Pod'yezd (подъезд) is an architectural element of Soviet life that has managed to shape its culture. Your typical multi-floor Soviet buildings did not have all of the apartments on the same floor connected by the same hallway. Instead, the building was divided into numerous vertical sections, each of which had its own entrance and a stairway, both of which led to landings with only two or three apartments per floor. The entrance/vertical segment are both referred to as pod'yezd.

Now, this sounds like a trivial architectural feature, but its presence really distinguishes the Soviet apartment building from an American one. One peculiar effect it produces, for better or worse, is to facilitate tighter community life among residents. The residents of each pod'yezd tended to know each other really well and socialize with each on the little square next to each pod'yezd.

Each entrance had a small gray area with benches in front of it where people would sit around and chat, occasionally play games, sometimes cook, snack, or drink vodka. These social interactions had their good side and bad side. The frequent socializing of residents was great if you liked them and didn't feel threatened by them. Otherwise, it was annoying. Having to visit a friend who lives in another pod'yezd only to encounter a congregation of loud and obnoxious drunks in front of the entrance is quite a hassle.

It's great that people socialize, chat, and play board games. The kids get to know each other and chat with the adults. But you won't get past the drunks. They are the ones who've got most time to socialize and they are out there digging up the most vulgar language possible that's just utterly revolting to hear. Unlike in English, where swear words complement and spice up the language, Russian has a special layer of language that's made up of swears only: mat. When I say that these people speak vulgarly, I mean that every single sentence that comes out of their mouth is a swear. If they were to interject swears only occasionally into their conversation, that would make their talk a bit more tolerable. Their talk is most tolerable, however, only when you manage not to get involved. As you listen to them hurling insults at each other while menacingly burnishing alcohol bottles or fists, staying out of it feels like a small victory.

So, these congregations of pod'yezd residents are also like a network of spies and gossips at the same time. Anything that you do - no matter how private it should be - never stays private. A guy and a girl who are talking in any way that might be interpreted as romantic will not be able to do it in private and will have a virtual greek chorus of local residents taunting them. I remember a young man and young woman talking inside a pod'yezd, all the while a bunch of kids who lived in that same pod'yezd jeered out with triumphant voices: "He is going to fuck her." The two actually managed to stay put and continue their conversation despite the intrusive audience. Maybe they were used to it.

Of course, the pod'yezds and their social communities aren't all about vulgar swearing and obnoxious intrusion into private romantic moments. They're also about neighbors watching out for each other. Cause after one of the drunks urinates on a landing, a watchful lady's word of mouth will spread the news - and the stench - to everyone. And then, she'll be on the look-out for future perpetrators. Whoever would come into the pod'yezd that day would be accosted by a stern stare of her suspicious eyes and a reproachful tone of voice that will warn him in no uncertain terms to not take a leak on the stairs or the landing. Now, who likes being randomly accused of an intent to urinate in a public building? A talking-to in an angry voice is no picnic, but hey it's for a good cause. Gotta keep the pod'yezd dry and clean-smelling.

To fellow residents of the former Soviet Union, current or present: If this characterization of Soviet life seems to be too derogatory, it's not meant that way.

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