Hungarian attitude toward alcohol consumption

I would like to talk about two incidents that happened only a few days apart. We briefly touched on the first in the comments. István Lovas, Magyar Nemzet’s correspondent in Brussels, wrote an obscene letter full of four-letter words to the foreign correspondents in Budapest. In it he accused them of false reporting, resulting in an unjust and untrue picture of Hungary. The English-language letter can be read here at the end of the Hungarian introduction. Now it turned out that Lovas’s excuse is that he was drunk.

Two days ago there was a curious scene in the Hungarian parliament. An MSZP member of parliament happened to be delivering a question to one of the ministers when István Pálffy (KDNP), who is in his first term in parliament, got up, went by the speaker, shook hands with him, and began unsteadily ambling toward the exit. Then he suddenly stopped and began a conversation with two Jobbik members who, after he had left, indicated that the honorable member was drunk.

We may also add to these two recent incidents that József Balogh, another parliamentarian, hit “Terike” while intoxicated. In fact, he had to be so drunk that the next morning he had no recollection of the events of the night before.

According to the World Health Organization, mortality due to alcohol-related problems in Hungary was over three times the European Union average for men and around two and a half times that of the EU average for women. A full 10% of the population has been officially diagnosed with alcoholism. It is likely that there is a correlation between excessive alcohol consumption and violence of all sorts, not just the domestic variety.

An American researcher reported that during her stay in the country she was offered a drink at practically all the families she visited regardless of the time of the day. I can attest to that myself. People wanted me to drink cognac at 11 a.m. and they could be very insistent, viewing refusal as an insult. Perhaps that’s why there is a certain tolerance toward “being tipsy.”

In an interview with Lovas in Heti Válasz the discussion turned to his unspeakable letter to the foreign journalists. There were jokes about the amount of alcohol he consumed, which turned out to be a whole bottle of wine and two ponies of pálinka. At least this is what he admitted to. Jokes were flying about the Hungarian expression “the glass suddenly became full,” meaning that “it was the last straw” that foreign correspondents were not reporting on the Baja video.

Pallfy Istvan

István Pálffy

As for Pálffy, I suspect that he is an alcoholic. Although he has an engineering degree, he spent most of his adult life as a newspaperman. First in Magyar Rádió and later at MTV. Between 2002 and 2008 he was in charge of the news and, given Pálffy’s political views, MTV’s news even before 2010 was anything but balanced. In addition he shows a keen interest in gastronomy and, not surprisingly, wines. He wrote guides to Hungarian wines with the title “The best 100 Hungarian wines.” I somehow doubt that he could be a great judge.

A Hungarian right-wing Internet site ran a story about these two incidents with the title “Pony” (Kupica). In it the author called Lovas’s letter “astonishingly sweet and obscene.” What was sweet about it I wouldn’t know, but Lovas’s obscene outburst seemed to have been explained away and forgiven.

Today an article appeared by György C. Kálmán, a literary historian, who often publishes short articles in Magyar Narancs. He is bothered about “the jovial manner” in which the topic is treated. The way the interviewing journalist actually condones Lovas’s drinking that ended in great embarrassment not just for himself but for right-wing Hungarian journalism in general.

While Lovas thinks that he was justified in complaining about the alleged “anti-Fidesz” behavior of foreign journalists and only the alcohol made him use inappropriate words, Pálffy threatens anyone who says he was drunk in parliament with a law suit. Although the Hungarian parliament has a pub, according to one article I read its sales are ridiculously modest: one bottle of wine and ten bottles of beer a day! Pálffy claims that he has never bought any alcohol in the parliamentary pub. I believe him. But one doesn’t have to purchase liquor there in order to be loaded by the afternoon. The parliamentary session normally starts at 1 p.m.

