Friday, August 12, 2011

Requiem for Vodkaberg

I'm back in Russia for a month.

Again, living with the small blonde girl, in a rented apartment on the 19th floor a huge new complex in the remains of a (former) wilderness reserve overlooking the Volga River.

Sure, my life is fairly quiet, but witness the following:

There's a prominent sign on the front door of the supermarket next to the apartment I'm renting, stating that hard liquor, of any sort, can't be sold between 10.00pm and 10.00am.

Last night at a pizza place, there was a sign stating that beer without any sort of food purchase could not be sold after 10.00pm.

But there's more.

Stating January 1, 2013, a whole new raft of laws about beer go into effect, banning beer sales after 10.00pm completely, and banning beer sales from small kiosks.

Beer prices are already pretty much on par with prices in Europe on America; taxes on beer were recently tripled. They banned drinking beer on the street some years ago; I got a fine for having about an inch of beer in a plastic cup at a bus stop one day back in 2007.

I'm surpised to find that until now Russia has only placed fourth (or fifth, depending on how you figure it) in the world rankings of per-capita alcohol consumption.

Prior to about 2006, it seemed like most of the country was drunk, most of the time. People considered beer something like a soft drink. But if you wanted something a bit more toxic, there were "minibars" at many kiosks and small mini-markets that sold liquor -- by the shot -- 24 hours a day.

I even remember back in 2004 -- often, at supermarkets, there were promotions where beautiful young women used to offer you a free shot of vodka, or a free glass of beer, as they might offer cheese on a cracker or a cookie in a western supermarket.

Back in the old days -- 2000 - 2007 -- we walked around soused, all day, without the slightest worry of police bothering us. We bought beers at the supermarket -- a half-liter beer was about 75 cents, US -- and drank them while we alked around, went to outdoor pirate CD markets where we bought beer, occasionally having a pick-me-up shot at a mini-bar, wandering from kiosk to kiosk buying more beer in parks and riverside cafes for the rest of the day until we staggered drunkenly into some nightclub or the other. We'd stagger out at 5.00 or 6.00am and wake up at 11.00am or so and repeat the process.

I went out with the three remaining teachers last Saturday -- they're all leaving soon, as teaching in Vodkaberg is becoming unbearable, with constant children's classes and huge amounts of travel time. (They mostly travel to nearby small cities and villages, which are the only places where schools can still demand top dollar payment for foreign teachers.) Two of them are heading out to different cities in Russia, in search of contracts promising only company classes.

Recent new teachers didn't stay long -- Saturdays and Sundays are packed with children's classes, and stern hawk-like parents are terribly observant of hangovers and beer-breath.

So, as we can see, civilization has finally caught up with Vodkaberg.

(EDIT, AUGUST 16 -- Some other anti-vice legislation that will go into effect over the next couple of years include bans on smoking in cafes and nightclubs and public transport. There is already a curfew of 10.00pm for people under 16, and all of the casinos and slot machine parlors have been closed.)


TeflSecretagent said...

Sounds like a horror story....

Anonymous said...

I'm envious, but the grass is always greener...

Shame about all these new regulations, really going to stick the final nail into the already rotting coffin.

Thankfully I got in just in time, and only managed to cover 2 or so individual kids classes in my stint there.

But nonetheless, gotta be better than fucking Egypt.

Anonymous said...

you sound like an old man pining for the past. get over it, things change, and for some young guy to samara its still probably 'out there'. 10 years later he'll be saying that it's lost its edge, and the kid after him and the kid after him.

English Teacher X said...

I actually hope so! Maybe it is just age, but we seems to be living in a time that is simultaneously more stressful and more boring. . .

Anonymous said...

When will we see the YouTube channel of ETX? These stories need to be on YT!

English Teacher X said...

Yeah, you know -- I've been wanting to make the animated adventures of English Teacher X for some time now -- I have two more books coming down the pipeline, though, I'll see what I can come up with.