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World’s top 10 strangest drinking rituals

From the weird to the wonderful, the mannered to the mad, every country has its own peculiar set of rituals when it comes to drinking.

From mezcal worms to mining demons, the world has some pretty crazy drinking rituals

While Asian countries emphasise respect for their elders and Scandinavia pays homage to its Viking ancestors, Mexicans have been known to enjoy a critter in their booze and the Czechs are focused on protecting their sex life.

Knowledge of these customary quirks is imperative for  travellers not wanting to stray away from the expected etiquette or, indeed, prompt gasps of consternation and disgust.

Such an example is the Western custom of toasting with the phrase “cin cin.” In Italy, this is a polite gesture to wish your acquaintance good health, whereas this phrase refers to a man’s genitalia in Japanese.

Drinking customs vary from country to country and even region to region, adding to the wonderful idiosyncrasies of each.

And so we say “bottoms up!” “cin cin!” “kampai!” “skål!” “prost!” “na zdorovie!” “salud!” and “cheers!” to our top 10 drinking rituals from across the globe.

South Korea – R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Many visiting businessmen have accidentally fallen foul of the widely observed, and somewhat peculiar, drinking customs in South Korea.

Yet, there is only really one main rule to adhere to in the South Korean drinking game: respect your elders. In particular, hierarchy must be observed during a jovial hoesik – a character-building drinking session which gives your boss the chance to judge your proficiency in the boardroom by your competence in the boozer.

When enjoying a glass (or 10) of soju (a distilled beverage similar in taste to vodka but traditionally made from rice), you must serve your elders first and then wait for someone to fill your glass in return, as is also the custom in Japan and many other Asian countries. Both hands must hold the glass or bottle when receiving or pouring a drink; to use only one hand indicates you think yourself above your superiors. You must then turn your back to the elders in your group when taking a sip to show respect. Be warned: it could be to your personal and professional detriment not to do so.

The image above, we know, is from singer Cee-Lo Green’s new campaign for Ty Ku Sake, which embodies the same ‘pour for thy neighbour’ ideal as South Korea holds for soju.

Scandinavia – A toast to Viking skulls

Viking drinking traditions still widely observed in the Western world are particularly relevant in Scandinavia.

‘Skål’ – a toast to friendship, good fortune and health – involves keeping steady and sustained eye contact with whomever you toast to ensure the sincerity of the sentiment is felt by all. After saying “skål!” and drinking from your glass, it is customary to again meet your fellow imbibers’ eye as you lower your vessel back to the table.

This gesture stems from the Vikings who were always dubious of their drinking company and so fixed them with their gaze to prepare against an impromptu duel. Strangely, ‘skål’, translated as ‘shell’ or ‘bowl’, can also mean ‘skull’, reflecting the belief that Vikings enjoyed drinking their spirits and wine out of the skulls of their fallen enemies.

The custom has inevitably been spread by the Vikings across much of continental Europe, with many regions observing the tradition.

Russia – Where to put the empties …

In Russia, it is unacceptable to drink vodka in any other way except chilled, straight and from a shot glass. It is commonplace to knock back the beverage in one and if you insist on chasing it with something, it must be a beer. Following the soldier tradition and the national notion of brotherhood, custom dictates that when drinking in a group, gulps should be taken in unison. Making the practice of getting sloshed a kind of synchronised dance.

One of the stranger quirks of Russian drinking culture involves putting the empty bottle of vodka on the floor next to the table, since empty bottles left on the table indicates that the drinker is destitute.

Georgia – The anti-toast

The most obvious quirk of Georgian drinking customs is the nation’s penchant for copious amount of toasting. From family and friends to fruit and pets, Georgians are happy to raise their glass to countless things.

In group situations someone takes on the role of ‘Tamada’, the toast master who will make intermittent speeches throughout the evening. An ancient role, the Tamada (pictured above as a statue) is the dictator of the table who proposes a toast with the rest of the group offering extensive emotional oration afterwards. An adept wordsmith will often put themselves up for the role and at other times he is selected beforehand.

