One of the most prominent Russian traditions is heavy drinking. Peter the Great was famous for his drinking exhibitions. If you have read ‘Khrushchev Remembers’, you cannot forget his descriptions of Stalin’s long nightly drinking bouts.
Russian winters are long and cold. The Soviet government always kept vodka relatively cheap.
Lynn Visson’s “Wedded Strangers” discusses the reason for Russian cultural attachment to alcohol:
“For years, alcohol was the only form of entertainment. Russians are very reverent toward drinking and drunks. There is a tenderness and even affection that sober Russians have toward their intoxicated brethren.”
Refusing to drink as much as the rest of the company is considered disrespectful.
The more you can drink and hold your liquor, the more the Russians will hold you in high regard. Drinking alone is considered alcoholic. Drinking in company, even to excess, is considered normal behavior.
Russians always have a reason to drink. They drink on holidays, with company, on special occasions, with guests; they drink to births, deaths, and marriages.
They drink to new purchases — they call this ‘washing’ the new acquisition. A Russian never runs out of reasons to drink.
A toast is made by one member of the group after the glasses are filled. After the toast, the shot glass sized glasses of hard liquor (usually vodka) are drained by each member of the party.
Everyone takes a turn making a toast. A simple toast for you to remember is ‘Nas darovia’, which means ‘To Your Health’