Tag Archives: drinking

Russian Drinking Custom – Toasting

The informant is a 21-year old student attending the University of California Berkeley. She is majoring in Media Studies and Journalism with a minor in Hebrew. She grew up in West Los Angeles with her two parents, immigrants from the Soviet Union. The following is what she said when I asked about her step-daughter’s wedding a few years ago, of which I was in attendance.

 

Informant: “Drinking is really big in Russian culture—you probably know that. We have a lot of family dinners and there is always drinking, of wine or vodka. Guest will bring wine or the host will bring out their favorite wines. My parents actually have a whole spreadsheet of the different wines in their wine closet. Since drinking is so much a part of Russian culture, there are traditions that go along with it. The biggest thing I can think of, I think, would be toasts. Like, there are certain traditions of what toasts you say in what order. Second toast is usually for the host. The first toast is always for the occasion you are gathered for, and second for the host. The third one is for those who are at sea.”

 

Interviewer: “Are there lots of people at sea…?”

 

Informant: “No. We say ‘at sea’, but it’s really more a reference to those who are not with us—either dead or not the at the dinner table.”

 

Interviewer: “Hmm, that’s really interesting that the toast for people not at the table is the ‘at sea’ toast. Do you have any idea why that is?

 

Informant: “No, I don’t know. I mean, drinking culture was a big think in Russia in general. And I guess originally there may have been a lot of traders? Or people at sea? What I think is so distinct about Russian drinking is this tradition of you can’t drink unless you toast. You have to validate your drinking with a toast.”

 

Thoughts:

What my informant said about toasts being a way of validating drinking stuck with me. I feel like a lot of folklore, or festivals and rituals, at least, is centered in validation—validating customs already set in place, validating a relationship or new union to be had, validating a new stage in a person’s life, validating one’s entering adulthood, etc. What is sometimes seen as merely paying homage to an earlier time, or to a certain religion one follows, usually has more influence than that.

 

When I asked my informant about why the third toast is said for those “at sea”, when no one I know of her family is actually off at sea, it seemed like the first time the informant had really been considering the question. This illustrates the tendency not to question the traditions and the folklore one grows up with, contrasted with the tendency many people have to critique or ridicule other traditions and folklore, ones the criticizing individual hasn’t grown up with. This speaks to the us them mentality that we see quite often with folklore—one example of the mentality’s presence is in practical jokes, a form of folklore that often serves as an initiation, or a demonstration of the tightness of one group and the outsider-ness of the one being pranked. However, it is worth noting that in the person being pranked, they are many times being initiated into the group of the pranksters…

 

For a slightly different interpretation of the third toast, see an article in the New York Times from 1995:

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/09/08/world/moscow-journal-glassy-eyed-etiquette-a-guide-to-russian-toasts.html.

Margaritas at La Barca

My informant is a USC student of Armenian and Caucasian origin, born and raised in California and regularly exercises through distance running. She is also a human biology major with an emphasis in human performance.

“So during a long day of a run—Melissa and I would hate it—and really count down our ten miles until we could go eat at La Barca. And finally when we were done we were rewarded with two-three margaritas, chips and salsa, and a grande colossal burrito and surprisingly we would wake up and run ten times faster. A couple times we averaged a 6:33 mile for 8 miles consecutively so, every time before we had a hard workout the next day we would prep at La Barca before…and it worked pretty well this past summer! And so I guess its just tradition now kind of, with me and her and the other girls who run with us sometimes.”

 

Analysis: This example of acquired folklore demonstrates how superstition and repetition can create a ritual. My informant believed that there was an undeniable tie between her performance while running and the consumption of several margaritas and Mexican food at La Barca restaurant prior to her hard workouts the next day. The initial improvement of her mile time gave her “proof” that her ritual/ceremony before her rough workouts was successful which prompted her repeating the ritual and spreading what she had learned with her other running buddies until it became a tradition within their group to partake in drinks and Mexican food before workouts. This piece of folklore also serves a social purpose and a means of bringing people together and strengthening bonds between friends, as well as marking a distinct trait or practice within this specific running group.

