Rakia and shopska

A classic night out in a kafana. Rakia and shopska to start with, standard for hanging out with friends, right? Of course, any another salad will do, but here, in Macedonia, it’s the first thing that comes to mind. Nothing else dawns on you, even in winter when tomatoes and cucumbers aren’t in season. The choice of rakia you ask? Well, of course it’s žolta. Who can imagine hanging out in a kafana without a shot of rakia and a salad? Typically Macedonian! We’re not hungry, far from it, it’s just meze, something to water down the alcohol with. 

Glasses clink as you toast, making eye contact with the other person, it’s the custom. Careful not to hit the mouth of the glass you’re clinking with the bottom of yours. A grave insult, it’s common knowledge. Hmph, all the complexities of our drinking culture.

The rakia slides nicely down your throat. It opens you up. Shot by shot, we move swiftly from topic to topic. Right now will be a good time to light a cigarette. I mean, come on what would a glass of rakia be without a cigarette? You know very well that communication is much easier once you start smoking. Holding a cigarette between your fingers seems to boost up your self-confidence. You raise the glass pitcher to signal the waiter for a fresh round – a well-versed kafana gesture. Nonverbal communication. In the blink of an eye, there is a fresh pitcher on the table.

“What about some barbeque,” someone suggests, “throw some meat on the grill while we’re still nibbling on the salad.” “We’ll have a mixed platter, see to it that the meat is fresh,” the order for the waiter goes. It’s a group order, no individual requests. What is this, the upper crust?! Anyway, we’re just snacking.

Off goes the waiter while you’re eyeing the women who just sat at the opposite table. They are also here for an “after-work” party. Young and attractive, already career women. A sight for sore eyes, by God, they stir your heart as well. “Mate… ask the girls what they’re having on us?“ you instruct the waiter. Buy them a drink – the simplest way to make a contact in a kafana. Pleasant girls - they accept the drinks and toast with you. Next step - invite them to join your table. Immediately, tables are joined; there’s a new agenda regarding the order. Waiter, another salad for the new company! Add some more meat to the platter. Naturally, another round of rakia as well.

The waiter gets down to work. The probability of a bigger tip increases since guys like to show off in front of girls they’ve just met. In any case, he negotiated the merger.

You’re getting tipsy. It’s your third drink. The conversation, however, is turning more playful. Forget politics, through in some jokes. The thing is who can make the girls laugh harder. The atmosphere is merry.

The barbeque arrives. The platter is abundant, a bit too much for an appetizer, but hey, it’s better to order more than less.
Time to change the choice of drink. A fresh order for the waiter. Wine and beer perhaps, but no more rakia. The girls could be more moderate in their choice of wine, but, hey, we’re no cheap shots. As long as everybody is in good spirits! One more round, of course. More beer and wine!

Alcohol has made us quite light-headed but we’re all braving on. These girls can really hold their liquor. Still, you feel you’ve overstepped the average norm. Fun fact, men in Macedonia are expected to drink alcohol, but there’s nothing more embarrassing than a drunkard. You ease out on the alcohol, along with everybody else. The stomach is full too.

The waiter is clearing the table and you ask the girls politely if they’re up for dessert. It’s a firm no so you ask for the bill. The girls want to chip in, but nothing can be further from your mind. Please! It’s outrageous for a woman to pay in a kafana?”. “Fine, you pay for dinner but we are buying coffee somewhere else,” they suggest. “Hmm, admirable. They don’t want to call it a night, yet won’t be placed in an inferior position,” you think to yourself. Quite naturally you agree. Only a fool would say no to such a promising party.

You don’t have to go too far. The pub around the corner is already full and it’s not even 10 p.m. You fight your way to a spot at the bar and order a beer. “Didn’t we say one more coffee?” one of the girls teases but she knows very well that “a coffee” in this country involves several types of hanging out, but not necessarily drinking coffee.

Everybody is partying hard. The new female bartender seems to particularly inspire the DJ. It’s nice to be surrounded with happy people.

You and the girl hit it off, and step away from the group. Blond women were always more up to your taste, and this one is quite smitten with you. Alcohol boosts up your self-confidence, liquid courage, so you take the liberty to cross the line of her sovereignty. Hmm, not very tactful, but she takes no notice in order not to hurt your ego. The party continues. A third round of beers! Your buddy goes out for a cigarette with the brunette. The cigarette but is smouldering between his fingers while he nags her with a lengthy debate on who-knows-what, but she exhibits quite the tolerance for his “trip”.

You leave with the blond and your two friends stay with the other two girls. They’re obviously having a good time and will certainly understand why you left without a word. You dig each other, there’s no need to act the fool. You both know you want to be together and alone! “Wait a minute, you’re not going to drive in this state, are you?”, she asks as you’re attempting to unlock the car. You open your mouth to explain how you drive much better drunk, but you bite your tongue. The girl in front of you is a woman of character, and it’s very obvious she won’t stand for bad trips from Balkan guys. “We’ll catch a cab. My treat! Pick up your car tomorrow”, she says as she starts walking and you follow spellbound by her sovereignty. You can already picture your future with this woman.

Vanja Dimitrievski

The author is a program assistant at CEDR – Centre for Education, Documentation and Research at HOPS – Healthy Options Project Skopje. He has a Master’s degree in Ethnology and Anthropology and long research experience with different socially marginalized groups/communities, particularly with people who use drugs.

The online version of the magazine you can find it HERE.