Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Perfect Drug

Russians have, from the outset, a slightly bewildering obsession with the аптека (ap-tye-kah - pharmacy, drugstore; possibly Greek in origin). The set up involves a typically long queue (очередь oh-che-red) - the type seen everywhere else from the metro ticket booth (касса - kah-sa) to a toilet (туалет) at a nightclub (ночной клуб - noch-noi cloob). With the exception of the latter, such queues usually lead to a woman behind a small window with a wafer-thin gap to pass money through. They tend to look something like this.

Nowadays there are more Boots-esque style stores where you can wander about as you please and take stuff to the till. The old school variant has you in a mostly empty room with glass cases showing off the oddly-named and mysterious substances available for purchase - providing, of course, if you know exactly what you want.

The funny thing is - some of the time the patrons don't know what they want, and will grill the poor pharmacist for at least ten minutes detailing their exact condition - going as far in places as to go over the instructions packaged with whatever product they may or may not need. As you might expect, by the end of this, some might not even make a purchase. And yes, this has happened to me.

Now most of what I've said so far is bitchy and whiny but, in a roundabout way, I'm trying to highlight a rather unfortunate aspect about the healthcare industry in Russia. Along with teachers and lecturers, doctors and therapists are treated dreadfully here. Why? Along with a bunch of other reasons, there exists a belief that Russians know their own body better than anyone else, and they are the ones best qualified to deal with any ailment.

The mere idea of having to pay someone else (let alone asking them!) for medical assistance verges on blasphemy. Admitting you could be suffering from depression is rare to see among Russians, but it might just be a contributing factor to the staggering suicide rate among Russian males (setting aside the effects of post-Soviet poverty, alcoholism, general living standards etc.), not to mention the occasional instance of a police major going on a drunken rampage and shooting three people dead in a Moscow supermarket.

As a result, psychotherapists do not get the same respect (or money) as their Western counterparts, so it's not clear how widespread genetic mental disorders are in this country - especially those that may be as a result of alcohol abuse, and good grief this post has taken a dark turn.

Enough of that - let's look at some cool shit you can pick up in the pharmacies here! First up is this awesomeness called Nicoflex.

It comes in a tube and in Russian is called a мазь (mazz - ointment) If you're an idiot like me who has been dancing too much and ends up using muscles you didn't even know you had then Nicoflex is for you. It's basically Soviet strength Deep Heat and it works a charm. Stiff back? Nicoflex. Cramped calf muscle? Nicoflex. Eyes not watering enough? Forget to wash your hands after applying Nicoflex.

On a similar theme is... Ketonal!

Now that your ligaments feel as though they're on fire, it's time to pop some Ketonal for any leftover joint pain. Forget those shiny packets of neatly arranged Nurofen tablets; these bad boys come in a non-descript brown glass bottle. You just know that the dodgier it looks, the more effective it's going to be.

And what about something to keep your immune system going in the winter? I should note that, as of time of writing, it's currently -23 Celsius. Enter Аскорбинка (As-kor-bin-ka from ascorbic acid - y'know the vitamin C stuff).

Askorbinka are mostly aimed at kids and, naturally, completely laced with sugar. But it's okay because it's got vitamin C in it. They're fairly cheap as well, and make for a crappy treat at kids' birthday parties.


In other news I've been at milongas non-stop since returning from Argentina, and slowly working my way towards becoming a local legend in the Moscow tango community. Also, one of the instructors celebrated her birthday at the school. No prizes for guessing where I am in the video.

As a result of my trip to Buenos Aires, I've also started hosting dinner parties here, which I shall elaborate on in the next post (no really, because it's high time I shamelessly promoted this stuff).

Umm... what else? Oh yeah, it's cold.


  1. Quite the smooth mover Ben! I'd recommend Derinat for boosting the immune system. Not sure what's in it but it works a treat!

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  3. απτεκα - from Greek: αποτεκε - "storehouse" - from where we get "apothecary" - our old word for "pharmacy".