However, in an odd twist, it is deemed bad luck to toast with anything except wine or, occasionally, brandy. A toast with any other drink is deemed insulting to what is being toasted, making the act an anti-toast.

Czech Republic – Clinky

The Czechs have a particularly superstitious attitude when it comes to enjoying a tipple or two – and a cautious approach to clinking glasses is definitely advised.

To start with, Czechs toast the health of every person on the table (“na zdravy!”), no matter the size of the party. As with the Scandinavians, intense eye contact must be kept at all times – to not do so is considered a bad omen.

According to Czech folklore, a disregard for the country’s drinking customs could result in seven years of disastrous sex. There are two ways to avoid this. First, ensure that when you clink your glass while toasting you do not cross arms with any of your party. Second, do not spill even a drop of liquid from your glass – not an easy feat when staring intently into someone’s eyes.

As a small saving grace, custom states that this ritual need only be performed for the first drink of the night.

Bolivia – Spirit for the spirit

Bolivian miners have been known to indulge in a tipple of their choice pure grain spirit before they head out to work. According to Bolivian folklore, the purity of the drink inspires El Tío – the spirit who roams the mountains in the highland of the country (pictured above) – to keep them safe and bring them good fortune in their mining of pure minerals.

Miners in some regions in Bolivia create small shrines to El Tío – otherwise known as Huari or Supay – in the depths of the mines and pour some of the inspirational liquor as an offering to the spirit. Something of a patron to the miners, El Tio also receives such gifts as cocoa, llama blood and cigarettes. Lucky old Tío.

Russia – Kiss thy drinking buddy

Russians have so many customary drinking quirks they deserve a second entry on this list.

As well as strict stipulations regarding how vodka should be consumed and where to put the empty bottle afterwards, Russians have other customs that do not seem to serve any purpose whatsoever. One such oddity is the act of grabbing the person sitting next to you and sniffing their hair before downing a shot of vodka. A good way to get to know new friends.

The Russian love of their staple spirit appears to be unquenchable and Russians will take most opportunities to enjoy some. It is even customary to have a drink to celebrate new purchases, an act called “obmyt” which means “wash” and specifically refers to new items.

South Korea – White knight

Like Russia, South Korea is a country with a plethora of drinking oddities and so deserves a second spot on our list.

As with many countries all over the world, it is considered rude in South Korea to turn down a drink when one is offered to you. There is, however, a little known get-out-card: if your kidneys began to twinge, it is customary to select someone to drink in your place. This act of boozing altruism, bizarrely, is then rewarded with a single wish.

A final rule not to be forgotten on a night out in South Korea: NEVER say no to karaoke. It will not go down well.

Mexico – The ‘worm’

It is a frequent misconception that worms are put into shots of Tequila in Mexico. This in fact only really happens with mezcal, a smoky spirit made from the maguey plant.

During the bottling process, a ‘worm’ is sometimes posted into the mezcal in order to show that the alcohol is sufficient to preserve it. However, many are dubious of this claim and instead say that the bottling of the worm is simply a marketing ploy. The so-called ‘worm’ is actually a small grub which is either the larvae of a butterfly or moth.

Once finishing the bottle of mezcal, it is customary to eat the critter. Bottoms up!

Hungary – Never drink palinka unless …

The most bizarre custom in this countdown belongs to the Hungarian Gypsies. While palinka, a brandy-like spirit, is one of the signature drinks of Hungary widely enjoyed across the country, the Roma people adhere to a very strict code when it comes to the beverage.

There are only three circumstances in which palinka can be consumed by Hungarian Gypsies: if it is done so first thing in the morning before any other activities are completed (including eating breakfast), at a wake (when only men can drink), or when a woman is about to embark on a rubbish scavenging trip.

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