Eastern Europe: western perception vs reality / Part 6
6. They are hopeless alcoholics
How could I finish this series without covering the most popular, the central stereotype on eastern Europeans? Ask a passer by westerner to name only one thing they associate with the East and the answer will be ‘booze’.
Foreigners probably think that locals practically live on vodka. In the same way that cars work on petrol or electricity. That it is their most important staple and that, when strapped on cash, a local would rather pass on bread and butter than on alcohol. Like, a person could be on their way back home from work, be tired and not wanting to do groceries. So they would reflect in the following way: “Alright, I am super hungry and I do not have much food at home. I got to buy something. Wait, there is 0,5 litre of vodka in the fridge. Great! That is the perfect dinner. I do not need anything more”. Surely, I slightly exaggerated the way westerners think and added a comic stroke to the picture, but the overall idea remains the same — people in the East are super drunks.
In fact, one would be wrong to deny that alcohol is an important part of the local culture. A lot of people drink here. It is true. Even the fact that many folks have dependency issues with alcohol is still true. However, portraying this region as hopelessly destroyed by alcohol and totally different in this point from the West would be unfair.
As was mentioned, people do drink here. But comparing drinking habits of locals with those of people from Commonwealth or Nordic countries I would not say the former drink less. As in other places, in the East there is a relatively small but hard core percentage of heavy and regular drinkers. They drink so often and so much that when I see them I honestly wonder how they are still alive. For better understanding, I am not a teetotaller advocating for complete ban on booze, but seeing young people as well as 50–60 year olds being drunk to pieces every second day is something weirdly impressive. That being sad, the huge majority of other local alcohol consumers do not have health problems with drinking and possibly even drink less often than westerners.
Some westerners, however, find the reality too boring and prefer to indulge in simple and demeaning stereotypes. Take Latin Europeans, amateurs of wine and unaccustomed to vodka. When, for instance, you happen to be in a bar or cafe with them, do not expect them to actually notice that you drank less than them and in fact even are not that keen on getting pissed off. At first occasion, your French acquaintance would pick on your relaxed way of talking and mock you as if you already drank a bottle of vodka or ten pints of beer and as if you were drunk as hell. They do not need the reality, what they need is to feed their self-satisfying stereotypes of seeing you, easterner, as a hereditary drunk.
Let’s look at Nordic countries where people also like to drink. What is their reputation in other Western countries? Do they come across as hopeless alcoholics? No, they do not. Why? Who the hell knows? One may, however, reasonably note that unlike Eastern Europe, Nordics are a rich and popular region. At college, bullies also find it more convenient to pick on modest and unpopular kids than to ridicule children of rich and influential parents. Pretty similar logic may be at work with the case of eastern European drinking. Latin Europeans do not laugh at northerners because sooner or later the former come up with an idea to go to work in the North to earn higher salaries and they do not want to be rejected as a result of silly stereotypes they may have towards host countries. Whereas with the East the story is different. With few exceptions, no westerner wants to live or work here. So, no problem, westerners say: We could be disrespectful to the East because, anyway, we risk nothing.
Well, in my opinion the right thing to do is to judge people for what they are, to avoid generalisations and to look at the context. Not only devil is in the detail, the truth is there also.
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That’s it, folks :)