If you don’t drink, you’re a spy

A couple of my roommates have gone to my informant AF’s house for dinner.  Each time my friends have come home at least tipsy, maybe even drunk.  It is atypical for my friends to come home tipsy or drunk from dinner with a friend’s parents.  Yet, when they go to AF’s house, it always seems to happen.  I wondered why.

Both of AF’s parents were born in Russia.  As a result, AF grew up in a Russian American home.  Besides the fact that vodka is a Russian drink, I’ve wondered why Russians seem to be so good at drinking. My friend AF explained that it is custom for men to drink anything and everything in Russia.  Why?  AF explained, “If you don’t drink in the pace with other people, you are a spy in Russia.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man refuse a drink. Or at least it is very rare.”

This mentality is definitely present within the Russian American community.  In fact, this mentality perseveres outside the community.  My friends expressed that they felt uncomfortable or rude turning down a drink in AF’s home. The paranoia that AF’s parents experienced in Russia has had residual effects.  It is custom for Russian Americans to prove that they are not spies by drinking heavily and possibly impairing their judgement, simply because they can.

 

 

Big Sis Night

 My informant, CS told me about her experience as a “big sis” to her guy-friend Josh’s little in a fraternity on USC’s campus.  Within USC’s Greek system, members of fraternities get a “big bro” as well as a “big sis.”  The big bro usually picks one of his good girl-friends to be his little’s “big sis.”  Big sisses are revealed on one night during the semester.  From my understanding, it is typical for big sisses to get their little bro very drunk and dress him up in a humiliating costume for part of the night.

CS detailed her experience as a big sis.

It was just me and KK [her friend].  So we walked over to the house together.  So I get him there.  And I’m really bad at the “drink, drink, drink” stuff.  I got there just in time to put him in a room. And then Josh’s lights were off. And then we took off the blindfold and I had candy and cupcakes or something.  

We didn’t have any hard alcohol.  We just had beer. So we taped two beers to him. But then they were cold, so we put two towels around the beer before we taped them to his hands.  It was sad and weird!

The next year when Jacob, my little, got a little, he also got this very sweet guy.  And his big sis, Meghan, ended up doing the exact same thing. 

CS’s reaction to her big sis experience reveals the expectations of such an experience.  CS’s story suggests that a big sis should force her little bro drink heavily.  Yet CS did not make her little bro drink heavily.  Instead she gave him some beer and made sure he was comfortable while drinking it.

CS and Meghan’s experience suggests that big sis and little bro nights do not meet the expectations of most college students within Greek life at USC.

 

“Send it!”

“Okay, so in the snowboarding world, when, um, you’re about to, like—‘cause I was a competitive snowboarder, you know, and so we would hit, like, really big jumps or something and then, or like if the pipe was like really big that day, um, so usually it’s used with jumps that are like over like 25 feet, so no like it doesn’t have to be big [laughs of disbelief from other people in room], but usually they’ll be like 90 feet when people use this saying and it’s not like, it’s like a, um, we would be like, ‘Oh, like fucking send it!’ That means like ‘huck yourself,’ like ‘do like what you got’ or yeah, like spin whatever, do flips and so it’s like just like ‘give it your all’ type of deal and so yeah we would just use ‘sending it.’ ‘Cause then it’s like ain’t nothing comin’ back, ‘cause you’re sending it and you’re giving it your all and you’re gonna kill it.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who grew up in competitive snowboarding and has dabbled in CrossFit and other workout programs. She has been in a prominent sorority on campus since coming to USC and goes out every night of the weekend, as well as some nights of the week. I live with the informant and the interview took place in my room during one of the lengthy conversations we often have. The informant has been known to use aspects of her athletic and workout life in social interactions and “Send it!” is no different. She went on to tell me that “So now I’ve started to integrate that into the Greek life culture and so if someone’s in a drinking game I’m like, ‘Dude, fucking send this game!’ and they’re like, ‘I’m gonna send it.’ (Interviewer says: “It’s not coming back!”) And then they drink a lot. Yeah, it’s not coming back. So then they just like drink a lot.”

