The Kult of Vodka

Before my move to Poland vodka had very different associations for me.

First there was the romanticised (Hollywood) image; our protagonists would knock back a large shot of vodka before throwing the glasses into the fireplace and proceeding to do a Cossack dance. Then the flipside, illicit drinks in the park or that ill-fated night when, on my 18th birthday, I went to visit my mum at her pub and I consumed just a little bit too much. Vodka has a delayed effect (discounting the monumental hangover the day after). On the way home I lost the use of my legs, my so-called friends (being unable to carry my dead weight) decided that the college steps would provide me with a suitable resting place for the night. Similar tales can be told due to drinking excessive amounts of tequila and whisky (neither of which I can stand to drink nowadays).

Drinking vodka in Poland is a much more sociable affair (with only the occasional blackout). I’m not one for drinking spirits, but when that bottle of vodka comes out I feel obliged to drink. It would be rude not too, right? And I always think to myself, “Hey there are ten of us here, one bottle between ten people, I can handle that.” But therein lies the rub. One bottle is finished. Then another one magically appears. Then another. And, occasionally, yet another. The hangover is inevitable and often debilitating.

Last night, after crashing someone’s birthday celebrations, I was introduced to a new way of drinking vodka. One of the partygoers announced that we were drinking vodka “Mountain Man” style (po Goralsku). I envisioned us fighting bears, with the winner winning the hand of a flaxen-haired maiden. But it turned out to be something a less strenuous and a little bit more socially agreeable. Simply put, you pour a shot of vodka for the person sitting immediately to your left. They make a toast before downing the shot and then they pour a shot for next toast-maker. Continue ad infinitum.

There was a fairly cosmopolitan crowd there last night, not quite the four corners of the earth, but four corners of Europe (and beyond) for sure. Representatives from Britain (me), my friend, Italy, even India. So, as you can imagine, there was a varied range of toasts. Mostly worthy ideals such as world peace, local peace, future peace, praise for fallen soldiers. After a while we ran out of vodka, guests and things to toast and thus returned to conventional lowlander drinking. Raise glass, drink contents, have a sip of juice.

So, in the interest of maintaining cordial international relations, I shall continue to drink vodka. After all, when in Poland, do as the Poles do…

I couldn't find the "World of Vodka" clip (so, this will have to do)

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