Careful of Cliches in a Foreign Country

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Toasting to Friendship

I came bearing gifts for my Russian friends in Tula last week: frosted shot glasses with Milton Glaser’s famous “I love NY” logo on the side. However, little did I know that vodka is but another one of those inaccurate stereotypes.

Indeed, the clear elixir is the largest and most lucrative export for Russia but, of the ten or more host families that prepared us meals, seldom served it or sipped it with the proverbial toasting custom. Rather – wine, more so than beer or cocktails, was and is the popular beverage of choice.

Indeed, the north is too cold and bleak for grape growing but in the south vintners thrive near the Azov, Black, and Caspian Seas. Mary and I enjoyed our light Chardonnays and Dawn opted for red, a Western standard.

Wine is well and good but by the fifth day I sheepishly requested the stereotypical spirit with some concern that I might insult. Fortunately, the twenty years of intercultural friendships that the Albany-Tula Alliance has nurtured with Tula is strong enough that a new board member can endure a little misconception. Sergei – definitely a stereotypical name in Russia, was more than happy to oblige.