Just as the attitude toward the role of women and domestic violence must change in Hungary, so should the attitude towards excessive drinking. But how can this happen when such a widespread “understanding” of the phenomenon exists? Interestingly enough, while there is some attempt at curbing smoking, I see no government effort at educating the public about the pitfalls of excessive drinking. In my elementary school we had a poster on the wall: “Az alohol öl, butít, és nyomorba dönt!” (Alcohol kills, makes you stupid, and reduces you to destitution.) I’m not sure that it shaped later behavior, but at least it was pointing in the right general direction–as opposed to granting a tax exemption for the production of pálinka.

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37 comments

  1. Istvan Lovas (who, by the way, despite his fervent anti-semitism, applied for and got the Israeli passport, although eventually he did not take it over from the embassy and is also a well-documented beater of women) singles out and praises Nick Thorpe of BBC as the only honorable foreign correspondent in Hungary. Well, as the Hungarian saying goes (Dicserjen teged a Lovas Istvan!) which is more or less: let Istvan Lovas praise you!

  2. Being a night owl ‘t seems like when Eva’s missives arrive, I am still wide awake. And reading the text, I cant help but sit at the typewriter to add what I have to say on the topic. So bear with me now that am in front of the ‘typewriter’.

    Alcohol: no praaablem. I like the topic, not just the taste. In fact ‘alternate state of consciousness’ is the general theme.

    As far as the alcoholic version thereof, Hungary indeed has a praaablem. As does Poland and Russia, I believe. The results can be fatal, painful, ruin family life and so forth. A szomszéd (neighbor), about 40 years of age is regularly in and out of the hospital with liver problems. In fact hospital has become his primary home in the past couple of years. He’s one of those who becomes quite unpleasant when he drinks so, how shall I put it, I am not entirely sorry to see him occasionally… residing ‘elsewhere’.

    In fact drinking in this country is (among straight folk or those in the hiding) sinonymous with committing a crime. Pleasant drinking in their view is ‘a priory’ unimaginable. One time a friend over-did his quota and I had to accompany him down to the bus. Along the way guess what, he fell head over hells into this ‘árok’ (ditch) with knee-high nettles of the extra ‘csipős’ (stinging) variety… Others that I know of regularly land up in hopitals as they brake bones after falling into árkok (ditches) along the road. Another one, a youngster only 19 years of age was found half frozen in the bushes along the road – in addition he’d taken off his shirt in his drunken stupor to be ready for the night…

    Regularly the homeless get soussed, fall asleep on the sidewalk, and in the winter, never wake up to see the light of day again…

    Every society has some method that those that can’t take it any more turn off their consciousness. Its another way of cutting short the road ahead of you.

    As for politicians, I’d surmise when you can no longer deal with the hollowness of the lie you are living, you look for a temporary or in more extreme cases, permanent oblivion from your reality.

    When you add drug abuse of various kinds to this phenomenon you are actually searching for the trouble which, this time is well swept under the carpet. Since you’re dealing with well-defined illegality, people hush up the instances. Politicans were caught red-handed in Canada, the USA andrecently also in Hungary. The i-phone camera has turned into a great witness… As have the ‘lehallgatott telefónbeszélgetések…’ (eaves-dropped telephone conversations).

    The process of friends who tukományoznak (forcing) shots of pálinka on you in their home are actually needing to unload the heavy psychological burden of their own unadmitted drinking onto a hapless acquaintance heretofore to be considered a colluding member of their sinful, secret society.

    There’s a panoply of other illicit state-of-consciousness altering substances which are taboo themes, however, judging by the number of Vietnamese growers of the m-plant in Hungary there is likely a sizable use of this sinful stuff here. This stuff has now been legalised in several US States and in practice semi-tolerated in numerous other conuntries.

    For years the US administration haas been fighting a losing battle against illegal drugs, but societies also seem unable to control the abuse of alcohol as a substance the latter having disastrous health and societal effects.

    Few people however are seriously talking about eliminating the root causes of the abuse of these substances. Simply, these causes are the inability of many people to channel the focus of their energies away from topics that make them unhappy. And to learn to deal with these negatives in ‘civilised’ ways. Maybe one day Mr-Palffy-the-representative whom-I-am-not-accusing of over-drinking will realize that living a lie ‘dont pay off’.

