Well, I thought I could put it off, but I can't. I just can't. It is my fate as a Russian in America to write about vodka.
You see, as a Russian, I am obliged to like vodka. To love it, actually. And it's true! I do! I just keep accidentally forgetting that, but fortunately I am kindly reminded of the fact soon enough. So please hold on a minute while I go to the kitchen and throw away the rum -- after all, rum-drinking wouldn't be very Russian of me, would it?
...Now back to business.
Vodka is an integral part of Russian culture. It has been produced for centuries, though the ingredients were not limited to potatoes -- anything went, from wheat and rye to raspberries, cherries, and apples; it was more like a wine than a liquor. Even the smallest peasant had his or her own recipe for homemade vodka. However, it was not actually known as vodka until the 1700's, under Empress Elizabeta Petrovna -- the word being a diminutive form of "voda," or "water," possibly derived from the Latin "aqua vitae," or "water of life," which in turn was an alcohol-based medicine developed in ancient Persia. Soon after vodka's naming, the process of straining it through charcoal was developed, making it closer to the throat-burning product it is today.
We Russians have the privilege of having a fairly high vodka-related death rate. Of course, you may occasionally see a man surrounded by empty beer bottles sleeping on the street, but he's probably just posing to draw away suspicion from the half-empty bottle of vodka hidden in his coat. Not that anyone would try to steal it -- after all, we Russians have vodka for blood and therefore are constantly drunk with it.
It is customary to drink vodka with a good friend (you know, like a bear! Or Yeltsin!) or -- better -- a couple, preferably at the most unsuitable place you can find. Examples: the bus stop, someone's doorstep, the local police station. The latter may be the best, as no one will complain and they may even share some snacks with you. And snacks are an integral part of Russian vodka-drinking: preferably something pickled, salty, or spicy, like brined cucumber pickles, salted fish, salo, and something involving horseradish. In Russian-style drinking, vodka should not be mixed with another drink or followed by a chaser, unless you do not want to have a hangover afterward, in which case you are just being silly.
If you happen to know a Russian and they claim to not like vodka, they are not truly Russian, but an impostor sent to sully Russia's good name. If you are a Russian and you do not like vodka, disown yourself at once! Anyone could tell you that Russians are all alcoholics that live in perpetual winter with bears and subsist on potatoes and caviar. To dissolve that reputation would be practically blasphemous -- how do you think people would feel if they learned otherwise? I'll tell you how they'll feel -- the same way my grandparents did when they learned Americans weren't all gun-laden, overweight gangsters in in heavy metal bands. Betrayed.