A toast “to the health of the Russian people”

A toast “to the health of the Russian people”

Now toasts are a big deal in Russia that is the ones you raise a glass to not the ones you put Marmalade (Jelly) on. At any gathering of above 2 people you are likely to encounter someone standing up and providing a toast. They can be at the start middle or end of your meal and there is not specific protocol it’s a bit like karaoke where anyone and everyone can participate.  Of course there needs to be an obligatory drink involved and nobody seems to shy away even when the 7th person is on their feet lifting up yet another glass. Not only are there no formal rules there does not seem to be any planning it is more like random people getting up and pretty much repeating what the last person said, with a few amendments though.

This does tend to prolong meals as does the number of courses they have. Not that there are mountains of food more that there are lots of things offered and you choose to dip in or not as the fancy takes you. Looking at the local cook books there seems to be an awful lot of things either pickled or in aspic (Google it) which is “interiesna”. I am sure they would feel the same if they were offered jellied eels (En) or chittlin (Us) or snails (Fr) but each to his own.

The drink was what I wanted to comment on as President Medvedev (you know the one who swapped jobs with Putin) has just passed a law stating that a bottle of Vodka can now no longer be sold for less than $3 which is slightly worrying as it “doubles” the price of the cheapest brands. Anyway they have a goal to half the amount of alcohol consumed by Russians by 2020 with a 15% reduction by the end of 2010. The average Russian drinks 15 litres (26 pints) of pure alcohol per year, or half a pint a week, compared with 5.4 litres in 1990. To put it in some perspective it is twice as much as the US and 50% more than the UK. Of course this is an average so if you take away the babies and kids we might get an even more frightening scenario. One thing I can commend the Russians on is that their drink drive law says 0% alcohol is allowed so nice and straight forward then. 
They quote that at least 2.3 million people in Russia are alcoholics, and it is blamed for rising mortality rates, particularly among men. Male life expectancy has fallen to less than 59 years, compared with 72 for women. Maybe why I don’t see that many old men around (I will be in the minority in a year or so).

It’s not the first time they have tried to deal with the problem. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, declared a war on alcohol abuse in 1985, ordering dramatic cuts in the production of wines and spirits and introducing strict controls on public consumption. It led to a surge in illegal production of low-quality, home-brewed drink (‘samogon’). So maybe it is in the genes they just like a drink or two.

Anyway Mr Putin (you know the one who swapped jobs with Medvedev and may well swap back) is supporting the initiative to improve the general health of the population by supporting this alcohol reduction although they don’t seem to have come up with a solid plan yet other than increasing the duty on it. Not sure that is a long term deterrent and they may want to consider other options. Possibly education as children start drinking between 13 and 15 so they could add something to the curriculum if they want.

Now does this mean that the place is overwhelmed with drunks no not in the least whilst there might be the odd party at the entrance to the Metro in general they are well behaved and you do not see hoards of people staggering around making a nuisance of themselves later at night neither do you see a lot of confrontation or fights. Maybe they are all too “tired and emotional” to care