How to speak Russian in 5 words (4/5)

If you’re pressed for time and you want to make yourself understood in Russia, here is our basic survival course – Russian in 5 words.

Word 4: Vodka Etiquette (Or How to diet in Russia)

A British diplomat once described how he went to the Caucasus to met some local bigwigs. At the welcoming feast, held high up the winding roads in the mountains, a large number of toasts were made.

After the glasses had been filled for the fourteenth time, the diplomat finally felt the time had come for him to make his toast. A message was sent to the bigwig at the head of the table. He held up his hand. ‘Enough’ he said, ‘I’m driving’.

The half-full glass technique

The real question at a dinner with a Russian is not therefore ‘how much can I get away with drinking?’ but more ‘how much can I get away with not drinking?’.

For the unsuspecting foreigner, one of the problems with Russian toasts is that the ritual involves raising your glass, clinking it with anyone else’s within reach and then downing it in one. Taking a sip is not really acceptable.

What is acceptable, however, is to make sure that your glass does not get filled every time. For this reason, the fifth phrase I gave my friend was CHOOT-CHOOT.

This means ‘just a little, please’. I consider ‘choot-choot’ to be absolutely essential: better to down a half-empty glass than to sip from a full one.

How to avoid excess food and drink

Choot-choot has the additional advantage of being applicable to food as well as drink. It is a perfectly polite way of ensuring that you are able to move from you chair at the end of a Russian dinner, without having offended your host by turning his/her food down.

It also means you will not need to spend a week in the gym back home for every day spent in Russia.