This summer, I spent some time in Moscow and St. Petersburg; I also visited a friend and his family. Their custom was to drink a lot of vodka during the meal. We, the guests, also had to drink some vodka; but obviously we'd had enough before our Russian friends. ;) But it was very difficult for us to convince them that it would be unwise for us to drink more vodka. I think, in fact, that we slightly offended them.

If I'm invited to a meal with my hosts, how can I avoid drinking a lot of vodka without offending them? I think it wouldn't be too difficult if I didn't drink at all. Then I could say that I don't drink for religious or medical reasons. But what excuse could I use if I've already started drinking and want to stop?

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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
    Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 15:33
  • @roflcoptrexception your Russian friend got weakness for alcohol, that's it.
    – bahrep
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 10:10
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    As a Russian who doesn't drink vodka, I understand you. What I do is just explain that I don't like vodka and that I never drink it. And I stand by my word. I may ask for a softer alcohol (wine/beer/martini) instead. If anybody gets offended by this - it's really their problem and it's not good behavior from their side. If somebody wants you to drink vodka, it doesn't mean you have to. And I don't agree with @Andrey that it's easier to drink than to argue. People who think you must drink vodka, or people who raise "be a man" things when you ask for wine, can stick their opinion you know where
    – nightcoder
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 21:58
  • Agreed with @nightcoder. Just say "I don't like vodka" or "I've had enough". This is what I always do, never had any problem. Just avoid people which are offended by this :) Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 20:46
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    I'd say your friend was kind of impolite. I drink very little myself, but I can't remember a single time neither when someone drank a lot and forced me to do that, nor when I offended someone because of that (I'm Russian).
    – Malcolm
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 20:45

10 Answers 10


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 :) Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 8:35
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    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. Commented Oct 10, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 18:00
  • use religion as an excuse if you can.
    – Steam
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 4:16
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    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... Commented Jul 28, 2014 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 ;)


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
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 15:49
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    @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
    Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 5:34
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    Why should you not decrease the Alcohol proof? Commented May 14, 2012 at 15:48
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    @Masi This will lead to the much more quickier taking to drink, and huge hangover. Without practice you'll suffer a lot.
    – VMAtm
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 5:30
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    @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. Commented May 15, 2012 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.


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. Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 10:12

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!

  • Works for me all the time. :) Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 5:05

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.


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.


I understand that drinking wine instead of vodka is accepted. While when drinking beer you are expected to drink vodka in addition.

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    Everytime we gather at the table in Russia, I am drinking: beer, champagne, cognac, vodka and home made cha-cha. All at once. The Russians wont let you stop! It's made me even break down mentally before. I can't even explain it, but it's terror and fun at the same time lol. I normally have 5 different drinks at our big dinners, at once, around my plate. It's crazy.
    – AussieJoe
    Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 21:23

I have been in your shoes before. Several times, in Moscow.

My advice is to either 1.) consider not attending at all....or 2.) be prepared to toast with the best of them.

Usually you can tell them you are not Russian and they will not make you drink as much (if they are merciful and nice people).

It also depends on your relationship to these Russian people. In my case, it is my father in law and I cannot say no. Ever. It is a sign of weakness and he enjoys watching me drink alongside him. When the women in our family leave the dining room to get more food, he will pour me several more and tell me to hurry and drink before they come back!

Russians want you to toast with them, even if you don't swallow or drink it. If you don't want to toast, consider staying home or having a strategy to fool them (which is hard), like with water or small sips. Also, as the night progresses, nobody is watching and you don't have to drink it all. Just pretend to drink it, and they may not even notice, as they get drunker and drunker. Try to drink small and not keep pace with them. I understand your struggle. Good luck!

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