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"They Give Him Twice as Much"

The other day I was chatting with a friend who is a fluent Russian speaker and has organized and traveled with numerous official delegations to Russia and its former republics. We had been talking about drinking etiquette at Russian dinners, and how for a guest to refuse vodka is taken as a sign that the person is not be trusted, if not an outright insult.

Me: What would you say if you were traveling in Russia with someone, the business dinner commenced, vodka glasses were distributed, and then the person leaned over to you and said, "I'm a recovering alcoholic and can't drink at all?"

Friend: I would smile, pat his arm, turn to the lead Russian and say, "My friend is very upset that he cannot drink with you tonight. He is on strong antibiotics following a somewhat serious operation." (Stop, look Russian in the eye meaningfully, implying a very serious operation.) "You know that he can't drink. Would you mind if he used soda to toast?"

Me: Excellent!

Friend: Yes, the medical approach is always a good one.

Me: Would the person in question never be able to travel to meet the same people again?

Friend: Well, if it's someone who is coming over on a regular basis, I tell the Russian hosts that he's Mormon. They actually clear the table of all alcohol out of respect. They think Mormons are crazy, though. You can't tell Russians that someone is an alcoholic. To them, that just means that he's a regular guy, and they give him twice as much.

I won't even go into the part about what the Russians think of a man if he toasts with wine instead of vodka. Suffice to say it's not good.


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