circulate. People cook, people want to prevent air from getting stale. Her constant smoking is a source of much frustration. I was privy to one such complaint. An Andean couple came together to complain about her behaviour. They surprised me. They were both very humble but proud in an artless way. Most of my colleagues are cynical and jaded. They provided an almost quaint contrast.
Her cooking habits provide no shortage of challenges for us! As I cook only for myself I refrain from cooking large meals. I need my wok, a cutting board and a knife. Within half an hour I am finished making a meal. There are four other people who might want to cook or do something. I try not to be in their way. That I make several cups of tea daily is hardly an imposition! She, however, cooks grotesque amounts of food on a regular basis. Until the landlady put a stop to it she would spend 20-30 hours each week roasting meats or baking meat pies. If she wasn’t doing that, she was cooking stews rendering it impossible for anyone else to cook anything. I’ve had to forego tea because of her! The last electricity bill was over 350 euro. As a direct result we are limited to baking things once a week. I am not amused by this, but can understand the landlady’s stance. I did not bake to excess but there must be consistency.
We have developed a quiet mutual contempt. She dislikes my arrogance, primness and impatience. She whinges about my putting on airs and prancing about like a lord, my nose in a book. She complains about my general lack of friendliness and finds any excuse to mock me. My limited grasp of Spanish provides her with no shortage of amusement. Last week she heard me make a silly translation error and ensured that the entire building would hear about it! “Coffee beans” – simple, innit? In German they’re referred to as “Kaffeebohnen”, in Swedish they are “Kaffebönor”, in Danish they are “Kaffebønner” and in Japanese they are “コーヒー豆” – coffee beans. Naturally, after a long day at work, I translated it as “frijoles de café”. The landlady laughed a little as this sounds silly in Spanish. The correct term is “café en grano”. The bovine one from Romania, however, started cackling hysterically and shouted commentaries about my amusing error. She made sure that her husband came to take part in the not-so-subtle mockery. I was somewhat miffed. She banged on about how she, a woman with little formal education, could master Spanish in three months were as I have made only modest progress in the same space of time. Never mind that Romanian is a Latin-based language that is relatively close to Spanish. The vast difference between Germanic and Latin languages was obviously not taken into account.
She will move out soon. The landlady had enough of her. Although their rent was always paid her crudeness became intolerable. She has not fulfilled her obligation to clean the bathroom weekly. I always have, the landlady almost always does. She has on many occasions woken both the landlady and her son up on bank days. The last straw came when the landlady noticed strange hairs tangled in her combs and other hair-care utensils! The smelly one was using her hair-care products! Landlady is a very, very clean person who takes respect for the property of others seriously. After that and the mounting number of complaints she was asked to leave. That and she tossed half-smoked cigarettes into the toilet and tried to blame me for it once. I’m a non-smoker.