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This summer I spent some days in Moscow and St. Petersburg. There I also visited a friend at his home. We were there with its family and traditional they drunk a lot of vodka during the meal. We as their guests had also to take some glasses but obviously we had enough before our Russian friends ;) But it was very difficult to convince them that it isn't a good idea for us to drink any more vodka. I think we have slightly offended them.

So how can I avoid to drink a lot of vodka if I'm invited without obviously offending my host? I think it is not too difficult if I don't drink at all. Then I can say I don't drink for religious or medical reasons. But what is a good excuse if I already started and want to quit?

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You can't even believe how much being a Russian I hate this tradition when you can't resist to drink. I don't like vodka at all and I dislike when forced to drink it, the problem is that sometimes it is easier to drink then to argue. –  Andrey Oct 3 '11 at 15:33
@roflcoptrexception your Russian friend got weakness for alcohol, that's it. –  bahrep Dec 28 '12 at 10:10

9 Answers 9

up vote 134 down vote accepted

In Bulgaria, Russia, former USSR countries and others, it's considered offensive not to drink when you've been invited to, and you might need a good solid excuse if you decide not to drink at all. Expect to be on the receiving end of some good-natured banter if you decide to abstain completely.

Medical reasons are a possibility, although it will be difficult to refuse to drink at least once with your hosts, regardless of your (supposed or actual) ailment.

But if you decide to drink with the best of them, then you are expected to do so each and every time a toast is raised -- which can get you down pretty quickly if you are not a serious drinker.

What you can do is just pretend to drink from your glass after every toast -- you don't have to shove the whole 100 g down your throat every time. Just take a little sip (maybe a little bit more in the beginning), and after the first few rounds the hosts and their guests will be in too cheerful a mood to notice you're not keeping up volume-wise.

Your glass will be helpfully refilled by someone sitting close to you when getting below one-third or so, so just don't empty it as quickly. There's always more where that came from.

There's a whole culture of proper drinking in Eastern Europe, so here are some generic drinking tips that will help you a lot if you are drinking only occasionally:

  • Don't drink too fast, even if you don't feel you're getting drunk -- you will, and it will happen without warning. Take it easy
  • Drink water. I can't stress this enough. As much as possible, really, and all the time -- but not fizzy drinks. You'll be able to keep up with your hosts longer, and largely avoid that pesky hangover in the morning, which is caused by dehydration.
  • Excuse yourself (temporarily). If you feel you're getting in trouble, skimp on the vodka for some time. If asked, explain you are feeling a little bit dizzy, and want to take a break for a while so that you can resume drinking later. Everybody will most likely smile in understanding, and won't press you to drink for some time. Use the grace period to restock on dehydrants and food, because it won't last forever.
  • Eat. Traditional Russian dishes that go with vodka are there to prevent you from getting drunk quickly. Pickles, smoked salmon, fatty meats -- they all help. Be sure to have something in your stomach before you start drinking, and keep up at a steady rate throughout the evening.
  • Talk. Engage in a conversation with your neighbours on the table. If it's interesting enough, they'll forget to sip and toast as often. If conversations are not going well, there's not much to do on the table besides drinking -- and that's bad news for you.

Good luck, and Наздраве!

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This is excellent advice for every social drinking situation :) –  Mircea Nistor Oct 3 '11 at 8:35
Pretty much the same advice goes for China which has much the same drinking culture - especially in the north. One difference in China is that the number of cups drunk must match. When a cup is low, the call to Ganbei (down the glass) will go with the toast. Your glass will then be refilled. Another point is that beer is a popular alternative to the strong spirits. My advice however, will be to stick to the spirits when your host switches to beer. Allowances will be made for the strength of the spirit versus beer and so you won't have to keep up with the glasses tally. –  Rincewind42 Oct 10 '11 at 10:56
@mindcorrosive In Bulgaria at least in the big cities it is not considered "offensive" if you do not drink. Almost everybody drinks and it seems strange, in a way, if you do not drink. –  Bakudan Mar 21 '12 at 18:00
use religion as an excuse if you can. –  Steam Mar 3 '14 at 4:16
Those social drinking tips sound like preparing for a battle. If you plan to do so, just tell them you once have been a serious drinker and don't want to lapse back into alcoholism. Maybe this will give them something to think about... –  EverythingRightPlace Jul 28 '14 at 20:17

I was in the unfortunate position of being insistingly encouraged to drink 3 years ago on the Trans-Siberian. I was much worse for wear after that experience, and sought out suggestions (in fact I really shouldn't have had that much considering my meds).

Anyway, this year I returned. And indeed, the best way if you can't just refuse outright, is simply to touch the glass to your lips. Don't neck the whole thing, just a touch is all they're looking for - and in fact I noticed other Russians doing the same thing.

It's the social process - the common bonding of a group, done easily with a drink. It's not about how much you drink, more that you're joining in. So touch it to your lips, maybe even take a couple of sips every so often if you'd like to, but don't feel compelled to finish it. And even if they do notice, at the worst take a sip when they point it out and continue - they'll soon forget :)

Enjoy it, it's a great way to meet the locals, and it's possible to do so without being floored!

