WEEKLY COMMENTARY

1 - 5 June 1998 


 
BULGARIANS AND THEIR DRINKING STYLE

In the period between 1994 and 1997, the annual per capita alcohol consumption has dropped from 31.2 to 16.5 litres.  The increasing poverty of the population is about to turn us into a nation of abstainers, states nostalgically a popular daily newspaper published in the capital.

There could be nothing as wrong as this assertion.

First of all, it is not certain that the economic crises and the collapse of incomes necessarily lead to a lower consumption of spirits. On the contrary - socio-economic cataclysms and the resulting pessimism, despair and obscure outlook usually make people reach out for a glass of drink. In the 1980ís, the time of crisis, in Poland there were certain periods, when the Polish people expended almost... half of their incomes on alcoholic drinks. In 1994-1997 the Bulgarians spent only 2 to 1.7 per cent of their incomes on spiritual liquors.

If we refer to statistics for the years of 1980 and 1988, when the Bulgarian society used to live with a feeling that the national living standard was comparatively high, the average consumption of alcoholic drinks varied between 14 and 15 litres per year (equalised to 50% alcoholic content). As can be seen, the 16.5 litres in 1997, not to mention the 31.2 litres in 1994, are very far from changing the Bulgarian into an "abstainer". In this case, the almost double decrease in consumption only shows a tendency to return to the "normalcy" of the 1980ís, without even coming down to the then level.

The truth is that even these 14 litres of "theoretical" liquor per year, comparable to the consumption of alcoholic drinks in Spain, rank the Bulgarian people with the "drinking" rather than with the "abstinent" nations.

The reason for this lies in the particular "mode" of drinking rather than in the amount of alcoholic drinks consumed. In terms of tradition, the "spirituous model" of the Bulgarian people is Mediterranean, i.e. close to that current in Spain, France, Italy, or Greece. As is known, the usual drinking practice is to have drinks during the whole day, on a mass scale - including women and even teenagers, but in small quantities, without ever getting really drunk - hard drinks and relish as appetisers, then wine - "to help swallow" lunch or supper meals. Given this, the aggregate numbers describing the amount of alcoholic drinks consumed in this region are generally very high; nevertheless alcoholism, in the strict sense of the word, is a more or less rare exception.

In the post-war decades, very little of this civilisation model was retained in Bulgaria. Today the traditional mode of drinking is chiefly typical of the rural areas, mostly in vine-growing regions at that.  In urban areas, especially among the generations aged 40-60, are widespread the so-called "drinking bouts" -  "on payment day", on weekends, or "availing of all occasions", when one drinks with or without reason, beyond measure or without restraint, as if taking part in a race. Regrettably, this drinking style is characteristic of quite large a portion of the Bulgarian population.

Of course, Bulgaria will sooner or later get out of the current crisis, and this will naturally result in an appreciable reduction in the number of glasses drained. For the moment, it is difficult to predict whether the Bulgarians will revert to their traditional, Mediterranean pattern of drinking. It is interesting, for example, that in the large cities abstinence is quite frequent among the youth, while those who all the same drink, do it on a regular basis, but in small quantities, and with a lot of thinners, i.e. in the Anglo-Saxon style.

by Georgi Asiov
 

1 June 1998, Sofia


 

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