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What Do You Say When You Toast With Vodka?

by Kristy Robinson

Conventions and traditions carried down through the generations govern vodka drinking in communal settings. The rituals of toasting with vodka are rooted in the culture, history and traditions of Russia, although the practice has taken on a more international character in this global age. Vodka and the ritual of drinking it is still a large part of the social fabric and interpersonal interactions of Russia, with its own set of etiquette. Know these rituals so as not to offend your hosts, even if inadvertently.

Vodka Etiquette

Generally, drinking vodka is a group activity when groups of people meet to party, socialize or hang out. Participants consume copious amounts of vodka with or without some sort of mixer. The traditions and norms may vary somewhat with the occasion.

Making a Toast

A range of etiquette requirements exist for toasting with vodka, based, in large part, on tradition. A misconception among vodka drinkers in the Western world is that the appropriate toast to make while drinking vodka is, "na zdorovie"; however, it's not an appropriate toast in Russian. It does not mean "to your health," as most Westerners believe. Instead, try something like "za milyh dam," which means, "to lovely women," or "vashe zdorovie," meaning, "to your health."

Toasts for Occasions

Particular occasions call for a specific kind of toast, regardless of whether the tipple is vodka or a bottle of champagne. Weddings, for example, demand toasts to love, happy endings and many years of wedded bliss for the new couple. On the other hand, when you toast a new baby, you should drink to the baby's health and long life and the happiness the child will bring to its parents’ life. When toasting a new venture, a new home or some other live event, similarly, the occasion itself prompts a range of appropriate toasts.

A Sequence of Toasts

If you are in Russia and drinking vodka with a roomful of Russians, the evening might progress through some typical steps. The first toast, made by you or another guest, is to propose a drink to the host of your party. Usually a series of toasts follows, in which you and the guests drink to any number of reasons, ranging from your noble ancestors, to the guest's/host's children, to the women in the company and abstract concepts like honor, pride or the motherland.

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