Excuse: And if you really are being pressured and don't want to continue, there's nothing wrong with (as I did) pointing out that you can have a little, but too much will be bad. Even without the language skills, pointing to my drink and pointing to my heart and making bad faces got the message across, they actually looked a little guilty for a few seconds before continuing to have fun ;)

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As a Russian and non-drinker, I want to add some info about the culture of drinking in Russia.

First of all: You don't have to drink vodka, even if your partners are. It is ok if you just say: I can't drink alcohol as strong as vodka, I need wine (or cocktails, or whatever you need). Ask women about this - they're more reliable in such situations. But if you choose wine, make sure that it is not home-made - this can contain even more alcohol than in vodka :)
Second: as @yevhene said, you can drink less volume, even if you have a whole cup in your hands. But get ready for some jokes about it.

Tips while drinking:

  1. Eat after each toast, and eat a lot! - potato, butter and bread are your best friends. The homeowners will be pleased with your appetite.
  2. Get ready to say a toast yourself - especially the last one you are going to drink (this is called "ещё по одной, и всё" - another one, and that's all, or на посошок - farewell)
  3. It is OK to say: stop, it is enough for me! If this happens too early, you'll get another portion as a joke, but in general your partners will understand this decision.
  4. Try to get up and walk sometimes - this can help to skip some portion of the alcohol, and also you'll understand how drunk you are.
  5. If you drink some non-strong alcohol, you can switch to vodka, but don't lower the Alcohol proof!

Tips for after the party, but before bed:

  1. Drink water! A lot of water! The more you'll drink, the easier your morning will be.
  2. Try to get outside some 5-10 minutes - this will refresh you.
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disagree about potato and bread. Proteins and fats are more important. Some mayo-rich salad is your best friend (forget that diet for a day). –  yk4ever Oct 2 '11 at 15:49
@yk4ever Yes, proteins and fats are more important. But you can't just get the 200 gramms of butter and eat it. But with bread and espesially with boiled potato butter would be less weird. –  VMAtm Oct 3 '11 at 5:34
Why should you not decrease the Alcohol proof? –  Masi May 14 '12 at 15:48
@Masi This will lead to the much more quickier taking to drink, and huge hangover. Without practice you'll suffer a lot. –  VMAtm May 15 '12 at 5:30
@VMAtm How to practise? Is the point managing not to decrease the alcohol proof? - Assume you take shots. Then they offer you wine. How to avoid this kind of situation, since it will put at least me down? Beer is also bad after shots. It seems that you do not need to take that much the lower proof alcohol after shots. It just hits you. –  Masi May 15 '12 at 21:27

I'm a Russian who doesn't drink vodka. If your goal is not to drink at all - just say so and be done with that. If you like to drink a little but just don't want to kill your liver - tell them that you prefer cognac or whiskey (whichever you like the best). Wine will also work but probably raise a couple of "be a man" things.

The goal is to have a drink that you'd traditionally sip, rather than downing the whole thing. So you can sit and enjoy your 150 of cognac for the whole evening. I basically tell people that I can't tolerate any grain based drinks other than beer, and cognac is my choice.

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Driving a car is the best excuse. The best solution is not hanging out with alcoholics who don't respect non-drinkers :-)

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"not hanging around alcoholics", unfortunately, means avoiding 90% of Russians. Of whom there are many worthy people. –  yk4ever Oct 2 '11 at 15:47
Where did you get the number? –  myfreeweb Oct 6 '11 at 11:26
+1 (from a Russian non-drinker) for avoiding alcoholics. :P –  Sarge Borsch Mar 6 '14 at 22:26
@Sarge, 4 non-drinking Russians in this discussion already (I'm the 4th). People may think that the weakness for vodka is merely a stereotype about Russians. :) I usually say straight that I don't drink alcohol and I feel disgust at it. I find provoking drinking people amusing. :) –  Dmitry Fedorkov Apr 30 '14 at 10:46

Use the same excuse, medical reasons. You can say if you drink a little more, will really harm your medication, and you didn't mentioned before to not be rude. I think that's a nice way. Your idea!

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Works for me all the time. :) –  Vasiliy Borovyak Nov 21 '13 at 5:05

You need to drink same number of portions. But not same volume. This is major point! You can ask for half or quarter of portion. This is not break the rite. (In very difficult cases you need to drink 3 first full portion and then you can ask for half.)

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This sounds like advice from a native - are you Russian? If so you should mention that in your answer. –  hippietrail Oct 2 '11 at 10:12

I haven't been in this position in Russia but I have been in Romania and Serbia just recently.

Nobody seemed to mind when I ordered lots of glasses of water while I was drinking. I had an excuse for being dehydrated (once from being on the beach all day and once for having hitchhiked a long way).

I didn't refuse drinks but I had as many waters as ţuicăs, palincăs or rakijas and made sure my alcohol glass didn't get empty as often as theirs.

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If you politely say you don't want to drink it, and then stick to your word without getting irate, then if your host isn't an a**hole then they will be fine with it and others also might decide not to drink with you. However, if its a first meeting and its a hospitality thing, then it can be more difficult. You can either be honest and say you don't want to drink for whatever reason- health, safety, clarity etc, or make something up about having an illness.

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protected by Ankur Banerjee Jan 29 '13 at 2:05

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