This is, perhaps, the first in a series of posts on what it's been like to come back to the U.S.
The nice thing about hanging out with my Russian friends is that we never got smashed. We drank, of course, but getting falling-down drunk was never the goal. This might be surprising to Americans who think of Russians as big drinkers. There certainly is a widespread and firmly entrenched culture of drinking in Russia, but the flip-side of the country's huge alcohol problem is that there's also a pretty strong stigma attached to overdrinking, especially among members of the intellectual classes, and particularly the younger generations. I knew several young Russian guys who just didn't drink at all. When you're constantly seeing how it ruins people's lives, I guess that's a logical choice to make. (I'm not saying this to contrast with the crazy, drunken crowd I run with in the U.S., since I don't, really - but U.S. college/young adult drinking culture is disturbing, and it's nice that it's not really there in Russia.)
The other nice thing about my Russian friends is that hanging out didn't usually involve spending a lot of money. I can count the number of times I went out to restaurants with Russians on the fingers of one hand. The same for clubs, although that's partly just because I don't really like clubbing. (But even most Russians who like to go out dancing only do it occasionally, because it is expensive.) Russians hang out at each other's homes, and whenever the weather's good, they walk around. It now seems completely natural to me to just meet up with friends and wander aimlessly around streets, parks and beaches; it's weird to think that Americans just don't do that, and that *I* never did that before a couple of years ago.
On the other hand, the nice thing about being with American friends again is that Americans tend to have much fuller social calendars than Russians do. To be fair, this could be partly because I'm in a big city, while I was in the provinces in Russia. But Americans seem to like to have some kind of scheduled social event (lunch with a friend, drinks after work, a concert, a play, a museum, a cookout, the zoo...) practically every day, and certainly every weekend. I had forgotten about that. It's a bit overwhelming, in a way, but also really fun.