Expat Housing: Mattress Madness

by Miss Footloose

Indonesian mattress shop

So I am lying in bed in my American house, on my comfy American mattress, and terror strikes.  My new expat life in Moldova is three days away. The packers have come and gone.  Two hours is all it took them to box up the few possessions my prince and I are taking with us. Clothes, a few dishes, books, office stuff.  No furniture.

No mattress.  No mattress!

No, I am not worried about my new life in Moldova, about learning Romanian, eating strange food, funny toilets.  I’m worried about our future mattress.  I have a thing about mattresses, a colorful history so to speak.  And since I love writing stories, I have one.  More than one.  So let me tell you about my mattress adventure in our most recent expat location, Armenia.  I posted this tale over two years ago, when I had just started this blog, and I’m sure you never saw it because, well, my blog was brilliant in its obscurity and nobody saw it.

So here it is:


You may wonder what fish and a mattress have in common and the answer is nothing. Except I like them both and it so happens that an order of forty kilos of trout and sturgeon arrive in our little house in Armenia at the same time our brand-new mattress is delivered. The fish takes over the kitchen and the mattress dominates the narrow hallway.

No, the fish is not all for us, but the mattress is. It’s our third one in two years and this is IT. We’re spending our children’s inheritance on the real deal this time: An American Sealy, available at one shop in Armenia only, and no, it’s not Mattress Discounters. For you in the country, it’s Tufenkian’s shop on Tumanian Street in Yerevan.

For a moment my mate and I stare at the mattress is silent adoration. Then the bell rings and my friend Christine arrives to pick up her two kilos of trout.

Christine gapes at our Sealy, rendered speechless by its majesty. “Wow,” she says finally. “Where did you get that?”

We tell her.

“You mean, it’s for sale, here?”

Indeed it is. At a price, of course.

“I gotta tell Paul!”

She’s about to run out without her trout. We stop her and calm her down enough to deal with stuffing fish in a double plastic bag and her paying her part of the bill.

The fish, let me explain, is a group order from a commercial pond fishery that exports trout fillets, trout caviar, and sturgeon fillets to Russia. The way you normally buy fish here is fresh and alive from certain shops with aquariums. You check out the various specimens on offer and pick the one you want. The fish guy catches it, clubs it to death, and cleans and scales it for you while you watch. He does not fillet it; that’s a Western thing for spoiled people.

Since most spoiled Western expats like eating fish in their dead and filleted state, but do not find pleasure in watching them expire, we’ve found a solution: We put together a combined order and buy the fillets straight from the pond fishery. The whole lot is then delivered to our house.

The bell rings and more fish is being picked up by a friend’s driver who knows our address because we are the Fish House, aka The Yellow House. I get on the phone to tell more people the order has arrived and my mate starts ripping the plastic off the Sealy to reveal its fluffy blue promise of nocturnal bliss.

Years ago, in Kenya, we started our nomadic life together on a coconut husk mattress and later in Indonesia we celebrated our love on a kapok affair. To my shame I must admit that, corrupted by comfort and materialism, all that I want now is an American Sealy or facsimile.

When our next fish friend arrives, we open a bottle of wine and he helps us with a nice toast to much happy sleep on our new mattress. For good measure we follow this with a libation to the gods of sleep and dreams. Really, you have no idea what this mattress means to us.

The mattress in our house when we first rented it had struggled through too many births and deaths, possibly by the same humans, so we said it needed to find a different resting place and we required a new one before moving in.  With the kind assistance of our landlady we procured a new mattress in Furniture Street (which has since been converted to Casino Street). This thing hailed from China and was hard as a slab of cement. At the time it seemed so much better than anything else that was available, but we never got used to it. We felt battered and bruised in the mornings, which didn’t do our day much good, so after a few months of valiant suffering we went in search of a better one.

Traditional Armenian bed

This was a quest of major proportions since soft and saggy Eastern Block mattresses covered with dark velour upholstery are all the rage here. We searched the town and its environs, along with a scout/translator, finally to return to Furniture Street with its open-front stores and sidewalk displays. Rumor had it that there really was a merchant selling the type of mattress we wanted. After much talk, coffee drinking and handshaking, we finally located our man. He proudly showed us a mattress that had the appearance of a western-style affair with proper blue ticking. It was neither pillow soft nor cement hard. It hailed from Turkey, a non-Eastern Block country, which was promising.

We tried it out by lying down on it, drawing looks of surprise from a number of solemn bystanders and passersby. It was a shockingly undignified thing to do, to just lie there in full view of every chain-smoking, black-clad Armen, Arson and Arten sauntering by. Not to mention their wives and mothers. In moments like that I try to imagine myself a cultural missionary. I pray my behavior might plant a thought-seed that will eventually help the Armenians liberate themselves from the stranglehold of propriety. Honestly, what’s morally wrong with a little practical lying-down on a mattress you might want to buy?

In spite of sacrificing our dignity while testing the mattress, we were not rewarded. Yes, this Turkish affair was a big improvement over the Chinese slab of cement, but it was still bad. Another year of nocturnal suffering and we said, the hell with it, we’ll get the Real Deal imported from the USA. So we are weak and spoiled. Our backs are grateful.

