I would like to know what "searching the flats and offices, returning to interrogate the man and the woman and to take down their details" means in the following sentences:

There was a scratching on the door.

‘You can come out now,’ said the woman’s voice. I don’t know how long I had been in there, listening to the sound of the policemen thundering through the building, banging on doors, searching the flats and offices, returning to interrogate the man and the woman and to take down their details, and the commotion outside, the screams of the crowds, and then, gradually, the dying down of any sound except for the wailing of sirens. Finally I’d heard cars honking, and the buzzing of the trams, and then this scratching.

The door to my cell opened. They both stood there, a light bulb hanging above their heads, night in the street behind them. I forced my body out of its hiding place, dusted myself off, aware of their eyes on me. They had their coats on, and both wore a look of exhaustion and curiosity.

In this novel which is set in the 1980's in Poland under the socialist regime, where homosexuality was socially unacceptable, the protagonist Ludwik (a university graduate) left Poland in 1981 to live in the United States of America. And he remembers what it was like back then in Poland, where he was frustrated by the reality of this socialist regime that he couldn't even get the doctor's appointment when his dear landlady was sick (She was like a grandmother to him). That was why he decided to collect flyers he saw on the streets and scatter them on the street from a building when the strikers and the police were clashing. At the sight of him throwing the flyers through the window, the police climbed the stairs of the building and began searching for him. But luckily, Ludwik was admitted to one office of the building, where a man and a woman were working, and was able to hide. After the police officers retreated, the man and the woman told Ludwik that he could come out now.

In this part, I wonder whether "flats and offices" mean residential areas such as houses and offices in companies. I came to wonder this because the police officers were searching the single building, and it seemed less likely--personally--that residential areas and offices would be situated at the same building. So I wanted to ask you whether "flat" here has a different meaning.

Also, I would like to know what "details" mean here. Does it mean perhaps their personal details, including their names, occupations, addresses, telephone numbers and so on?

I am an English learner from South Korea, so thank you for your patience in advance as I may not know obvious things. I would very much appreciate your help. :)

1 Answer 1


The word offices could be used in one of two ways here. First, it's entirely possible that the building where Ludwik is hiding is a mixed-use space that has both business offices and residential apartments. For example, some buildings have offices on the lower floors and apartments on the upper floors. The police, searching the entire building, would search the flats and the offices.

Another meaning of offices is given by Merriam-Webster:

offices plural, chiefly British : the apartments, attached buildings, or outhouses in which the activities attached to the service of a house are carried on.

Apartment buildings have separate service areas. For example, boilers, laundry facilities, garbage rooms, electrical rooms would be found in many apartment buildings. Those would be offices as opposed to flats. A flat is simply a residential unit that is all on one level with no interior stairs. Without more information from the story, it is not clear from this excerpt which is the case: whether the building is a mixed-use one with both flats and offices, or whether offices simply means the utility rooms.

Yes, the police would ask the man and the woman for their personal details, such as their names, addresses, and so on. They ask repeatedly because if the man or the woman are lying, then they might make a mistake in repeating the details and so betray themselves. This is quite a common technique. Once, when I was returning to the US from Canada (in the before times, when it was possible to cross the Canada-US border), I was pulled over for "special processing". That means, basically, that the US border guard didn't believe my story and wanted to interrogate me. He asked what I had been doing in Canada, and I told him that I had been visiting my mother-in-law. Over the next hour or so, he kept saying, "so, your mother is in Vancouver?" And I kept replying, "my mother-in-law". He would repeat other details from my story slightly wrong as well, and I would keep correcting him. It was obvious that he was simply trying to see if I would change any details of my story, which would be a clue that I was lying. The police are following the same technique with the man and the woman: making them repeat their details over and over, so that if they make a mistake, they can be investigated for lying to the police.

  • Dear verbose, thank you very much for the explanation. I am sorry I forgot to mention but the man here was an attorney and the woman was his secretary, so it could be that "offices" really meant the place for workers. I didn't know that offices could mean utility rooms in residential areas! I learned a new thing thanks to you. And, reading your experience about authorities taking down "details," I immediately understood what the police officers here were doing. They were making the man and the woman repeat the "details" over and over again to see if they were lying. Commented Dec 21, 2020 at 9:36
  • I sincerely appreciate your help. :) Commented Dec 21, 2020 at 9:36

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