After 16 years of almost no contact with my Russian high school and college friends I stumbled on Odnoklassniki.ru, a website very similar to Classmates.com. I reconnected with a lot of childhood friends. It was a very nostalgic and quite depressing experience as I found out two of my close childhood friends and five classmates died from drinking — most were in their mid-twenties.
The story is the same — drinking a couple days a week leads to drinking every day, get fired, wife leaves, no source of income, sell apartment, money doesn’t last long, start drinking technical alcohol (used to clean engines), death from heart shutting down. What made this even worse: I remember most all of those friends when they were only teenagers. My sister-in-law’s cousins, one is 33 another 41, drinking heavily, ditched by their wives, sold their apartment — well, you know what is coming. I don’t know if living in a city where winter lasts eight months a year has anything to do with it, or just simply Russia being Russia. It is probably that latter. Life expectancy for men is 59; for women is 72. I bet drinking accounts for a very large portion of this gap between men and women.
I remember vaguely when I was very young that almost all of my neighbors were drinking. One would get drunk and beat up his wife, so she would hide in our apartment to avoid the beating. Another would pay a regular weekly visit asking for money or alcohol. It always upset me when Americans, after finding out I am Russian, would start talking to me about Russian vodka. Well, I guess Russia deserves that reputation.