August 12, 2008
The previous night’s excessive hospitality of my local made me the person I am this morning (this afternoon really) - unshaved, bloodshot eyes, trembling hands, unsteady posture.
A bloke who bums change off people at the corner of my street and talks into a can of beer, made the gesture of offering me some of its content. The queue at the sandwich shop let me go first. Women smiled at me. Men nodded with respect. I was given a clear indication that I had achieved a reasonable goal just by getting out of bed this morning.
The tolerance of Russians towards drunks is phenomenal: if you show up for work with a hangover you will be treated with understanding and commiserations. People whose work suffers due to their alcohol intake (deadlines missed, things forgotten) generally get written off by their colleagues in a much nicer way than if the same would happen due to some other vice (women, gambling, drugs). Correction: all of the above is true if you are a man. Women seldom get pardoned for their drinking, they get pigeon-holed and labeled sluts instead. This is unfair. Women have as much right to get pissed as men do.
Although there are many alcoholic drinks on the Russian market, domestic and imported wines and beers included, vodka is still the nation’s favorite. It is rumored to have been invented by Moscovite monks in the 14th century. Peter the Great was fond of flavoured vodkas and invested in modifications of the distillation process to improve the quality of the finished product.
Nowadays, St. Petersburg’s distillery Liviz completely dominates the scene in northern Russia. Apparently, the renowned pure waters from Lake Ladoga are used during the distillation. The amount of vodka brands available is so vast it might easily confuse a first time buyer. I dare say that with vodka you get what you pay for. Don’t go for real cheap brands but it’s also quite unnecessary to purchase exquisite brands especially if it is meant to be for your personal use.
Those who are interested in the history of vodka making and the culture of vodka drinking may want to book one of the vodka-sampling parties run by the “Russkaya Izba” (Russian Hut) restaurant. These are known as the “Russkaya Trapeza” (Russian Feast) where a variety of vodkas and “nastoiykas” may be tried along with a traditional range of mouth-watering accompaniments called “zakuski” (snacks). Be warned though: by the end of this fun fair many participants often get quite drunk. It is acceptable and even expected of them to try and do some Cossack dancing but any attempts at getting behind the steering wheel of an automobile will be frowned upon by the traffic militia. Rules about drink-driving are strict. You get your licence taken off you. A five year ban along with many fines is likely to be your punishment.