 

This piece of folk speech was interesting to me because of the meaning behind something like “Send it!” The other people in the room and I got hooked on the idea that you would say it because “it wasn’t coming back.” In addition to this being about “giving it your all,” it seems like it’s about taking opportunities when you have them. It would make sense, then, that the informant would translate this phrase into other areas of her life, like the Greek life culture. It is easier to do wild things at a party when you have someone telling you it is the moment to do them. It is also interesting that it is primarily a way of encouraging someone else to do something. While it could come across as pretty aggressive to the uninitiated, those inside of snowboarding culture would know that it is a way of supporting one another and pushing each other to get better and try new things.

Sorority Drinking Song

Informant: Take a shot, take a shot! Take a god-damned shot! If you can’t take a shot like a/an [sorority nickname] can, then you shouldn’t have a shot in your motherfucking hand! Take a shot!

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She is a member of a sorority, and was born and raised in Chicago, IL.

The informant first learned this drinking song, or chant, on the night after she received a bid from her sorority. She and her new “sisters” gathered in the largest bedroom of her sorority house, poured shots of Fireball (a popular brand of cinnamon flavored whiskey) and preformed the chant before knocking back their drinks. The informant has since preformed the chant only a handful of times—all occurred with other sorority sisters before a night of partying, and sometimes during. The informant claims she has also heard members of other USC sororities sing the chant with their own sorority’s nickname in place of the informant’s. Nevertheless, the song stands a symbol of initiation into a sorority; only members can preform it.

“Rage Cage” – Drinking Game

Informant: I learned Rage Cage from [older sorority sister], actually! Yeah, she taught it to me at [fraternity]. We were over there one night, and she was like, “[informant], why aren’t you drunk yet? You gotta get on my level!” So she got some of the guys in a circle around the table—the beer pong table—and put a bunch of red cups in the middle of the table, and we filled them all with a little bit of beer. And then she took two empty cups and uh, gave them to two of the guys. And they each had one ping pong ball, and they had to bounce the ping pong balls into their cup. And when the guy on the left of the other guy got his in, he’d pass the cup and the ball clockwise. If the guy on the right got his ball into the cup before the other guy, he got to stack his cup in the other guy’s cup, and then he’d pass the stacked cups to the next person in the circle. The guy who lost—who didn’t get his ball in and got another cup stacked in his—has to drink one of the cups of beer in the middle of the table. Then he can use that empty cup and try to bounce the ping pong ball into that. He passes the cup clockwise when he gets it in.

Me: So you just keep passing the cups clockwise in the circle?

Informant: Yeah. Well, unless someone gets the ball into the “chasing” cup—the cup that isn’t stacked—on their first try. Then they can pass it to whoever they want.

Me: Is there, like, someone you want to pass to in particular?

Informant: You want to pass it to the person to the right of whoever has the stacked cups. It’s easier to get them, then.

Me: How does the game end?

Informant: When all the cups are stacked. But [older sorority sister] plays it so, like, the last person to lose—to get a cup stacked in theirs—has to chug a whole drink.

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She is a member of a sorority, and was born and raised in Chicago, IL.

The informant told me she has played Rage Cage at numerous fraternity parties since learning it during her sophomore year at USC. The game is usually played in mixed-gender groups of five or more players (up to as many as can fit around the table, although a group larger than twelve may have trouble keeping the attention of players stuck on the opposite side of the circle from the action) and takes place at fraternity houses or otherwise private location where those who are not yet of the legal drinking age can participate.

This drinking game is typically played early in the evening as a way for men and women to loosen up around one another. Since fraternity party culture at USC revolves around partygoers being intoxicated, Rage Cage is often used as a comfortable and fun way for participants to ease into drinking for the night. The competitive “stacking” element of the game also allows for participants to gang up on certain members of the group who they believe should drink more.

The Mustache Game

Item:

“Ahahah it honestly never gets old, we lose it every time and nobody is doing anything but staring at it.”

