Živeli baby! Drinking & Identity in the Serbian diaspora

An identity crisis in my 50s!? Are you kidding? And, a father! The ‘end of men’ made it impossible to run away from my adopted self. So many raw painful emotions rose from the murky depths to the surface during my explorations into the issues behind the veil of adoptees.

I’d wrestled all my life to unearth who I am.¹ It led me to some delightful places and people, but it also lured me to the dark side where I had some very dark and nasty self-esteem destroying experiences. One such period was the 3 decades I spent trying to fit into the Serbian culture. There were many, many chasms to cross, but no rivers wider than the cultural one. It wasn’t just the language, the history, the politics, it was also and probably most importantly, the starring roles played by family, food and drink.

After all that, I think I know a thing or two about drinking and cultural identity. Drinking is one of the ways a culture defines itself. It’s part of the socialization process, one of the customs passed from generation to generation.

Sláinte, Ziveli, Na zdravje, Salud, Prost, Zum Wohl, Cheers, Skål, Lechaym, Nush and Budmo!

živeli, comes from the verb, živeti (‘to live’)

No matter how you say it, drink is equated with living, really living! It is also equated with death and destruction.

Is it this line that is crossed if you slip into the realm of really, really enjoying the stuff?

Sláinte, Ziveli, Salud, Prost, Zum Wohl, Cheers, Skål, Lechaym, Nush, or Budmo!

Spanish: “Salud” although it can be used as a toast, it literally means “Health”

Ukranian: ‘Budmo!’. This means approximately ‘shall we live forever!’

Latin: Sanitas bona (to your health)

Yiddish: Lechaym

Swedeish: Skål – Skaal

Persian (Iran): (Be) salam ati (to your health) Nush (“Enjoy it, and let it be part of your body”)

Prost (beer)
Zum Wohl : \L\1ine) (to your health)
Hau weg den Scheiss (vulgar)

German: I would pretty much prefer the first (common) one as the second one is never used at all. You should remove it. ‘Gruss Got’ is used to welcome a person but not at all in the sense of ‘cheers’.

In Germany we have different ways to say “Cheers” or “Slainte”, depending on the kind of drink as well as on the occasion. For BEER: “Prost!” (no matter at which occasion). For WINE: “Prost” with friends, “Zum Wohl” in a more formal environment. For COCKTAILS: Here we often use a toast, for example: “Auf uns!” (To us!) or “Auf Dich!” (To you!). For SCHNAPS: Here we often say something like “Und weg!” or “Hau’ weg das Zeug!” (Down the hatch!), but “Prost!” is fine as well. For WHISKY: We never say “Prost!” with Whisky. Rather, we use “Cheers!” or a toast, like “Auf Schottland!” (To Scotland!).


Sláinte (to your health)
In Northern Ireland (Ulster) there are three main offical languages : English,Irish and Ulster-Scots
Cheers in Northern Ireland (Ulster) is Slainte! (to your health) in Irish AND “Guid forder!” : \L\1ood luck) in Ulster-Scots.

Serbian: Zivio Ziveli – In Serbian, cheers is ‘Ziveli’, pronounced ‘zjee-ve-lee’, meaning ‘Let’s live long!’
(Old : Zivjeli / U zdravlje)

Slovenian: Na zdravje (to your health)

Polish: Na zdrowie. Vivat
Na zdrowie (to your health)

Russian: No one says “Na zdorovje” as a Russian drinking cheer.
This is increadibly widespread myth. It does mean “To you health”, but they only say it as a reply to “Spasibo”
i.e. “Thank you”.
Furthermore, there is no universal drinking cheer in Russian, however paradoxal it might sound.
Sometimes they say “Budem zdorovy” meaning “Let’s stay healthy”. Which sometimes is shortened to just “Budem” (see Ukranian version) or “Chtob vse byli zdorovy”, i.e. “Let everybody be healthy”.

Budem zdorovy, Na zdorovje, Chtob vse byli zdorovy

L’chaim (“To life”)


¹ Adoptees wrestle for an identity. They’ve been torn from their ‘real past’, handed something foreign, and told it is ‘their past’. This identity crisis has become labelled, ‘genetic bewilderment’. Adoptees have a startlingly easy time becoming addicts for a myriad of reasons: to numb the pain, to forget, to fit in. With no real link to the past, they identify with an abyss and drink appropriately.


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