“Za zdorowie!“ – Russian drinking rituals
There are so many legends about Vodka drinking Russians. Some of them are decidedly wrong. For example, most of the Russian women avoid drinking Vodka shots because of their caloric content. They prefer Champagne and just sip on some Vodka when it is unavoidable. It is not that Russian women dislike Vodka. No, they surely don’t. Vodka drinking is an integral part of the Russian character. What they dislike is the poundage you add to your figure when you drink it. No Russian woman is free from vanity. Even national traditions will be sacrificed for better looks.
Drinking Vodka the Russian way
Mixing Vodka into a cocktail collides with the Russian concept that it is totally unacceptable to drink your Vodka other than straight. For reasons you can surely detect yourself, Vodka is seen as a manly drink in Russia. Russians drink Vodka to celebrate important events, to relax after hard work or for medical reasons. A legend says that Russians always say “Na zdorov’ye!“ when they raise a glass of Vodka. In translation that would mean something like “To your health”. Of course, even the Russians know that good health will not last very long with the copious amounts of Vodka that run trough a Russian throat. It is true that any raised glass in front of others will be accompanied with a toast. Most of the time it is “Za zdorowie!“ which can be translated as “For your health”. There may only be a slight difference, but it is an important one. If you drink on someone who recently died, you better avoid a toast. Russian Vodka is preferably consumed in copious amounts and in the presence of several other persons. Vodka is never drunk alone, except for medical reasons. Any drink that is taken without the presence of others and without such a toast, is seen as alcoholism. Well, this is an occasion to be hospitable whenever you can. The more visitors you have, he more toasts will follow.
Unspoken rules that should be known
It is very probable that many Russian people died before their age and from drinking a lot of Vodka in their lifetime. Per year, any Russian man is supposed to consume at least 18 litres of Vodka. Alcohol poisoning is an issue that costs around 35,000 Russian lives annually. Still a Russian man considers mixing Vodka with anything – except more Vodka – as very cowardly. There is an unspoken rule that regulates all Vodka drinking sessions: If a Vodka bottle is open, it must be emptied at all costs. No-one is interested in the consequences. As a Russian, you drink your Vodka chilled and straight. You don’t sip, you just knock back the contents of the shot glass in a swift move. If you need to stand the Vodkas down, you are allowed to follow them with a beer. As another unspoken rule among drinkers states, all drinkers in a group customarily gulp at the same time. This is only fair. No-one should stand behind in alcoholic level. With this ceremonial group ritual, the brotherhood of Russian Vodka drinkers feel as if they were one organism. You should know about another unspoken rule. Never leave the empty Vodka bottle on the table. If you do so, this will be taken as a signal that you are poor and destitute. Only full bottles are present on the table. Empty bottles stand on the floor directly beside the table. This may not be understandable for foreigners. For Russians, this is a signal about their hospitality. Placing all empty bottles on the floor means that enough Vodka is there to continue drinking. The side-effect of this Russian tradition is that you forget how many bottles have been emptied. I guess this effect is not completely unwanted.
Drink and make no mistake
Many discussions about Russian melancholy and the depressive nature of the Russian soul failed to realize that Russians see their Vodka drinking as a celebration of life. They celebrate good purchases. They drink at birthday partys or weddings. You find reasons enough to take a drink. Any opportunity is welcome to open a Vodka bottle. New items are washed down with Vodka. This is called “obmyt”. Some drinking rituals are seen as quite odd by Non-Russians. For example, Russians sometimes grab a person sitting next to them and sniff at their hair. After that, they “inhale” another Vodka. If the other person smells good, they might become friends this very evening. That is, as long as someone does not make the mistake to put a shot-glass that is half empty back on the table. Remember: When you are present, you will invariably be served Vodka. You are not necessarily required to drink it. If you do, there should be no long pause between the first and the second shot. If you come late, you have to empty a Vodka glass. If you want to leave because you are done, you will be served one last shot for the lucky way (“na pososhok”). After that you hopefully find your way alone. You better never ever make the mistake to toast on something when your glass is empty. Of you do, you have to empty the whole bottle. Many outlanders stumbled across some of these national drinking rules. You certainly never ever forget drinking Vodka with Russians.
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