If you are going to be traveling to Russia, you probably have been warned about the custom of drinking vodka. There is a lot of hype about it, but here are the facts.
It has only been 15 years or so since Russia became an open country after the fall of communism. The country is shrouded in myths that have developed over a much longer period than that. Some of the myths have a grain of truth while others are laughable. Yes, the Russian mob exists, but not every Russian is a mobster! Yes, Russia can be incredibly cold, but it can also be hot as heck in the winter. Yes, even in Siberia. And then there is vodka.
Much of what you have heard about vodka consumption in Russia is probably not far off the mark. It is definitely the preferred drink throughout the country. Heck, they even put in the beer. Yep, there are certain brands of beer that come with a number on them. The numbers range from one to seven or 10. The larger the number, the more vodka there is in the beer. If you don't know this before buying one of these brands, you can be in for a shock after your second beer!
When it comes to vodka, the Russians have a saying – "warm on the inside, cold on the outside". Winters are cold. Certain parts of the country will stay well below zero for the entire winter. In these areas, vodka acts somewhat like antifreeze in a car. It actually seems to keep you warm, but it might be a perception. I only know it seemed to help me.
Vodka drinking is done in a particular way in Russia. The preferred method is to drink it as a shot. In the big cities, you can get it mixed with other things, but this is pretty rare. Everything is a shot and each is usually accompanied by a toast of some sort. Toasts to family, love and women are common, even at the most informal of dinners. If you have the fortune to attend a wedding, make sure to take pictures. You will remember little of it!
Before your trip to Russia, I strongly suggest you take a particular step. This step is to build a tolerance to vodka. You can expect to drink four or five shots at a go in Russia and refusal to do so is often considered rude and a break from custom. Sooner or later you are going to have to do it. To avoid being rendered a babbling idiot, it is best to start preparing yourself now. You need to get to the point where a couple of shots bring a smile, but not a stagger.
I am sure there are doctors reading this that are outraged, but you really don't want to make an ass out of yourself in some random town in Russia. The Russians are pretty accommodating, but you will be so embarrassed that you will want to die. I certainly was on a number of occasions!