You know, I hate shopping, especially in summer, especially at the weekend, especially at lunchtime.
My fridge was empty, and I had to go to the Philippos supermarket to get some stuff, including a loaf of bread. It was crammed with customers. They kept bouncing like penguins in the south pole and pushing their big trolleys in the variety of colors, scents and sounds. Thank God, I knew the route to the bakery section. I turned right and like an athlete attempting a 100m hurdle sprint I got to the destination. Having grabbed a loaf of bread, I tried to squeeze through the crowd in search of other essentials.
There were large bargain bins filled with the ‘special offers’ waiting for their victims to be trapped. We all know those marketing tricks, don’t we?
One of them contained oval-shaped hard drink bottles. Two men spoke perfect English nearby, with their gazes locked on them. They tried to figure out the number of bottles needed for the company.
‘Hardly do they know how to drink like the Russians do’.
This beverage has its own ritual of drinking. It shall be savoured in the proper Russian fashion, with a slice of a pickled cucumber in hand waiting for you to finish it.
Traditionally, this alcohol shall be bland, crystal clear, flavorless and odourless and made by distillation of wheat and rye, or even of potatoes.
I never thought why Russians had made this booze the drink of their choice. Obviously, they decided not to mess around with other ones and start with the hardcore drink from the very beginning. From Kaliningrad in the west to Vladivostok in the east, with over 5,000 miles apart, drinking culture remains remarkably consistent across the whole country. However, there are some rules to be followed and respected.
Firstly, there should be a reason to open a bottle: a birthday, a wedding, a funeral, a successful achievement or a business deal, a holiday, almost any event, considered special.
Secondly, toasting is vitally important in the drinking sequence. The most common toast is “to your health”, which stands for “na zdorovie” in Russian. It usually comes first or second, thus preventing poor foreigners from the vacuous struggle to pronounce it as they get woozy. “To the host” is proposed to praise the family and friends. When drinking “to the dead”, Russians honour the dearly departed and never clink the shots. “To love” is usually the third toast and proposed with the shot in the left hand, then follow “to friendship”, “to the meeting” and plenty of other statements to mark the occasion.
As a rule, it’s served ice cold in shots. Yeah, even a shot of this versatile drink can do miracles. It is usually poured first to others but never to yourself. Before having a shot or immediately after it, you may hear a loud exhale, as if to express the completion of the planetary mission. You will rarely see a Russian mixing the booze with other drinks, traditionally it’s drunk by its own. Sometimes flavors are added to veil the nasty taste and smell of the spirit. As soon as it is poured into shots the bottle shall be immediately removed from the table.
Food always accompanies the beverage devouring session. Traditional snacks, referred to as ‘zakuski’ in Russian include pickled vegetables and fruits like cucumbers, cabbage, tomatoes and watermelons, cold meats, salads and sandwiches and even sour cream. It helps to smooth harshness of the drink as it travels down the throat and bring more delights to the ritual.
I filled my shopping basket with more items. The guys were still there, neatly putting bottles one after another in their trolley.
‘There will the party’. I could see delight in their eyes.
I came closer. ‘Nectar to the lips, isn’t it?’
A mischievous smile spread across their faces.
‘Have fun and make sure you don’t wake up tomorrow with the Russian accent’.
I headed to the till to pay.