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If you are a type of person who occasionally enjoys drinking adult beverages, read on. Today’s blog is about proper vodka drinking etiquette as I have observed it. Consuming this spirit is definitely a part of Russian culture – for some it is a larger part. It is my hope that you will be entertained, even if you don’t drink, and that you understand that I am in no way advocating consuming vodka irresponsibly.
Drinking vodka with Russians isn’t like drinking beer with your buddies – there is a right and wrong way to do it. Obviously, as with anything, there is more than one way to do it. What follows are the “unwritten” rules that many Russians seem to follow.
Let’s assume you already have chosen a decent vodka actually made in Russia – this does not guarantee quality though. Check to make sure the vodka is made in Russia because some have a Russian label but are made abroad. Here is a quick link with quite a few Russian vodka choices and ratings.
Before you begin drinking, make sure you have something to eat or at least, smell. In Russia we call it закуска. The word is not easy to translate but basically it means something you follow alcohol with. It can be anything but your most common types of закуска are pickles, any other pickled vegetables, breads, salads, salami and other kinds of processed meats, and of course, fish. Dry fish is most commonly paired with beer, while a pickle is your number one choice for following vodka.
Some of my Russian friends could drink a good-sized glass of vodka without stopping and simply smell a pickle. I have tried this with a smaller glass of vodka and it sort of works, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Eating the pickle works even better for most people. Some people prefer to eat something with fat; that helps keep you in the game a bit longer. Sausage, cheese, bread, and even butter by itself, can all help.
So now you’ve got your vodka, glass, and food to eat after. One person will proceed to pour for everybody at the table and usually lead in the toast before drinking. Remember to pour your own last – it is rude to pour your’s first. Sometimes the toasts get more creative with each passing round; at other times, you might quit toasting after several rounds. For many people leaving an empty bottle on the table is a big no-no, it is considered a sign of bad luck.
Once everybody has their various sized shots of vodka, a toast will be made. “To your health,” works in many cases. “To love” is usually the third toast. Basically, feel free say something positive or maybe even humorous :-). It is also common to toast to your host, to parents, to children, etc.
Just after the toast is made, exhale sharply and then throw back you shot. Sipping is not usually an option but can be tolerated by some. Sometimes I cannot/will not drink the entire glass depending on the situation. You should do what makes you feel comfortable because you are trying to have a good time – no need to demonstrate false bravado at the expense of ruing the experience.
As soon as you swallow the vodka and before your brain has a chance to question what you’ve just done, eat whatever food you’ve placed on the table. Some love the flavor of good vodka, others merely tolerate it. As I belong to the latter group, I like to eat something as soon as possible.
By remembering that if you pour the shots, you make the toast, and pour yours last, you’ll appear cordial. In my experience, you never want to simply pour yourself a shot and then drink it. Even if you can’t drink with the ferocity of some, don’t worry – the purpose is to relax and enjoy yourself. Stay in the game as long as you like, bow out before crossing the threshold into oblivion. Remember, all things in moderation!
Here is a short video on the subject that I found somewhat entertaining: