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Getting Wasted

Russians famously drink a lot, and chances are, at some time, you will end up getting trashed with them, or at least having a drink. It’s not unusual for people to drink too much, sometimes in debilitating amounts. Spend long enough in Russia, and you’ll see people crashed out on the side of the road, in the metro, and in doorways. Despite being widespread, it is not regarded as good behaviour, naturally. It’s rare for women to be like this, though not unknown.

If you don’t drink, there are two ways out – say you are an alcoholic (which draws understanding nods and grave faces), or say you are on medication and absolutely cannot.

It can be fun to drink with Russians, however. Bear in mind, however, that most of them (men, at least) have a pretty high tolerance. If you are drinking vodka, do as they do, and take each slug with some fish, fruit, or bread, otherwise you will go down pretty quickly. Try not to mix it with other drinks.

Be careful if offered drinks by strangers in situations like on long distance train journeys. If you see a bottle of beer opened in front of you, it’s pretty safe, but beware glasses offered to you when you haven’t seen it poured. People do occasionally get drugged and robbed.

Russia has a big drug problem, though it is very underground, and you wouldn’t want to know the kind of people who deal or use them. Attitudes to drugs are very different to Europe and the US – people have little knowledge in many cases, and don’t really differentiate between things like heroin and pot. Telling someone you like the occasional joint can result in them thinking you are some kind of strung-out monster with a real problem.

Although there is a lot of drug use, you are unlikely to be casually offered anything, and the trade in it is often conducted by pretty hard types from Central Asia or the North Caucasus who you’d probably rather avoid. The pot and hash that does turn up is usually dross, anyway, and they should be put in prison for having the gall to sell such rubbish.

Don’t even think about getting caught by the cops with a smoke, or bringing any in with you. A British guy got sent down for three years in 2002 for having a piece of hash the size of a walnut. Get drunk instead.

Howard Gethin

Now resident in Moscow, Howard works as an editor and still makes occasional forays into places where men carry guns and mountains are nearby.