Since their city is filled with unregulated car fumes, grit, dust, and weird chemicals that melt the endless snow and ice in winter, Muscovites have developed imbedded behavioral patterns when it comes to cleanliness and decorum. If you visit a person’s home, you take off your shoes and slip on a pair of tapochki, or Russian house slippers. Most restaurants have a mandatory, semi-aggressive coat check. This Ukrainian restaurant we visited even had little “bag stools” that they produced so that our satchels would not have to lay on the floor.
This cultural emphasis on hygiene can sometimes come off as a form of magical thinking, particularly when you consider that Russia is one of the few developed countries where the age expectancy of men has actually dropped in the past twenty years (from 65 to 59). Two of the major causes of this decline are rampant smoking (at least 60% of Russian men smoke and packs of cigarettes cost 30 cents) and alcoholism (on average, the Russian male consumes over 50 bottles of vodka per year and beer is not even really considered alcohol). These days, the sight of an old man on a Moscow street is an increasingly rare phenomena. You do still see plenty of babushkas, selling their pickles and their felt booties and their preserves. Do they dream of a world where men are once again plentiful?
Our neighborhood gym is sparsely attended, but numbers do seem to be increasing, slowly. When asked why enrollment fees were so high, the gym attendant said, “Well, health is luxury in Moscow.”
Here are two world maps of male smoking and alcohol consumption.