Saturday, September 03, 2005


I was in a really bad mood a couple of days ago. I don't know if it was adjusting back to site, or what, but I just couldn't stand talking to anyone for a long time. I tried to avoid many encounters with people I knew would piss me off, because I knew I had very little patience for them at the time. I accomplished this at the sake of possibly offending the parties involved, although I don't think I did offend them; they probably just thought I was a jerk. I worried about this for a little while, but after contemplating it, I realized that I don't have to be friends with everyone in my village, and, while I don't have anything against them personally, I usually don't tend to be on friendly terms with chronic drunks and perverts, either, so that made me feel better. When I went to the village concert in honor of Kazakhstan's Constitution Day, I was expecting just another dancing, karaoke sideshow. I sat down, and some guy that I was acquainted with turned around and invited me to sit with him and his girlfriend "to talk." So I went and sat next to him. Apparently by "talking" he meant "drinking," because he procured a bottle of beer from beside his chair and offered it to me, "in honor of Constitution Day." After several declinations on my part, and reciprocal insistence on his, I finally just replanted myself in my previous chair. This concert did prove to be different because the audience was considerably worse behaved than usual, heckling the performers, laughing, jockeying, whistling, and conversing throughout the entire concert. I felt embarrassed to be a part of the audience. However, I couldn't go outside because as soon as I would, I would be accosted by other guys wanting to "talk" as well. I felt trapped - hence the bad mood. This was a concentrated instance of what it seems to be like in general on an everyday basis. Hopefully, things will change when school starts, and the young people aren't in the village.

I want to qualify the apparent infortitude to alcohol - what we might call, being American with a certain prudish heritage, alcoholism; it is simply not culturally taboo, like it is for us. So my comments are obviously biased perspectives, and should be read not as invective, but a report. Vodka is an inescapable reality throughout much of Russian culture. It's as culturally acceptable to them as, say, having eggs for breakfast is for us. They even drink vodka for breakfast sometimes. I know some men who drink vodka throughout the day. They would be considered lushes in America, but here they are just normal men. They drink vodka to be healthy, much like the concept of a glass of red-wine a day. The word "vodka" itself, probably evolved from the word for water ("vada"), and I have heard it used several times interchangeably. With these cultural differences in mind, I will tell you what it's commonly like for me, the proverbial fish-out-of-water.

This is a conversation of an encounter with some guys in my village, and is what happened last Saturday in my village when I went with my host brother to the only bar in the village. I’m calmly chatting with my host-brother as we enter through the door. Immediately I hear shouts across the room. “Daniel! Come sit down! Come talk with us!” Sensing my hesitation, one of them stumbled to his feet unsteadily and rushed to me, throwing his arm around my shoulders. “Sit down! Sit down! Come drink with us!”
“I don’t want to drink.”
“What do you mean, you don’t want to drink? Come sit down.”
“Okay. But I don’t want to drink.”
When I sit down at the table I am immediately met with a small shot glass full of vodka. “Here’s your shot, Daniel.”
“No, no, that’s not necessary.”
“Here’s your shot. Let’s drink.”
“No, I don’t want to.”
“Daniel. Let’s drink.”
“No, I said, I don’t want to drink.”
“Just have 100 grams*.” (*100 grams means two shots. Since it’s Russian tradition to never stop at two shots, 100 grams means at least three shots.)
“No. I don’t want vodka.”
“Just have 50 grams.”
“20 grams. 20 grams.”
“No, I don’t want it.”
“What do you mean, no? Just a little.”
“No, no.”
“A little.”
“I don’t like vodka.”
“Just have a little.”
He is just beginning to get the idea that I actually don’t want to drink, which is impossibly odd for him, and equally impossible for him to accept, when another guy sitting next to him chimes in with a scheming look in his eye. “Daniel, let’s meet. My name’s Andrei.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Come on. Let’s drink to our meeting.”
“I don’t want to drink.”
“What do you mean, no? It’s to meeting.”
“I already said that I don’t want to drink.”
Andrei throws up his shoulders and pouts his lips, as if to say that he would be offended if I didn’t drink. A face appears over my shoulder, and with a voice steaming and with the smell of alcohol, it says, “It’s a Russian tradition.”
“I know, I know. But I don’t want to drink.”
“Daniel, It’s tradition!”
“Tell you what, let’s meet some other time,” I say. And so they drink the shot and all is well until about ten seconds later, when the same person pours another shot and sets it in front of me.
“Daniel, here’s your shot…”


At 9/03/2005 04:23:00 AM, Blogger joe said...

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