    ‘Til then, untaxed home-pálinka will be an excellent politcal tool that pays off hansomely for Fidesz. Just come and watch the election results!

  3. Meanwhile on Planet Hungary …

    This I guess didn’t make it to the post.

    Female members of the parliament, lead by Agnes Vadai from the Democratic Coalition (DK), were protesting domestic violence and “Blind Commondor” Jozsef Balogh (FIDESZ), the notorious wife beater PM, with painted shiners on their faces. Laszlo Kover (FIDESZ), president of the House, fined them for HUF 130,000 (USD 600) each, for disorderly conduct. The sign says “FIDESZ boys! Women are only good beaten?”. Check out the picture of the seriously disruptive females (hats off):

    http://nol.hu/belfold/kover_130_ezerre_bunteti_a_balogh_ellen_tiltakozo_kepviseloket

    If our representatives are drunk bullies during the Orban government, how do you expect the country to change?

    Unfortunately domestic violence and excessive drinking go hand in hand. Most of the beatings are committed by habitual drunkards.

    Is anybody on the line from Finland? Finland seems one of the best places in Europe nowadays and these guys were and probably still are drinking like a fish. Has that changed recently up above? They are our relatives after all.

  4. Ain’t Kover a peach?

    And I can see, in the not-to-distant-future, the goodly Catholic fathers pontificating in their Sunday sermons….pointing to the Honourable (sic) Speaker as an example for all future Hungarian boys to emulate.

  5. “Killing Kennedy”–all over the screens in the US after a week of manic advertising.

    A ‘Communist’ (Oswald…yeah, right!) killed by a Jew (Ruby)–a Hungarian’s wet dream of a cover story!

  6. Andy writes: “Every society has some method that those that can’t take it any more turn off their consciousness. Its another way of cutting short the road ahead of you.”

    The English proverb: Gin is the shortest road out of London.

    That aside, I should hate to see local, rural distilleries vanish from the Hungarian countryside. A keg of one’s own Obstbrand is a lovely resource when visitors arrive… even before eleven in the morning.

    ***

    Nyamnyam, Prof Balogh — How has Nick Thorpe earnt the Lovas István Érdemkeresztet / Verdienstkreuz?

  7. As a foreigner who’s been spending part of his time in Hungary for 15 years now I have to say I really was surprised by the “drinking culture” of Hungarians – I hadn’t expected it to be similar to the Russian/Bulgarian etc …

    To be offered a pálinka before /with/after breakfast seemed a bit strange – now I’m used to it and can either politely decline or share “just a small one” with my wife.

    Though I like a beer or a glass of wine (a good meal in a Hungarian restaurant without it just ain’t perfect …) I’m still astonished at the way and the quantity of alcohol that is consumed here.

    On the other hand my wife and our young ones mainly drink juice (no cola or other artificial üditö for them!) and two of our neighbours are teetotalers, though they produce their own pálinka – just for guests and friends …

    But the cocsmas are open by 7 in the morning and well visited – though not as full as they used to be …

  8. Every country I have visited in Eastern Europe – Hungary, (then) Czechoslovakia, (then) Yugoslavia, and Russia – has been the same story. At the time – the 70’s – I just chalked it up to boredom, lots of cold weather and oppressive governments. But it now seems pretty clear that the alcoholism is a symptom of a much more insidious disease of the soul that dictates the need to be in an altered state just to make it through the day. Considering the history of that part of the world for lo, these many years, it isn’t really that surprising, is it? I would be willing to bet money that it is guilt about the past that is the biggest culprit…much more so than being the object of the guilty acts.

  9. OT:

    http://velemenyvezer.444.hu/2013/11/11/a-nagy-afarablas/

    Interesting article about VAT fraud on a grand scale in the grocery/ retail segment. For the uninitiated it is CBA which is the biggest player, but probably COOP as well.

