Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Very Champagne Christmas is Coming

The holidays are coming and that means drinking.

Well, to be honest, almost any season in Ukraine means drinking, but the festivity, bustle, and camaraderie surrounding the holidays cause many people to go above and beyond the average call of duty.

The supermarket has an overflow of champagne bottles already. They've been tossed in giant bins, displayed next to enticing sale prices. There's even a brand sold in a blank bottle with a pen so that you can draw on your own design and slogan. Next to the champagne, the hard alcohol gift sets are on display. Gift sets range from the pricey honey pepper vodka + shotglasses or Baileys + shotglasses to the ceramic-pistol-filled-with-vodka for 95 uah.

In fact, giving someone a bottle of booze isn't necessarily going to cost you a pretty penny. Let's face it- cheap alcohol is one of the reasons so many grown foreigners come to stay in Ukraine. For example, check out the hotel mini-bar we encountered at an upscale Crimean hotel. If you're a foreigner, what would you expect to pay for these items in a hotel of equal standing in your native country?
The prices (at the moment, 8 uah roughly equal .75 euro or $1 USD)-
Morschinska water: 8 uah
Nemiroff honey vodka with pepper: 15 uah
Nemiroff vodka: 18 uah
Borjomi water: 20 uah
Becherovka: 34 uah
Jameson whiskey: 40 uah
Ararat cognac: 45 uah
Martel cognac VS: 64 uah
Martel cognac VSOP: 80 uah.
These items are insanely pricey for Ukraine- 80 uah can easily pay for lunch for two. I'm not even sure why I'm posting this photo. When I took it ten months ago those prices didn't seem so bad... and I was surprised that vodka was cheaper than water. Now the prices make me gasp in shock and damn right, the vodka had better be cheaper than water. Is this proof that I'm turning Ukrainian? (And hey, if I'm paying for water it'd better be carbonated! :p uh-oh ) Anyways, as you can imagine, if this is a fancy hotel mini-bar than you can get a lot more bang for your buck in the grocery stores. More of an explosion than a bang, really.

Perhaps as a result of affordable alcohol, there's an elaborate drinking culture. Toasts are mandatory. If you can't do it heartfelt or poetically, shame on you. Empty bottles must go on the floor, never back on the table. Tapping your finger to your neck implies drinking, supposedly after an ordinary worker who won the favor of Peter the Great*. A student once explained a drinking game called "the bear comes, the bear goes"; if I understand it correctly, you start with plain vodka, take a drink, add beer, take a drink, add more beer, drink again, so you always have a full cup of liquid but eventually it turns into 100% beer... and then you transition it back to vodka. That sounds a lot like ёрш to me!

*When Peter the Great asked the worker what he wanted as a reward, the man requested free drinks for the rest of his life. Long story short, he ended up with a tattoo on his neck to show any doubting bartenders. If you want the longer and cooler version of this story, just ask D : )

And, of course, there's always the cucumber shotglass.

But back to the reason for this rambling post- the holidays.
Christmas-themed advertising is everywhere.

Left: Coca-Cola Santa ad near metro
Right: Ad at the local optometry store. I think "Давайте дружить домами!" references a line from the Soviet classic (film) Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears. Or maybe it's just coincidence?

Shop windows around town are covered in blinking Christmas lights. Here, in one of my favorite shops, there's a New Year's dress showcased in each window, everything from the offbeat to the glamorous.

So, the holidays are coming, my friends! Stay warm and stay (relatively, at least) sober!


  1. Nice layout, I like the pictures. It really adds some life to your words. I don't understand Alaska to Ukraine, or girl, but love hearing another point of view. I an google +1 your posts to help your ranking. If you'd like, I can tweet them and FB them too. If you like my stuff, perhaps you would be willing to do the same. Happy Holiday Season from Odessa Ukraine.

    1. Hi Vince, thanks for stopping by! I've actually known about your blog/site for a while and have recommended it to several guys this year :) Btw, have you heard of Think Traffic? I love their articles and think you'd enjoy them too. Lots of great stuff on blogging and SEO there.

      Happy Holidays to you too!

  2. It's fascinating to learn how many cultural aspects of drinking apply to this holiday. I loved learning about the tale of Peter the Great's epic gift! I had no idea of the Ukrainian traditions of toasting, leaving empty bottles on the floor, etc.

    Here in Spain the big drinks are: wine, cider, cava (similar to champagne), and then many types of liquors--acorn, anis, herb, or orujo (my fav--it's like Bailey's). I've seen gift sets with bottles of vodka, gin, and whiskey, but these almost always come with a tumbler-sized glass or a mixer like juice or Coca-Cola.

    How common are these cucumber shot glasses?? Are they seen during the whole year, or only at Christmas?

    1. Hola Cassandra, it's nice to hear from you again :) Wow, I'm definitely going to try cava sometime! I went to Wikipedia to look it up after reading your comment.

      The cucumber shot glasses are homemade. One time my boyfriend mentioned the idea and we've been using them occasionally since then. It's a little messy and the cucumber ends up tasting like chemicals, but it's a fun party trick! I've never seen shot glasses like this in a restaurant or (another) home although D does claim that it's done here in Ukraine.

  3. Interesting! I love the DIY-ness of the cucumber glass.

    And, yes, you'll have to try Cava sometime! It can be very affordable--starting at around 3-4 Euros.