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SLOVAK MATTERS

The ten commandments of drinking in Slovakia

I'M COMPLETELY hung over right now. No, really. I'm sucking down water and thinking about the funny Slovak expression for a hangover, Mám opicu (literally 'I have a monkey'), which probably developed from being close in pronunciation to the verb opiť sa (to get drunk).

Lift your glass high and make eye contact when you toast in Slovakia.
photo: SITA

I'M COMPLETELY hung over right now. No, really. I'm sucking down water and thinking about the funny Slovak expression for a hangover, Mám opicu (literally 'I have a monkey'), which probably developed from being close in pronunciation to the verb opiť sa (to get drunk).

So in honor of moja opica, I would like to devote this column to the topic of drinking.

In Slovakia, drinking is much more socially acceptable than in the US. In fact, it is often socially unacceptable to decline an invitation to drink, unless you're driving. Nemôžem piť, šoférujem (I can't drink, I'm driving) is a good excuse, but here's what you need to know when you've used it too many times:

1. Pijeme, pite! (We're drinking, drink up!) Know thyself and thy limits. Depending on the company you've kept, you may not have the tolerance for alcohol (výdrž) necessary to keep up with the average Slovak. Therefore, know when to say stačí (enough)!

2. Na zdravie! (Cheers!) Thou shalt toast each new round (kolo) of drinks. Hold your glass high and be sure to make eye contact with each person you toast. If drinking beer, tap it on the table, softly at first. Later in the evening you may wish to hit it harder - don't do it.

3. Daj si, dáme si! (Have some, let's have some!) When thou wishest to drink privately, beware of hocijaký (any) spirits that end in -ica. The most common kinds are slivovica, hruškovica, jablkovica (plums, pears, apples) and the notorious borovička (juniper berry). There is also the rot-gut, burning-all-the-way-down homemade kind, which is a combination of all the above, plus what I like to call the "Uncle Jozef Shrug", indicating he doesn't know or can't remember from whence the spirit hath come.

4. Dáme si prestávku. (Let's take a break.) Thou shalt drink your -icas with a chaser. This is what you do when you need a break from the burning sensation. In Slovak, it's called a brzda, which those of you who drive know means a 'brake'.

5. Jedz, jedz, jedz! (Eat, eat, eat!) Thou shalt not drink without having eaten a big greasy meal first. The first drink may feel good on an empty stomach, but more than that and you're asking for trouble. Ask your host for munchies (chrumky), drag your friends along for a snack while crawling between pubs, or grab something from a food stand: vypržáaný syr, rezeň, cigánska... (Fried cheese, a schnitzel, barbecued pork).

6. Spolu, či nie? Nie spolu, prosím. (Mixed or not? Not mixed, please.) Thou shalt always specify whether you'd like your drink mixed. This can be tricky. Although I'm a gin-and-tonic person, I prefer to order it separate in Slovakia, so that I can order more gin later and add tonic as I go. Some drinks are a common combination, such as wine and coke (I know. Hold your judgement), and must be ordered nie spolu for clarity's sake. And if ice is essential to you, ask for it.

7. Do druhej nohy. (Fill the other leg.) Thou shalt drink thy shots (panáky) in series of two. Although contrary to the physiology of alcohol, it is believed you must drink two shots for balance - one for each leg. Besides, drink only one shot, and you may be called a wet blanket (suchár).

8. Burčiak! (Very young white wine.) Thou shalt drink burčiak only once a year. You can get this delicious, cloudy liquor from roadside vendors just after the first harvest in the late summer or early fall. With its low alcohol but high sugar content, it is a sweet way to battle the lazy heat. But in large amounts, it's also a great preháňadlo (laxative), and is therefore thought to be a sort of spring cleaning. So drink up, but make sure you're near a toilet.

9. Červíka zabi! (Kill the germs!) While travelling abroad, thou shalt take a shot of hard liquor for 'medicinal' purposes. Although not confirmed by scientists, Slovaks believe a shot of white strong spirits every morning prevents sickness by killing foreign bacteria.

10. Klin klinom vybíjaj! (The hair of the dog that bit you.) Thou shalt treat a hangover by staying drunk or getting drunk again. In Slovakia, almost anything can be used as an excuse for celebration - birthdays, Name Days, Tuesdays ...

So when you find yourself worshipping the porcelain god (objímať záchodovú misu), the common cure is to get back in the saddle again.

I think I'll stick to water.

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