    CBA was involved in the infamous Egy-másért VAT fraud (in fact it was a co-conspirator) but was never investigated and it is common knowledge in the Hungarian FMCG sector that CBA is always open to ‘smart deals’. But since CBA is protected by Orbán himself and of course CBA is the only real Hungarian grocery chain, it will continue with the alleged fraud for ever (as profits from the fraud will get back to the politicians).

  10. Alcohol consumption in Hungary is a national problem and I think it is unfair to pick a couple of unpleasant right wing politicians as examples, as if to imply that it is a right wing phenomenon. It most definitely is not: Gyula Horn was a catastrophic drinker for example and he was hardly the last left-wing boozer. Or the worst.

    István Pálffy is a mystery (and his alcoholism is hardly a secret among anyone who has worked with him.) I used to know his wife and in those days, he was very much an SZDSZ supporter. He was also responsible for a brilliant interview that destroyed István Mikola on TV2 during Orbán’s first government. So his reinvention of himself as a “Christian democrat” is something that many who know him find hard to comprehend. I don’t believe he believes a word he is saying. But he is hardly alone in that in Hungarian parliament.

    One other remark: why do you feel it necessary to continually make snide allusions to people’s qualifications? “Although he has an engineering degree, he spent most of his adult life as a newspaperman.” Apart from the fact he worked mostly in the electronic media, so what if he studied engineering?

  11. Orban purchased 21% of MOL @22,467 HUF/share

    He could have paid only 14,300 HUF/share today,

    181 billion HUF less.

    That is 3 years’ worth of cut in support to all universities combined.

  12. HiBOM: alcoholism is a serious issue, Hungary has been a world leader in alcoholism-related mortality. But there are different stages of alcoholism. Pálffy simply cannot start the day without drinking, he needs alcohol just to be able to function in society. I am not sure that was true for Horn, although it was true for Mihály Kupa.

    The issue is that at the Christian Democrats (which is nothing more than a more conservative wing of Fidesz) and at Fidesz proper, one would think they lead a more virtuous life. The leftists and the liberals do not preach virtuousness, Pálffy’s party chums do.

    It is a mistake, however, to think that Pálffy does not believe in what he says. This thinking is similar to that view according to which Orbán or Navracsics (Martonyi etc, substitute any number of “liberal” Fideszniks, although I have to laugh at this term) actually thinks otherwise, but is unfortunately forced to do this or that, such is politics. All foreign diplomats drank the cool aid and reported back home that they just had a hearty dinner with Mr. Szájer and he was so charming and European, so no worries. No. These people all think exactly as they do, as they completely internalized Fidesz’ thinking and they completely, comfortably inhabit that world. They have no options to live any other lives than that of a Fidesznik, and they also love it. After all, they are winners, are strong and they have power. So it is all natural for them. Pállfy is exactly as he talks and as he shows himself to be.

  13. HiBoM :

    One other remark: why do you feel it necessary to continually make snide allusions to people’s qualifications? “Although he has an engineering degree, he spent most of his adult life as a newspaperman.” Apart from the fact he worked mostly in the electronic media, so what if he studied engineering?

    I didn’t intend it to be a snide remark. Just a fact. There are dozens of people I know who went to law school and who are now journalists. Or there is Vicsek at Klubrádió. He also finished engineering school. Nothing wrong with it. I just gave it as background.

  14. MillionRoses :

    Pállfy is exactly as he talks and as he shows himself to be.

    A rather frightening thought. I find him most objectionable at interviews. One memorable one was with Antónia Mészáros whom he treated as she were some kind of dumb teenager who is ignorant of the most fundamental rules of journalism. Mészáros, I think, spent six years at the BBC.

