The general opinion of Russians that foreign people have has nothing to do with polar bears in Red Square. It is quite simply this: they think that Russia is a nation of crooks and drunks. About the crookedness, the overall criminality of the country, I have come -- with EXTREME reluctance -- to agree. And this sad conclusion flies in the face of the fact that every last one of my students has been personally honest with me. At least with regard of money, if not always in terms of their tendency toward evasiveness or silence (when a simple explanation would do). I can say for a fact that no Russian, not even a kassa in a kiosk, has ever cheated me.
Yet, even with that disclaimer, the nation remains rotten to the core in terms of governmental business ethics. Some -- the government and everyone who has anything to do with government -- are crooks because they want to be crooks. It's what they are about. Others -- especially people who are trying to run ordinary businesses --- become crooks because they feel they have no other choice. (And I don't blame them a bit.) A nation of swindlers and crooks. That is how foreigners view Russia.
So let's leave that unpleasant subject and turn to the more positive theme of drunkenness -- or alcoholism, if you will. I have seen a lot of drinking in Moscow -- and I have done a little myself. In my last blog, I described myself as an alcoholic and began to tell my story. I will return to that narrative later. But first, let me say this: the Russians in Moscow do not seem to me to be any drunker than the people I have seen in the other countries I have visited or lived in. It is true that I have never lived in ''the regions'' -- and the stories I have heard about what goes on in those places is almost terrifying. Apparently, people out there in the Great Beyond, in thousands of towns and villages, destroy their lives on a daily basis. I don't know if this has always been true or if it is a mass disease which has sprung up only in the 20th and 21st centuries. .
I know only Moscow and thus have no authority to pronounce hearsay in the same context as firsthand experience -- so I will leave the distant villages alone. In Moscow, I will further add that I do not do dope or go to nightclubs, and I do not get into drinking bouts with angry young men. Usually, I am in bed by 1.00 at the latest, so I can't comment on what mayhem may occur in the wee hours. But what I do see is this: unlike in other countries, here there does not seem to be a set time for drinking, just as there is no set time for the comings and goings of commercial airlines. In Moscow, you are as apt to see a guy in a business suit knocking back a few shots of vodka on his way TO work as you might on his way home AFTER work.
It's not coordinated in what might normally be regarded as a ''social'' way. But mostly, I see a divide between ordinary people hustling about and the practically comatose ''alkies'' that sway and lurch about near the metro, sleeping on benches, and even in the trains themselves. These guys are drunk beyond drunkenness. I sometimes wonder how they will ever make it through the day. Some don't, I guess. Like dogs from the streets, they kind of turn up and piss themselves for a while, and then just disappear. They beg for money, but they are NEVER aggressive. Maybe they are just too far gone. In these people, I see alcoholism in its manifestation as a truly terminal illness. It is scary. And it is sad. It makes you wonder what snapped in these people who at one point were not like that -- and presumably had the choice not to get that way. These are among the drunkest people in the universe, but passive in their death-throes.
Americans and Brits, on the other hand, are aggressive, always spoiling for a fight. The Americans are naturally that way. They have a Rambo mentality which alcohol plus whatever pills, rocks, or powder they have taken can turn lethal. Moreover, they will start fights with absolute strangers for no reason. The Brits can be just as bad, but -- or so I think -- for a different reason. Whereas Americans are taught that it's OK to vent emotion, Brits are taught to suppress it. This is why they have gained a justified reputation for never saying what they really think -- for being two-faced, in other words. I lived in England for a long time and I saw hordes of people who were outwardly polite, apologetic, obsequious even (before authority) but who, underneath were seething with rage and frustration. Alcohol would set them off like a forest fire. When I lived in England it was the heyday of football hooliganism, backed by a bunch of fascists known then as The National Front. And I saw mobs of drunk-out-of-their-minds young men literally tearing each other and whole sections of cities apart both in England and on the Continent. These assholes were finally banned from Europe altogether.
The Italians and Spanish are different. They are wine drinkers, and the pretty boys there -- while deadly enough in their way -- are not the sort to be rolling around in the mud like a bunch of pissed-up Irishmen. They'd rather just stick a knife in you and have done with it. However, if you are ever in Rome and take a walk around Termini Station, you will think you are back at Komsomolskaya.
The Germans, as always, are an anomaly. These people are so hidebound to Order and Efficiency that they keep their emotions completely locked inside. When I lived in Germany, I used to think that they had holes in their hearts where the flame of true emotion should be burning. This obsession with being organized showed itself even during English lessons. No room for small-talk or spontaneity. But let them drink and you will see a different side. Not ''Let's kill the Jews!'' -- not at all. Rather they become androgynous, almost orgiastic. Quite remarkable.
Of course, what with all the immigration and the inevitably marginalized populations that swarm into the great capitols, it is getting harder to sort out who is really doing most of the drinking. The ''PC'' crowd will never admit, but there is no question that all these immigrants lead to more crime at the edge of the cities. The Islamic element is out of my league as far as explanation goes. I guess they are too busy making bombs to bother getting drunk.
What I do know is that, at least among the people I have known and traveled with over the years, there seems to be a very powerful, almost intrinsic need, to escape reality. There are many ways to do this, but good ol' friendly alcohol seems to be the magic vitamin for most. I remember long ago, watching a drunk at a New Year;s Eve party dancing by himself, slow-waltzing with just his bottle of whiskey, which he clutched against his chest like a lover. And he was singing to ''her'' -- ''It's me and you against the world!'' That kind of said it all.
Next time, more about me
===Eric Richard Le Roy===
Внимание!!! Злоупотребление алкоголем вредит Вашему здоровью! Автор выступает за здоровый образ жизни и рекомендует алкоголь исключительно в умеренных количествах по согласованию с лечащим врачом.