. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Praise of Brotherhood, Heaps of It

There's something fundamentally different about the way Russians and Westerners party. Or let me rephrase that: There's a fundamental difference in the way Russians and Westerners handle their drink.

This proposition was put to the test in the not-so controlled experiment in mass drunkenness otherwise known as GosOrg's Halloween party last weekend. "All you can drink for $10" reads like a challenge to most red-blooded males, Western and Russian alike, and indeed many rose to that challenge -- spectacularly -- on Saturday night. The bar area kicked off the evening in a civilized enough way, handing out vodka 'n' orange punch and cans of beer. But as supplies dwindled and the siege of the tiny bar intensified, those manning the barricades succumbed to a Custer's Last Stand-type panic and decided to avoid being crushed to death by handing over the whole remaining stock to all comers.

Let's think for a moment about what happens when you hand out free bottles of vodka to hundreds of already drunk frat boys and Russian hedonists. The effect is roughly comparable to handing out free Kalashnikovs and crack in South Central L.A., or giving a live hand grenade to a chimpanzee, or leaving Beavis and Butthead at home with a bottle of whisky and the car keys. The results are unlikely to be pretty.

And indeed they weren't. Those who generalize are generally wrong, of course, but there's something about vodka that brings national stereotypes to the fore. One Dutchman, who shall remain nameless, nearly got himself killed by a bunch of Americans he had been racially abusing. (He thought they looked too much like Bavarians). One extremely drunk Russian lurked around the door of the packed auditorium, waiting for people to bump into him so he could punch them. Many extremely drunk Americans staggered around being loud, arrogant and obnoxious. Actually, maybe they weren't drunk; I couldn't tell. I looked for signs of Italians drunkenly attempting to capitulate to someone, but couldn't find any.

My point is, in vodka veritas. Which brings me to the obligatory Moscow-Times-columnist-word-of-profound-philosophical-insight-into-Russia for the week: Russians are better at boozing than anyone else.

True, there is the drawback that some become aggressive and mindlessly violent. But what vodka brings out best in Russians is sobornost, that essential Russian concept of camaraderie, collective spirit, brotherhood, fellowship and other cozy, heartwarming emotions.

For instance: In the corner of the bar area lay for much of the evening what looked like a heap of old clothes with legs, which on closer inspection turned out to be none other than a U.S. citizen somewhat the worse for wear.

People, or to be specific, expats, were not nice to this heap of clothes. Some partygoers posed for mock Big Game Hunter-style photographs with the inanimate pile; others amused themselves by spraying a fire extinguisher on it.

When the evening drew to a close and the police began clearing out the last stragglers, the heap's flatmate and friends seemed none too concerned about the possibility that Heap might end up beaten to within an inch of its life in a police drunk tank. Heap was eventually put into a taxi by a group of kind-hearted strangers, who also tracked down the flatmate and forced him -- by physically frog-marching him to the waiting taxi -- to take responsibility for his "friend."

Counterexample: Another casualty of the evening was a Russian student, for whom the force of gravity suddenly became too much to resist as he keeled over in a pool of vodka and vomit. His friends, though also drunk as skunks, were falling over each other -- literally -- to help him up and get him home.

Expats, a minority in hostile territory, should know better or at least take their cue from the Russians: In the virtual absence of any other support systems, the bottom line of defense against this arbitrary country is your friends. Do unto others, etc., because it could -- and probably will -- happen to you, too.

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