  15. Sometimes I fell rather lucky that I don’t understand too much of what Hungarians are trying to tell me – especially when they’re drunk …

    Totally OT but on a similar level:

    I was on an information trip to Japan many years ago where we not only heard and saw the latest in IT aka computers but also got some sightseeing – including Karaoke which seemed to be the Japanese computer managers favourite hobby. Nobody in my group of Germans dared to sing something and in the end I stood up, but did not what they might have expected like a German folk song (i can’t sing at all …) but a Rock&Roll classic:
    I shouted: Tutti frutti – oh Rudy … a whop bop-a-lu-la whop bam boo … and so on.
    It was a real success …

    The next evening we went to a famous restaurant and we were told that the guys in suit and ties were business managers and their subordinates for whom dining out (and drinking a lot …) was just a continuation of their job. Waiting outside for our car we saw someone in a black suit staggering out and when he saw us he blurted out something like:

    Those foleign devils again …

    Btw the husband of one of my sisters was in Budapest in the early 80s working for a big global player building up their presence – he liked Budapest very much but hated the people he had to work with:

    His Hungarian subordinates, the managers of the contractors, the local politicians he had to deal with, the police who did nothing against corruption and so on …

    In his eyes everybody was trying to get unfair deals for himself or outright corrupt …

    So my sister’s been visiting us here regularly – but only when her husband is away on business, he won’t ever return to Hungary, he says!

  16. @tappanch: yes.
    And Orbán paid or the ownership of the MOL ‘reszvenyek’ (shares) entirely from cash originally borrowed from IMF as a backup stash for financial security purposes thereby to maintain the value of the HUF.

    He fully squandered that cash on the ‘részvények’ (shares) which could have been returned to the IMF unused, thereby reducing our borrowing costs over the ensuing years and reducing the amount of money Hungary owed to foreign entities.

    Not only did he use these funds for unintended purposes but in the process was able to control MOL and his puppet-crony wheeler-dealer-extraordinaire Hajdu, president of MOL, to proceed to buy up the Croatian INA oil-co.

    Only predictably Croat INA was equally sanguine about maintaining control of their own national oil business (as a question of national security-and-pride).

    So Orbán met his match on his playing field among equals. And he LOST OUT. The Croats found out about the back-room personal deals and convicted their own prime minister and sent him to jail… However the Croats did not finish by jaling their prime minister, they consequently followed up by wishing to prove and punish the Hungarian end in the MOL purchase. They got onto Mr Hajdu’s tail and tried to convene him to a hearing in Zagreb where they planned to accuse him for illegally bribing their Prime Minister. In the process they’d have jailed Hajdu potentially for intended crimes against their state.

    Orban saw he was on the losing part of the big stick he imagined he had bought and by hook and crook kept Hadu at home. Orban even offered to sell his entire interest in INA just to keep the neighbor in peace – and his crony out-a-jail. Consequently the MOL shares he bought have lost very substatial value… The losses being antied up by guess who? The poor Hungarian public of tomorrow those wo will have to pay back the loans…

    Orban is playing power politics on other people’s borrowed money… while he is complaining of previous administrations causing the overspending… Outright lies left, right and center.

    These are Orban’s Machiavellian contortions — while his adherents drink themselves under the table… Bamboozling their clientele who havent got a ‘fing’ (fog…) of the extent of lies behind the foggy courtain he’s built.

    Double speak… Triple speak… Quadruple speak… Not as smart as he likes to make out but knowing hes devious enough to squeak by thanks to his ability to obfuscate the majority…

    Hes driving Hungary kamikaze-style straight into the ground taking the lock, stock, and barrels of pálinka along with him.

    Hell with the folk. What do I care… But the pálinka !!!

  17. Andy, exactly: follow the money. And don’t forget that every insider to these trades had the opportunity to make money on trades in the stocks themselves or in derivative products, with no oversight at all. In contemporary Hungary, you can be certain of few things, but I am certain of this: either a small number of people got wealthy from these deals, or that small number of people is much less intelligent than I thought. And to be honest, I’m not sure which possibility is worse for Hungary.

  18. I made a “small” mistake in my comment above, so I’ll repeat the relevant part:

    Btw the husband of one of my sisters was in Budapest in the early 90s (!!!!!) working for a big global player company building up their presence – he liked Budapest very much but hated the people he had to work with:

    His Hungarian subordinates, the managers of the contractors, the local politicians he had to deal with, the police who did nothing against corruption and so on …

    And of course he had to invite them to the best/most expensive restaurants to eat and (mainly …) to drink!

