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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


How to survive the New Year holidays
Text and illustration Elena Krivovyaz

The New Year is celebrated all over Russia by 10 days of total idleness: nobody answers business calls and whoever you see out on the streets seem to be almost lonely. There are no traffic jams, which is amazing. Most of the cafés are deserted, as if in the middle of a war, and there’s no need to book a table at any restaurant in Moscow. All the dentists and notaries are gone as well. You may have no choice but to let your business go for a while.

This Shangri-La can turn to a nightmare in some ways, especially if you are one of the few people to be working. For some reason, foreigners probably spend more time working, proportionally speaking, than their Russian counterparts, as through a sense of Protestant guilt still hanging on from when they worked in that other world, the West. Don’t be surprised when a secretary asks you to wait another week or two before her boss comes back from Thailand or the Maldives. What, never! That’s what my friend said for the first 15 years in Russia.

Don’t try to change your life overnight as that is the shortest way to depression

Never-ending festival

Nearly all Russians long for these days of New Year nothingness. But finally when New Year comes, many are at a loss as to what to do, and they waste their free time. Those who didn’t fly away to exotic places try to celebrate the New Year at home with dozens of litres of vodka and loads of Russian salad which they dress up, or the shop does, to be French. You might be invited to parties like that several times each day, because Russians celebrate the New Year from 31st of December to 3rd of January, then they start to prepare for Russian Christmas on the 7th of January. Finally they celebrate the Old New Year on the 13th of January.

After that, it’s back to work, quite often in a state of complete depression. Many are very upset that they have put on so much weight, others are upset because all they did during the goddamned holidays was have the time to analyse themselves and their situation, but without the professional analysts. How should we spend this 10 day-long holiday?

Promises, promises

The most obvious thing to do is to escape to China or any other place where New Year is not at this time at all. Being in a different place and trying to get used to new surroundings means you won’t have time to get into yourself too much. But if you weren’t able to get tickets to anywhere and don’t want to go to China, let’s look at other methods.

Never give yourself unreal promises before a New Year, like getting fit and starting to look like your favourite Hollywood star, stopping smoking or learning French or Russian perfectly, or growing fond of your mother-inlaw whom you hated before etc. Many people promise themselves to sign up for a gym, but consume vast amounts of alcohol which no amount of pumping iron can compensate for. Better to start with something minor and more realizable, like a decision to drink fresh juice twice a week or to go to sleep a half an hour earlier (easier to say: I will get up later tomorrow!). Don’t try to change your life overnight as that is the shortest way to depression.

Rivers of alcohol

Even if you’re an absolute and confirmed teetotaller, it’s almost impossible not to fall into the abyss and drink when everyone around you is doing so. But if you refuse to drink you may offend your friends. Driving a car is a good idea. Everybody knows how high the fines are for drunken drivers, so you’ll be excused not drinking.

But what happens if you do have a few (which is most likely) and then get stopped? Could be a way to spend a hellishly horrible New Year, unless you have at least $500 on you, depending on what kind of car you drive and what you end up doing in a drunk state.

What should you do when it gets very late and somebody has to take you home and take your socks off because you’re unable to do it yourself? More serious, is what happens when you wake up not remembering how it was that you got home at all, and somebody tells you that they rescued you from a neighbour’s apartment, unconscious.

The first thing you’re recommended to do is to drink a cup of black tea with a lot of sugar in it when you wake up. If you ate too much the day before, which is very difficult not to do because New Year in Russia is about food as well as alcohol, you probably don’t want to eat at all in the morning. Fine, go on a diet for a day or two. There are millions of pieces of advice how to get over your throbbing headache, feelings of complete depression, such as hair of the dog, which means: drink some more.

Тhere’s only one remedy that is considered universally apt: to drink water as much as you can

This kind of advice can actually be helpful if you are able to control yourself and only have one drink. But what happens if you turn into a vodka-dependant sloth? Will you still be respected at work? Probably the answer is that you will be more respected, if you work in a Russian environment. But it is not going to be too good for your image if you work for Western company. Russians say: only having sex with your partner is a good resolution; as is drinking only ‘pure’ vodka, which is supposed not to cause any hangover at all (sure, sure!).

But there’s only one remedy that is considered universally apt: TO DRINK WATER AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. If you’re not suicidal, don’t drink alcohol at all if you’re still sick after celebrating the night before. This simple advice will keep you going until the next hangover.

Stay fit

It’s really hard to make yourself wake up and go anywhere in mid-winter, as the weather is freezing and horrible. But sometimes it’s important to break this hibernation and try to do something: run around your house, do puzzles or dust bookshelves. Boring as hell. Quite. So buy a snowboard and get out of your flat for exciting hills of snow in suburban parks. Terrorise the locals!

Doing 15 minutes exercise a day is much better than lying on the sofa in front of the TV all day, at least that’s what I’ve heard. Take the opportunity to read that mountain of books that you have been looking at for a year without opening. Excuse: you can’t get it in Moscow? You’ll be surprised just how much is available in Moscow English-language bookshops if you look. You could even try and learn some Russian, but that would probably be pushing it, after all, a holiday is a holiday, right?

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