In 1985, I was in the Soviet Union – firstly Russia and then what was, at that time, called Soviet Central Asia. On the trip, I kept encountering a group of holidaying Finns. This is the shortened version of my diary entries about what happened…
Saturday 27 April – Moscow
In the evening, at the hotel, we encountered a group – about 20 or 25 of them – of absolutely roaring-drunk but very amiable Finns. They were swaying around in the foyer greeting each other loudly and embracing complete strangers randomly in a language which sounded like a tape-recorder playing speech at twice its normal speed. They were staggering, almost rolling, around trying to strike up conversations with all and sundry. Apparently Finns get cheap boats or planes to Leningrad, laden down with denim jeans which they sell for gallons of vodka and which they then have to drink before returning to Finland. The drinking laws are very strict in Finland.
Sunday 28 April – Moscow
Over breakfast, the amiable Finns are still paralytically drunk. Later, in a corridor, I hear people talking in broken English about belly-dancers. Yes, it is a couple of Finns talking to a complete stranger who is utterly bemused, slightly frightened and is looking round asking for help with his eyes. Suddenly another grossly-fat, drunken Finn staggers out of a doorway, naked from the waist up, his stomach bouncing and gyrating dramatically as he laughs:
“Belly dancer!” he shouts at the top of his voice. “Belly dancer!”
Tuesday 30 April – Samarkand
When we return to our hotel in Samarkand, we find a drunken lone Finn wandering sadly around the foyer holding his head and plaintively saying to no-one in particular:
A hotel employee directs him to his coach outside.
At 1.40am at night, we get a train from Samarkand to Bukhara. The Finns are nowhere to be seen but then, a few minutes before the train sets off, we see two drunken Finns from the hotel being helped along the platform by four equally drunken friends.
“Bukhara!” they shout. “Bukhara!”
And then the others appear in one large singing, swaying mass.
The guard on the train looks at me and raises his eyes to heaven – an unusually expressive thing for a Russian to do in the presence of a Westerner.
Wednesday 1 May – Bukhara
In the train, two of our group – including a very strait-laced West German doctor, share a sleeper carriage with two of the Finnish men who enter and strip off immediately, moving the good doctor’s belongings whenever he isn’t looking in what appears to be a rehearsal for some slapstick routine. Meanwhile, in the other half of the coach, about twelve Finnish women strip off completely in their three 4-berth compartments and leave their doors wide open while they sing loud folk songs very loudly and slightly off-key.
When we eventually get to our hotel rooms in Bukhara just after 7.30 in the morning, we discover the Finns have somehow managed to reach the hotel first and there is a rowdy Finnish party in full swing in the room next to mine with riotous singing blasting through the wall. You can’t complain: they are just enjoying themselves so much.
Thursday 2 May – Bukhara
We are to be taken for an Uzbek folk song evening. My heart sinks. I come down to the hotel foyer from my room, the lift door opens and I am confronted by two Finnish men stripped to the waist, wearing very short, very bright red shorts. They have big grins on their faces. They have clearly just come back into the hotel from the outside world and I assume they have been out jogging, terrifying the locals.
“Bukhara!” they shout. “Bukhara!” and one plants a large wet kiss on my cheek.
Friday 3 May – Tashkent
We arrive at our hotel where a lone Finn stands by the lift, looking startled, with glazed eyes, clutching his bottle of Black & White whisky and swaying ever-so-slightly.
They must have drunk the Soviet Union dry of vodka and have moved on to whisky.
You have to admire their stamina.