Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Vodka Phenomena

The effects of drinking vodka follow a consistent pattern that I have witnessed in everybody save for highly-experienced Russian men, and it goes something like this (taken from personal experience on several occasions):

First, you meet up with an acquaintance or two in the evening, either in one’s apartment kitchen or, as happens at least once per week, in a park where Russians are drinking around a statue or fountain. From there the decision is made to purchase “just a couple of beers” and have “a quiet night”. So you and your companions walk to the local booze-and-cigarette stand and purchase a couple of 1 litre bottles of Baltika 7 beer for 25 roubles a piece but there, right next to the Baltikas, are large bottles of vodka with fancy labels for 60 roubles. You start to second-guess how much beer you will require for a “quiet night” and decide to grab a ridiculously-cheap bottle of vodka “just in case we run out of beer before the night ends.”

With bottles either jammed into coat pockets or plastic bags, you walk to the nearest kitchen where surplus beer is put into the fridge. At this early point in the evening plans begin to break down as somebody inevitably pulls out shot glasses and fills them up with vodka (often times before the first beer is even opened). Pickles or bread magically appear on the table to chase the vodka. You think “Well, one shot of vodka won’t hurt”. Everybody involved clinks their glasses and exhales quickly (it helps dull the taste) and then they pound the shots back and follow them up with an uncontrollable shudder of the body and a pickle. Perhaps you chase it with your first swig of beer.

Everyone then settles down and begins chatting about random stuff. If you are anywhere near Mr. Irish it will involve grammatical rules of English and Russian and some comparisons to absolutely useless Irish vocabulary. If you are with Ms. Montana and Ms. Wisconsin the conversation will involve Ms. Wisconsin talking about America and Ms. Montana laughing at her. If you are with them AND Mr. Irish it will involve Mr. Irish talking about grammar and the girls making fun of him. If you are with Mr. Wonderpants chit-chat will involve a hilarious recounting of a drunken evening in Russia. If you are drinking shots of vodka alone you should seek help.

The conversations will continue for a few minutes before somebody pours more shots of vodka. “Cheers!” or “Za Sdroviya!” or even a toast in Russian will follow, and again the shudder and the pickle. Then the conversation resumes. Then another shot of vodka after several minutes, which, for some reason, seems to go down much smoother and there is no shudder (but there’s still a pickle or piece of bread to chase it). Then again, the process repeats itself.

By the time the bottle is finished you do not feel completely drunk. It has been, at the most, an hour since the first shots were consumed and everybody is very talkative and somewhat obnoxious. The volume in the kitchen is much higher than it needs to be, and everybody thinks they’re a fucking comedian. You have only drunk half your beer.

Somebody notices that the bottle of vodka is no longer on the table (it’s very bad manners to keep an empty bottle on the table in Russia...it goes on the floor beside the table) and says “We should get another bottle”. Everyone agrees and one person offers to buy it ($2-$3 doesn’t really put you out) but sometimes nobody wants to be the one walking to the store. You offer to go because you don’t speak Russian and can’t order the booze, thus forcing a Russian speaker (or even a Russian if they are drinking with you) to go with you. You don’t know why it amuses you to do this but you take a certain sense of satisfaction from forcing somebody to go to the store (after one bottle of vodka it is surprising what sort of things you find amusing).

You and the hapless translator put on your shoes and coats, unlock the door (in these apartments you must lock and unlock the door using a big jailer’s key from the inside as well as the outside), take a harrowing ride in an elevator or walk down several flights of stairs, depending on whose kitchen you are at, and go back to the booze stand. Your translator and the attendant laugh at you in Russian and you hear the odd “Kanadianski”, but the bottle is purchased and you walk back. By this point, even after one bottle of 40%-50% proof vodka, you aren’t stumbling. The walk is nice and you and your translator carry on a civil conversation, maybe stopping to look at a statue of a cosmonaut or old poet or soldier or stoic working woman (there are statues EVERYWHERE in Russia).

You return to the kitchen but nobody says “Welcome back” or “How did you make out?” because they are too busy being loud obnoxious comedians to each other. That doesn’t matter, though, because you instantly transform from being a civil and pleasant walking partner back to being a loud and obnoxious retard. You still don’t feel drunk.

Then the second bottle of vodka is cracked open and the rounds of shots continue. However, this time they are going down much harder. Everybody is pausing before shooting them, in much the same way that people hesitate before jumping into a cold pool. You notice that the pickles have been polished off and the only thing in the flat to chase the vodka with is dry macaroni noodles (because you’re single and an expat, you don’t have much in the way of juice or anything else, really). Oh well. Better than nothing.

These shots aren’t going down as well, and the loud conversations aren’t making much sense anymore. You find yourself gapping out in the middle of a discussion. “...so then this guy walks up to the horse and but the water wouldn’t boil because there was no power.”
“Wait!” You suddenly shout. “What?”

If you are with Mr. Irish the singing starts without warning, and it’s always some Irish folk song or anthem and its sung in Irish and it doesn’t sound good. Actually, it sounds much like the opposite of good, but Mr. Irish believes that it sounds wonderful and sings as loud as he can.

And then, all of a sudden, the vodka hits you and you’re stupidly, stupidly drunk. It’s taken two hours of constant consumption but every single shot of vodka you’ve had hits you all at once. The kitchen table appears to be in orbit around your head, your body has slumped over and almost melted to the chair, and you want to kill whatever dying dog is singing those Irish songs. Oh wait. Is that Mr. Irish? He’s all blurry. It is. Okay. When is he going to stop singing? Soon? You hope so. Oh good, Ms. Wisconsin is making fun of him to his face and everybody is laughing. He’s stopped singing now.

Suddenly someone finds the ability to stand up and with every ounce of concentration and determination declares “I’m going to bed!” and then they half-stumble, half-lurch out of the kitchen and disappear into a bedroom somewhere. They don’t even live in this apartment.

All at once everyone slurs their agreement, and then it’s the morning and you’re in your clothes and draped over a sofa and the roof of your mouth is welded to your tongue with dryness. Strangely enough you don’t have that much of a headache (just a general grogginess), because you didn’t drink much beer and your brain didn’t dehydrate. You don’t remember the part between saying you are going to bed and actually falling asleep on the sofa. Perhaps it was all those pickles.

That is how vodka works and without fail. Every single time you drink vodka in Russia, it works the exact same way. It’s very consistent, like the McDonald’s of life.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Nathan,
    This blog made me laugh out loud.. great writing as always.. am not sure if I still want to come visit because of, or in spite of, this post :)