In between people picking up their fish, admiring our mattress, offering toasts and sipping wine, my mate and I slip into our bedroom and tear the sheets and blankets off the Turkish reject. We cannot get rid of the thing fast enough. We cannot wait to test our new one, but first we need to dispose of the fish.

Armenian sturgeon fillet

You should know that the trout looks gorgeous, the pink fillets neatly arranged on plastic platters. Not a bone in sight – such luxury! It’s the best trout I’ve seen anywhere, the best trout I’ve ever tasted. So if an Armenian ever tells you their trout is the best in the world, he’s right.

The sturgeon fillets, at more than twice the price of trout, look, well, unsavory (see photo). Sturgeon in its un-filleted state is prehistorically ugly, which is not a surprise, since, as the cockroach, it has dwelled on the earth unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. Devoid of head and skin, it still looks lethal, with its glimmering greenish fat and thick grayish flesh. However, trust me, it’s scrumptious when barbecued.

In the bedroom we wrestle the Turkish wonder off the bed, place the Sealy Posturepedic on the frame and low and behold it fits, close enough, anyway. Now we don’t have to struggle through dealings with the non-English-speaking carpenter to get it adjusted. We want this bed saga to be over. I can think of a thing or two more worthy of my psychic energy.

People come and go, bedazzled by our mattress, delighted with the trout and shocked by the sight of the sturgeon. When finally all the fish has been picked up and the wine is finished, we settle on our new mattress in blissful relaxation. Life is good. We have lovely fish fillets in the freezer and a glorious mattress to sleep on.

How much more spoiled can you get?


How well will we sleep in Moldova?  Will we find a good mattress?  Oh, the worries of the expat life!

* * *

Do you have a bed or mattress adventure you’d like to share? Do entertain me, please!

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I was on tenterhooks through that entire story, terrified that your fish would come into contact with your new mattress. So glad it didn’t! I’m fussy about mattresses too. It’s not just their firmness and comfort that I’m obsessed with; I need them to NOT be stained. If they are stained, I need a state-of-the-art mattress cover between me and the stain. The best mattress in the world is a good futon, not the foreign kind, which are impossible to pick up unaided, but the Japanese kind. They are light, so you can take them outside and air them. And… Read more »

You are indeed a wise woman. I can not begin to recount the discomfort I have endured due to mattresses and pillows that were not bad in their own right but just not suitable for fussy comfy sleep stabdards

Gosh, I didn’t realise you were going so soon! Good luck and I do hope you get a good mattress!

You mean they don’t have a Craig’s list? We always buy our mattresses used, (only a few months old) for $70! We just got one a month ago, fine and firm, PosturePedic for that price. We’re cheap! Good luck in Moldova. Please let me know what you get there. Sonia.

To Moldova! Goodness me! 😀 I enjoyed your matress story. Moving to an entire different country is not just about adapting to weather, learning the language and meeting new people, is it? I don’t have a matress story, but rather a bed linen story. I cannot yet get used to the Dutch system of beddekovertrek directly on top of the bottom sheets. Every time I change it, I feel as if I was having a street fight, climbing onto the bed and hiding inside the thing to stretch the filling, pummelling, cursing, puffing… until I get it done. I truly… Read more »

guyana gyal

I will never ever not ever ever ever never again, if I can help it, sleep on a coconut fibre mattress ever ever NOT EVER again. It pokes out of the fabric and pokes you while you try to sleep!

I imagine the bed you had in Armenia was similar to the one we had in Azerbaijan. I was told that much of their furniture was imported from Romania. We were advised to bring mattress toppers – those spongy egg-crate things. Although the mattress itself wasn’t too bad, we found that our double bed was fitted with 2 single mattresses side-by-side, and the mattress topper came in handy to bridge the gap. Did you also have square pillows and one of those weird duvet cover things that you were supposed to fill with blankets?

maria altobelli

My bedtime tale involves the frame, rather than the mattress. The second time Paul and I visited his aunt in Latvia, we found she had had a local carpenter make a frame for her version of a double bed. The size of said bed was only marginally larger than a single. But that was fine, I enjoy being close to Paul. Such closeness tends to generate other activities, however, and therein lies the rub. We heard a crack. I landed on the floor and Paul sagged downward wedged inside the mattress. His aunt alluded to the fact that if he… Read more »


Since I am a long-time princess and the pea, I can relate to this story. I even bought my own bed for when visiting my children in another city. Every time they move – Mom’s bed goes with them. Good luck with the mattress find!

Whenever we stayed at my paternal grandparents, my sister and I had to share a double bed. One of those beds that had been in the family for about a million years and had a lovely indentation right in the middle. My sister had to go to bed before I did and by the time I got in it would be warm, but also very small, since my sister would have (automatically) rolled into the middle! My maternal grandparents didn’t have a lot of beds, so we stayed on matrasses on the floor. But in order for me and my… Read more »


I can’t believe how soon you leave!

When we first moved overseas, some “veterans’ of expat life told us to take a mattress. We didn’t and we’ve had our own versions of the Chinese cement slab. Mauritanian mattresses come in varying thicknesses of foam. No support whatsoever.

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