First, if you want to drink russian vodka with the natives you must understand that the Russian people never say “Na zdaroviya” before they toss back their favorite firewater.
According to reliable inside sources, that’s just a trite word the Kremlin invented for the tourists who can’t talk right.
It’s kind of like the samovar, matryoshka doll and the black bear.
Most Russians have no use for any of these things except to make a fast buck off the foreigners.
After all, “Na zdaroviya,” which means “to our health,” sounds a bit ridiculous especially when you are in the act of voluntarily damaging about a dozen vital organs with every swig.
Furthermore, uttering “Na zdaroviya!” as a toast would be far too easy, and the Russians never do anything easy if they can help it. You must suffer for every little pleasure in life.
You must relish the sensation of every single motor neuron firing pain commands to the central nervous system to the cranial cavity in order to truly appreciate the fact that we are all alive at this precious fleeting moment that is riding on a knife’s edge somewhere between the distant past and the unknown future.
In other words, we must come as close to death as possible before we can say that we have fully lived. And if there is no tank battle raging in the provinces, dammit, we will wage one right here in our stomachs and heads.
Now, shut up and sit still for fifteen minutes (hours, days, I forget) with that shot glass extended in mid-air as a loquacious guy toasts to everything including the kitchen sink.
But don’t let this old routine fool you. There is a very good reason why the Russians toast so long and hard before swallowing their homegrown firewater. And it’s not because they necessarily like you.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. It is possible that they truly do like you, but it’s not a necessary pretext for a long, tortuous toast.
This may come as a shock, but the reason for the long-winded toasts is quite simple: everybody is absolutely terrified of the national drink.
Deep down, the Russian people despise vodka. After all, if the Russians really liked vodka as much as is universally presumed, they would spend more time drinking and less time toasting, right?
They would just utter “Cheers,” nod solemnly to their comrades like the dashing Brits, and get it over with. Finally, if the Russians really truly sincerely loved vodka so damn much they would not need to devour a fistful of pickles after every tiny shot.
It’s like the Mexican after swallowing a glass of Tequila. He does not normally say, “Oh, yum; that was so tasty! I am so proud to be a Mexican!” No, he generally turns six shades of chili-pepper red as he sucks on salt and a slice of lemon. Anything to kill the vile taste.
In Russia, the people are so terrified of vodka that the bars must stay open all night just to accommodate the festivities. The Americans and British can generally get a good buzz and be tucked away in their beds by 2 AM on nothing more than cheap, watered-down beer.
In Russia, the bars and clubs must stay open until 6AM because everybody is toasting to something for the simple reason that nobody really wants to drink something that tastes like rocket fuel.
And the thing about vodka is that the Russians have generally acquired cast iron stomachs due to their noxious habit, which means that no other drink – not whisky, not tequila, not scotch on the rocks – will get them feeling sleepy before 6 AM.
But if the rowdy Russians would stop toasting and just drink, they could theoretically be back in bed by midnight. It is possible to even predict that the gross domestic product would surge by 10 percent in a fortnight with such a drastic game plan.
In America, vodka is an ingredient, a condiment, much like ketchup or mustard that should be consumed in small portions to compliment edible foods.
Generally, you would be hard pressed to find an American, for example, squirting hot mustard down his throat any more than you are likely to find somebody quaffing a glass of Smirnoff vodka without no less than 75% orange juice content and tons of ice. But Americans don’t do anything straight anymore.
Oh, yes, one more thing. When in the Motherland, be forewarned about the myth of the elusive magical vodka that produces no hangover (!).
If I remember correctly,it’s called something like ‘Liquid Lobotomy’ or ‘Your Mother’s Dead Lover,’ and the Russians absolutely swear by it.
So upon hearing this, the foreigners sneak off into a dark corner hugging a 1 liter bottle of the magical elixir and drink away like there is no school tomorrow.
And dear tourist, there is a good reason you won’t feel a hangover the day after drinking vodka: you will never wake up the next day to feel it! You will sleep like a baby on through to the other side feeling fine. 😉
Cheers! Russian vodka!