Tuesday, April 17, 2007


During my time here I have examined whether the stereotype of Russians being heavy drinkers is truth or, well, just a stereotype. I have concluded: One cannot begin to fathom how much Russians love their booze. I am consistently amazed at how they manage to drink so much!
It is not that the Russians are all drunkards. Just that their perception of what is "too much" or "inappropriate" is vastly different than what Americans view as being "too much".
As the stereotype hints, Russians drink their vodka neat (i.e. straight). Ontop of that, they drink incredible quantities of it. This could be because vodka is relatively cheap ($6 will buy you good vodka). Or because vodka helps kill time.
Americans tend to have wine with dinner, if they drink. Americans are also squemish about drinking. In our (horrid) "alcohol awareness" classes in high school, I remember being told that, "If you have more than two drinks a day, more than a couple of times a week, it means you have a drinking problem."
The only drinking problem in Russia is when you run out of alcohol.
It does not matter if you are a guest of young men in their 20s, or women in their 80s, for a Russian to not offer you vodka, if you are a guest for dinner, is truly unthinkable.
Though, on two occasions I have been offered wine while visiting Russians for dinner.
On the first occassion, my host told me about what great wine he had bought. I was expecting that we would sip through the bottel during lunch. I was wrong. Each time he would want a sip, he would propose a toast, and it was "bottoms up"! The glass would be emptied, and promptly refilled.
Recently, I was talking with a Russian/Polish friend about drinking. I asked him if Russian or Polish wives get angry if their husbands come home drunk. He responded, "Well, you have never been to a wedding in Russia, clearly."
"Well, the weddings last for three days. That is mandatory. If you survive the first night, you come back the next day, and then the day after. On the first night the groom is the recipient of countless toast. In short time he ends up on the floor under the banquet table, too drunk to stand up, passed out. The bride cries a lot... I don't know if she cries because she must spend her wedding night with someone who will likely be hung-over the toilet puking the whole time, or if it is because she realizes she has just bought a lifetime of commitment to him."
"Either way, the guests all have a great time. You can be sure that nobody is sober. Dedushka (grandfather) is going to get plastered. But everyone has a good time."
I continued my questioning, "Well, after the wedding, after being married for a bit, does the wife get upset if the husband comes home drunk?"
"It depends. She knows that he is going to drink... If he is a man he is going to drink. If he gets drunk and sings and dances, that is ok... No problems. But if he becomes overly flirtatious with other women, problems arise."
A while back I was staying at a Russian friend's house. His father had Ушёл на запой (had gone on a binge) and was nicely passed-out on the floor.
At around 10 pm there was a knock at the apartment door, my friend answered it to find a construction work, who 5-6 years before had done some tiling for the family. The construction worker asked to speak to the father, he wanted to borrow $2. Well, the noise from the construction worker awoke the father from his slumber.
The father simply said, "What, if I give you $2 you are going to drink it away... That is stupid! Why don't you just come into the kitchen and drink with me?"
The next morning when I got up, the two of them were still at it. Though it wasn't long before both were sleeping on the kitchen floor.
I had a history professor that relayed this story:
He had been invited as a dinner guest in Russia by two members of the (very) elite Academy of Sciences. My professor, another American, and 5-6 Russians came for the dinner. Well, in no time everyone was drunk. The Americans were taken home by taxi and all was well.
Two days later, the one American realized that he had lost his umbrella. He realized that he had left it at the apartment where the party had been held. When he arrived at the apartment to retrieve his umbrella, he could hear a lot of noise. He knocked at the door and was greeted by all of the people that had been at the party two days before... They had been drinking for two days straight! They didn't go to work, called in sick, and drank.
This past Friday our group took a tour of the local vodka factory (Владалко). This tour was the best excursion I have ever been on. The woman who lead us on the tour was small (maybe 5'4). She is also the chief manager of the factory.
The tour was really interesting... And then there was the taste testing... There were atleast 8 different alcohols that we tried. This little woman (the tour leader) knew how to handle her booze. She must have had 6 full shots... Considering her size, it seems like a lot... And then she returned to work!!!
On my construction site, a few Russians were brought on to work. They drink the entire day. It doesn't seem dangerous (if they are laying tiles, etc)... But I would be lying if I said that seeing the electrician drink on the job doesn't make me uneasy!


Anonymous said...

Yep, I am also living in Russia right now. I noticed that if I decline a drink, the Russkis tended to get offended. I can't imagine that being a teetotaler makes things any easier. I mean, how can you decline a toast, "For friendship!" or "For having met!" or "For friendship between our two nations!" or who could possibly refuse, "For mama!"???

David Aames said...

It's partly biological. Jewish and Italian communities are able to handle alcohol because they have been drinking for thousands of years and most drunkard genes have been selected out by now. Alcohol is a recent arrival to Russia, and was only massified in the 18th century after a reform of the previously restrictive vodka laws. Drunks have not yet been selected out of the wider population. (Drunkenness is a maladaptive trait - girls don't like drunks ergo drunks don't have babies so over time there is natural selection for sobriety genes)

Jason Smart said...

You must have been drinking to come up with a half-baked theory like that... I don't even know where to begin.
Either way, thanks for reading my blog!
Jason Smart