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.
Form of Folklore: Folk Belief (Medicine)
Informant Bio: The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, where she attended a Russian school. At the age of fourteen she and her family moved to America, where she was formally introduce to the English language and had to continue going to a school where the primary language was English. She has had exposure to both Armenian (from her youth and family) and American folklore (by living and studying in America).
Context: The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house.
Item: When you’re throat hurts, you take a wet towel… actually you take a dry towel and you wet it in vodka (you put a lot of vodka in it to make it wet). And you wrap it around your throat. And first you get a cold feeling and then it kinda warms up; as long as you feel the warmth, you keep it on. And apparently, that has the healing ability. Preferably, besides the towel, you put a plastic bag over the towel to keep it even warmer. And you could also do this for a stomach ache; you just put the towel on your stomach instead of your throat.
Informant Comments: The informant learned this folk medicine from her mother (of Armenian decent); when she was ill, her mother told her to do this and her throat stopped hurting. She believes it works and is mostly because of the heat that is causes by the vodka. She has tried other types of alcohol, but they did not work, so the informant believe there is something specifically essential in using vodka.
Analysis: It is no surprise that the heat from vodka can make a sore throat feel better. Whether, making it feel better is truly a sign that the vodka has a healing ability is another matter; perhaps it only soothes the aching that comes from having a sore throat without actually curing the sore throat itself. Since vodka is a common drink amongst Armenians and Russians, it seems that vodka is mainly used because it was the most available. Nevertheless, using this remedy to get rid of (at the very least) the pain of a sore throat (or stomach) seems to be successful and will most likely be passed down from the informant to her family members.