    In his eyes everybody was trying to get unfair deals for himself or outright corrupt …

    So my sister’s been visiting us here regularly – but only when her husband is away on business, he won’t ever return to Hungary, he says!

  19. Wondercat

    “How has Nick Thorpe earnt the Lovas István Érdemkeresztet / Verdienstkreuz?”

    Thorpe (and more especially his wife) is very close to many of the Fidesz hotshots in the city and is seen as Orban’s one and only poodle in the international media. Complaints have been made before to the BBC’s management and (I guess) as a result some of his more sycophantic utterances have disappeared. But rest assured, anytime Fidesz start taking a kick internationally, Vik’s Groupie will be along shortly to “set the story” straight.

  20. @ Wolfi

    “…he liked Budapest very much but hated the people…”

    Is it any wonder? Lovers of Horvath, Csatary, Orban…

    Some years ago we were in Belgrade. Someone asked us about Budapest:
    “We like it a lot, but it would be even better with Serbs rather than Hungarians!”

  21. From now on, if you are charged by a prosecutor with a crime that carries a jail sentence of at least 15 years, you can be put in jail INDEFINITELY without a trial.

    Details:

    Charge; Maximal length of pre-trial detention;

    [0,3] years; 1 year;
    (3,5] years; 2 years;
    (5,15) years; 3 years ;
    [15, life); life;

    http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/12980/12980.pdf

    Hungary 2013

  22. Drunken politicians aren’t limited to Budapest we have plenty in the Illinois State capital in Springfield, USA. But I will admit the drunkenness does not take off until the legislative sessions closes and then lobbyists in the bars are expected to pick up the tab for the esteemed Senators and Representatives. In general most of the partying crew gets to bed by 1am or so and show up in the capitol a little blurry but no worse for the wear and tear. At least one of the bigger drinkers are of Hungarian ancestry and several are of Polish extraction. Ideologically they come from both the right and left, no socialists. We haven’t had an elected socialist to the Illinois General Assembly since about 1880.

  23. Surely alcoholism is a problem here but it’s something much deeper than party politics and important not to suggest otherwise.

    After 15 years living in Hungary we moved back briefly to England: I was shocked at the drinking there. Each person’s experience is by definition anecdotal but if you want sheer quantity of public drunkenness – at all ages – England is your place. In Hungary I’ve not seen the same level of conspicuous drinking for the sake of getting “pissed” / “rat-arsed” etc as in England, the champions of binge drinking.

    OT:

    If possble I’d love to see a wider spectrum of topics here – constructive discussion of healthcare, energy, transport and environmental policy, for example, would add some variety to the staple fare of mutyi, racism, the country’s tragic history and the hapless opposition.

  24. James, surely everybody would like to have an even wider spectrum – but I don’t think Mrs Balogh claims to be an expert in all those things.

    I know that other blogs regularly have (and Eva had too several times …) guest aka oped pieces – maybe you (or other people too) might offer to write on one of these topics.

    I’d be very interested to hear the other side (not what the government spews out …) on environmental issues – I heard that Hungary will introduce a deposit on plastic bottles and cans that really hurts (like tose 10 to 15 Cents in Germany) but I don’t know any details.

  25. James Atkins :

    If possble I’d love to see a wider spectrum of topics here – constructive discussion of healthcare, energy, transport and environmental policy, for example, would add some variety to the staple fare of mutyi, racism, the country’s tragic history and the hapless opposition.

    I wish I were an expert on all those subjects you mention here.

  26. HiBoM :
    So his reinvention of himself as a “Christian democrat” is something that many who know him find hard to comprehend.

    Well, apparently he has the same problem and he needs some anaesthetic to cope with that load of BS on a daily basis.

    The only help I can think of if Orbán would speak in the House every day: I guess the mind-numbing effect of him would save a lot on a booze, – who needs to be more intoxicated after that?