The Mustache Game is a drinking game wherein people make a cut out mustache and tape it to a random spot on a television screen — typically not near the edges. Then, everyone sits around watching TV. If the mustache perfectly lines up with a character’s upper lip, everyone watching drinks. The excitement from the game comes from when the mustache gets extremely close but the character keeps moving around it.

 

Context:

The informant says it’s the most fun drinking game he plays since it’s pretty passive — people can hang out and watch TV but also laugh incessantly at all the near misses. He also claims people can’t focus on anything else so it ends up getting turned off so people can actually talk or do other things. Sometimes he varies the game by having people draw or cut out different types of mustaches or facial hair. He made mention of putting two mustaches on the screen at once, but it apparently has never lined up. If it did, everyone would go crazy, he said.

 

Analysis:

This sounds like an incredibly fun drinking game. It’s really easy to set up, works on a lot of different TV shows I’m willing to bet, and is decently passive. To be fair, it’s not really much of a game — there’s not a ton of user input, a win state, or a risk of loss. But “drinking game” can connote more than traditional games, as its just an activity used as a platform to drink because in honor of. I also like the idea of expanding the rules — different mustaches, multiple mustaches, what channel you choose. It’s a very modern drinking game obviously, but accessible by many.

Senior Schlaugen

This informant is a member of a USC fraternity and I asked him to share some of their traditions or stories he might have.  Among others, here is a year-end senior tradition he shared with me. It’s called Senior Schlaugen and here is our dialogue.

Me: Tell about this Senior Schlaugen, and what does the name mean?

Informant: Haha, I have no idea where the name came from but since the game is all about drinking and –schlaugen sounds German, maybe that’s why?  Anyways it’s a tradition the seniors do every year, where we try to drink as much as possible for the last month of school.  So for this year it goes from April 15th to Graduation on May 15th.  Basically we form teams of three and you get points every night someone on your team goes out, also there are weekly team challenges, like finish a 30 rack in a library.  Its really fucking with me right now, I have been out six nights in a row, I gotta fuckin win.

Me: Is there a prize?

Informant: Uh, ya winning team gets little gimmick trophies, but its more about the pride.

Me: So this competition means a lot to you?

Informant: Well ya, nothing I do in school now is gonna change what I do post grad as long as I don’t fail any classes.  Couldn’t really give less of a shit about my classes right now.

Me: Well, you’re about a week in do you think you’ll burn out before graduation?  Any surprises after just a week?

Informant: Haha, no way ill burn out I fuckin live for this.  But ya even though this game is all about getting fucked up and partying, it really does serve a purpose that I am just now realizing.

Me: What’s that?

Informant: Well its just brought me closer to all the guys that I may or may not ever see again, and really forced us to make the best out of the last month.  You get extra points if your whole team drinks together in one night so we are all always in the same place.

For starters, this tradition at the informant’s fraternity is a blaring example of the drinking culture at USC, and the Greek community more specifically.  However, although it seemed completely centered around partying on the surface, what my informant said at the end really shed light on why the tradition has stayed around for years.  The game brought all the seniors closer, students who may never see each other again and definitely will never all in the same room again.  Some people say fraternities are all about partying, but by looking further into their traditions, you can see the important role brotherhood plays as well.

Drunken Words Are Sober Thoughts

The saying is “drunken words are sober thoughts”, and was provided by an informant at university. This saying warns that alcohol has a truth telling effect, or an effect that would lower the inhibitions of whomever may be speaking and thus they will speak their true thoughts, rather than dissembling. It warns people not only to believe in drunken confessions, but also would warn those who would drink in a precarious situation that they may say things that they would normally not be driven to say. My informant didn’t know where she heard it but believed in its validity, and given that overconsumption of alcohol has a very long history, it would be fairly impossible to determine the length of time this proverb has existed. Alcohol alters the normal state of consciousness, thus allowing for people to do or say things that they might not normally, and this proverb indicates that one could gain insight into someone else’s character in this manner.