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Drinking, Smoking and Spitting: The First Steps to “Manhood” in Post-Communist Russia?

As a visitor to Russia, I suppose that I should be polite and not express myself so strongly about a phase of adolescence, and some of the facts of teenage boys here, that I view as disgusting, and find generally discouraging as per Russia’s future. I suppose my position is somewhat softened by the fact that some of these teen facts are rather global – in many, but not all, of the cultures, nations, countries, etc, of the world today. And as to “guilt”, aside from Adam and Eve, hormonal changes, insecurity and immaturity, the word “teenager” (early 1940s) – and many teen fads and fashions in clothing, ideas, music, manners, and etc – come from the USA.

I have for some five years now in post-Communist Russia had enough stability in my life to be able to calmly observe early teenagers here in Moscow trying to be “cool” and “adult”. (The word “cool”, by the way, in the sense teenagers use it in Moscow, and many parts of the globalizing world today, has been a sort of linguistic fashion amongst youth for about 50 years – since the 1950s in the USA. It – like blue jeans with holes at the knees, which the 60s hippies of America and elsewhere helped popularize as a sort of standard uniform for “non-conformists” – is passed on from teen generation to teen generation, often regardless of country, culture and language.) The first thing I noticed were those drinking beer at early ages – in much of the USA for example this would not occur openly in the public at so young an age. And I noticed them smoking cigarettes (“coolly” creating future cancerous habits, from which few of them will ever be able to escape). It was, and is, often funny to see how deliberate, awkward and affected their hand movements, poses, and smoking manners with the new cigarettes were, and are: especially when they are only some 13-15 years old, and just really beginners at the “pleasure” of inhaling the hot smoke of burning tobacco leaves (as they try not to cough violently)! I have thought for a long time here in Russia: what is to be expected of young men (and girls) and a culture in which copying the unhealthy addiction of cigarette smoking by “adults” is semi-consciously often assumed to be “growing up”, as maturing, as “becoming a man (or woman)”?!

Now, in addition to the beer (and etc) that young men predictably drink (though unconsciously holding the beer bottles in a particular manner perhaps unique to Russians – at least Moscovites) I have noticed: spitting. Perhaps it had been there before, when I was more attentive to the gestures and mentality of adolescent smoking, drinking and joking, etc. But…beware of coming within two to three meters of three to five Russian adolescent boys, as they may more or less incidentally and “coolly” spit on your legs or shoes! I watched four boys – not of the worst looking sort – standing just beside the Metro station near my home: spit, spit, spit, spit…each of them seemed to have a great supply of unwanted and unneeded saliva, and need to “expectorate” on the ground near them every 15-20 seconds!? I wonder now if Charles Darwin or Dian Fossey ever observed such behavior in the animals reportedly less advanced than homo sapiens? Standing near the Metro watching – where are Soviet strictures, Comsomol ideals, and screaming, irate babushkas when you need them? – they created a circle around them of spit splashes on the asphalt. Vulgar. Offensive, nasty, crude…what can I say.

Children will be children one says in America. I suppose that if Russia doesn’t have its own equivalent saying – soon it will also copy this from America. Drunk kids one can hardly escape. And some will certainly do “harder” drugs for fun, experiment/experience, and due to social pressure. Baggy cargo pants as a style may go, and come, again. Graffiti on Russian buildings will unavoidably increasingly spread out and away from just on and around school buildings, to other buildings and public facilities. (Dogs, cats and teens seem by nature to need to leave their marks!) But this “cool”, “adult” fashion of Russian teenagers spitting…surely it is amongst the first, widespread steps, of a confused, crude and low idea of “manhood” in Russia today.

Moscow, June 2001 (unpublished)