  27. OT re the Hungarian parliament:

    Having watched the video (and others in the news) I’ve come to the conclusion that the number of members of parliament which are present seems to be rather low – most of the benches look empty.

  28. Eva S. Balogh :

    James Atkins :
    If possble I’d love to see a wider spectrum of topics here – constructive discussion of healthcare, energy, transport and environmental policy, for example, would add some variety to the staple fare of mutyi, racism, the country’s tragic history and the hapless opposition.

    I wish I were an expert on all those subjects you mention here.

    “….hapless opposition…”

    At what degree of corruption do we arrive at ‘hapless opposition’?

  29. oh help !!! hapless is probably used as meaning “ineffective, incoherent, useless”. for which by and large the opposition fits the bill with or without the added complication of the degree of corruption….

    Re: Atkins’s suggestion: the idea of choosing topics for debate with an introductory note by Eva, I would find fascinating and worthy of a try.

    Bokros, about four years ago wrote a brilliant study published in ÉS, about the strategic changes needed for a successful new system – a conceptual rethink of every major ‘ágazat’ (area) of government policy as pertaining to retructuring thereof.

    Perhaps taking a theme from there – at a time – and publishing pertinent segments of his study could move us into thinking along such lines and also comparing to where we are today to where we were 4 ears ago and where we might be had we listned to Bokros’s conceptual methodology.

    Eva, please let me know if you might think this would be an interesting side-line we could interject – maybe one topic for one day every couple of weeks.

    Regards,

  30. “Is anybody on the line from Finland? Finland seems one of the best places in Europe nowadays and these guys were and probably still are drinking like a fish. Has that changed recently up above? They are our relatives after all.”

    I’m not from / in Finland, but as far as I know, Finns have different drinking habits to Hungarians. Finns drink mainly at weekends or at nights, definitely not during work hours. It’s difficult to obtain alcohol, you have to go to a special state-run shop even to buy wine, and it’s very (and I mean VERY!) expensive. So if a Finn decides to drink, makes the special journey to Alko or goes to a bar, they want to “make the most of it” (= get dead drunk). Most parties I have been to in Finland ended up with all the Finns under the table at 2 am, while the 2-3 Hungarians are still up, enjoying red wine and whining about politics. Finns don’t drink wine with meals, especially not with children present: adults drink milk at the dinner table, and then later… So in Finland you either drink and then you don’t stop, or you don’t drink at all, there is no such thing as having 2 glasses of wine and thinking it was a nice evening. And as far as I know, it hasn’t changed lately. It is a big problem up there, crime-wise, but if you look at the statistics, binge drinking is not actually worse than, say, in Britain.

    Britain, where I do live, well… pub-crawling and getting half-conscious from drinking being the only reason to go out, already for teenage girls… they say it’s because they need alcohol to open up, say what they think etc. They don’t drink less than Finns!

  31. Oh Mutt, did you ask about Finland in the context of domestic violence? There is woman beating in Finland as well, but they have a better system of dealing with the people concerned. Asylum for women and children, anger management centres for the men, police rushing to the place at the first sign of it (they don’t wait until blood flows), they take the drunk man away from the house straight away, into the police cell… like in Britain, basically.
    One thing about Finland, while I’m at it, is that they are very good at children’s rights. Much more attention is paid to their well-being than in Britain, and this is what’s partly reflected in the success of their school system.

