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12 Vodka Myths

~ Edwin Trommelen

There are plenty of myths about Russia and vodka. Here are 12. See if you can guess which are true and which are false

1. Russians use vodka to treat minor colds.
True or False?

True. Russians believe that Vodka has a disinfecting effect, that if you feel a cold coming on, it can be used to kill the virus (doctors may try to debunk this, but what do they know?). The best anti-cold recipes are vodka with honey, pepper vodka (pertsovka), or vodka with raw, yes raw, garlic (crush it if you like, or just eat a whole clove — if that doesn’t scare the virus away, nothing will!).

2. Russians consider it rude if you refuse to drink vodka with them, or do not drink “bottoms up.”
True or False?

False. Sort of. In most cases, Russians will not be offended if you refuse to drink or cannot finish your drink. On the other hand, be mindful that sharing a drink of vodka is a gesture of hospitality, part of the act of becoming friends. Thus, by refusing to drink you could be considered to be refusing friendship. Some Russians will consider it rude if you do not drink to the bottom in one gulp, but will probably give you a pass because you are non-Russian.

3. Russians never drink without saying a toast.
True or False?

True, mostly. Pronouncing a toast is essential to drinking vodka. And toasts generally get longer and more sentimental as the evening wears on and more vodka is consumed.

4. Russians drink vodka out of huge glasses.
True or False?

False. Russians typically use small (100-gram) shot glasses when drinking vodka. One shot glass is consumed in one gulp. Of course, lacking shot glasses, one has to use what is near at hand... (Important note: Drinking straight from the bottle is considered unsophisticated.)

5. Russian men and Russian women both drink about the same amount of vodka.
True or False?

False. In Russia, vodka is seen as mainly a beverage for men, and drinking lots of vodka is seen to be “unladylike.” Russian women usually drink lighter drinks, like champagne or wine. It is therefore acceptable (not rude) for a women to reject a shot of vodka.

6. Russians believe that vodka is the best hangover cure.
True or False?

True. It’s the old “hair of the dog that bit ya” theory, and one Russians generally agree with. Some also favor some rather nasty hangover cure drinks like pickle brine. Smart Russians, like smart drinkers everywhere, however, know that much of the hangover is caused by dehydration, and thus the best “cure” is to drink plenty of water before going to sleep. The special verb the Russians use for drinking vodka as hang over cure is “opokhmelitsya” — try saying that five times fast the morning after!

7. Russians never dilute their vodka or use it in mixed drinks.
True or False?

True. Mostly. Most Russian men prefer their vodka straight up (chilled, but not over ice — that just dilutes it), yet certainly some do drink mixed drinks on the sly without having their Russian-ness challenged. In addition, vodka is available in an increasingly rich array of infused flavors (honey, pepper, raspberry), but these are seen as exceptional drinks to Russians, like aperitifs or one-offs. To a true Russian, adding anything to your vodka is a waste of vodka.

8. In Russia, there is no vodka without pickles.
True or False?

True. But if you don’t have pickles or some pickled food with which to “chase” your vodka, you can fall back on black bread or, in a real pinch, inhaling the smell of your dirty shirt after downing a shot.

9. If you open a bottle of vodka, it must be finished.
True or False?

True. If course, this is not a legal requirement, but in most cases it just happens. Important note: empty bottles must be removed from the table. This is known as “removing the corpse from the table” (ubrat pokoynika so stola).

10. Russians drink more than other nations.
True or False?

False. The French and Czechs drink no less than Russians (and South Koreans and Estonians drink far more spirits). A Frenchman, for example, may drink two glasses of red wine a day, but most Russians don't drink every day. Of course, when they do drink, they often drink till they fall down. For more info, see this table.

11. Only a Russian can drink vodka like a true Russian.
True or False?

False. Anyone can drink like a Russian. It just takes practice.

12. Vodka is the best drink in the world.
True or False?

True. Russians say that there are just two kinds of vodka: good vodka and very good vodka.