  32. Interesting comments regarding the drinking culture in both the UK and Hungary. Arriving here from England in the early nineties,I’d certainly done my share of drinking – James hit on something very true about the state young English people get in. I’d been in that state myself,and I’d seen it on a regular basis. One enduring memory of my younger years in England was going out and witnessing the typical Friday/Saturday night ‘punch ups’ with drunk aggressive meatheads,and hysterical girlfriends joining in. It was rare that the evening didn’t end with violence of one kind or another. And I lived in a small town. I rarely witnessed anything like that in Hungary (even less so in Germany) However,what struck me most of all (and still shocks me now at times) here in Hungary is how prevalent alcohol is. In the UK,there is often the idea that you just drink like that when you’re young,and that you will eventually grow out of it, and it is certainly not acceptable in all situations. Definitely frowned upon when you are with young children.However, in Hungary alcohol seems to be present in almost every sphere of life,and accepted in almost every situation or event. What shocks me most of all is seeing parents (sorry to generalise,but usually the fathers) getting drunk in front of their young kids. I’ve seen people drunk at work,parents drinking at school/kindergarten events (even in the morning and with home-made palinka) and practically every other social situation,often where young children are present. And non-social situations,too. A couple of years ago we had our kitchen re-done,and the workers got through 14 beers or so in one afternoon,while they were working! I joked to my husband that in England builders usually just get offered a cup of tea, but my husband insisted that we should buy them beer,and that’s pretty normal here! (they never finished our kitchen,by the way!) And let’s not forget the tradition of offering money and wine to doctors (for example,when a baby is born)
    So anyone who has a serious drinking problem here,and wants to avoid alcohol is facing an uphill battle. It will almost certainly be forced on you at almost every occasion, even when it is known that you are driving or with your young children. There may be a ‘zero tolerance’ policy with regards to drinking and driving,but as I see it,there is too much tolerance in practically every other situation. I’ve seen families destroyed by alcohol,and many of our relatives died young due to alcohol abuse,so I hope it changes sometime soon.

  33. Nicky, the position regarding alcohol obviously depends a lot on the people.

    When I had my house renovated by a young builder and his men, he had a very strict “no tolerance” policy. So during the time I was there (most of the time of course I was in Germany) there was no “open” consumption of beer during work – also for safety reasons, but after work was done I usually offered the guys a can of German beer which they gladly accepted. Of course I found out that one of the older workers regularly went to my neighbour and had his water bottle filled up with wine from the barrel, so he could have his fröcs … But this guy and his son who also drank too much were fired after a while and the others were ok.

    Btw when I was still at school in Germany I worked as a builder too during the summer holidays and then it was common to have a few beers during work. The record for two guys was having a whole crate together (20 pints …) in one day – but that was more than 50 years ago and things have changed a lot.

    When we organised other work on our house in Hungary we always looked for sober people – I remember a locksmith (he died of liver failure a few years ago ..) who was quite competent – when he was sober – and my neighbour told me: Only let him work for you before 10 in the morning. At that time he would usually excuse himself and go to the local bar where we found him once around noon – totally pissed …

    Even before I found my wife here I was in the lucky position to be able to ask my neighbour about the qualification of the builders and mechanics etc and one of his first points was always: Well, this guy used to be a good mechanic, but now he drinks too much … and of course I avoided that kind of helpers.

    I could tell you a lot of stories about another neighbour who had his house rebuilt (he wanted some apartments to rent out) and the problems he had with his workers because he always engaged the cheapest ones – the quality of their work was unbelievably bad …

  34. Very good point,Wolfi,and we’ve had very similar experiences. When we needed our firewood cut we needed to find a man with the right machinery,but we were also warned that we’d best get him in the morning before he got drunk. Also,he was always to be found at the pub when we needed him. As he and my husband were to be cutting wood,I was very nervous about letting him in the garden with a chainsaw! But he always did a good job,and no one lost any fingrs! That was a year or so ago,and he has since died.
    Re: Drinking in Germany. We lived there,and I was surprised to see that at the company where my husband was working,you were allowed to drink beer! (This was Bavaria!) yet it was the English engineers who abused this somewhat,and took in crates of beer. I also remember being surprised when I saw people sitting on the S-bahn,drinking beer. It seemed more tolerated,but less abused. Whilst there, I observed something I’d never witnessed in the UK or Hungary before: Sensible drinking! Even when I came across large gatherings of football supporters on their way to matches,with beer in hand,I never witnessed any violence,or felt unsafe. Interesting how different countries have a different relationship to alcohol.

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