Taking a Shot…at Not Taking Shots
2023 marks the seventh year that Dry February has taken place in the Czech Republic. In Czech, Dry February translates as Suchej Únor.
2023 also marks the first time I’ve decided to give the event a try myself.
The Czech Republic has a deep association with alcohol production that forms part of the nation’s image at the international level.
Beer has been made in the Czech lands since years had three numbers and wine has been made here since the days of the Roman Empire. That is to say nothing of the wide variety of spirits produced by Czech hands.
Anyone who visits the country, even for a short period, will come face to face with the easy availability of alcohol on their first day here. Alcohol is available not just in pubs and restaurants, but also every corner store and supermarket.
Everywhere you turn in the Czech Republic, alcohol of some sort is within easy reach. Breweries, large and small, dot the nation’s map densely and even the smallest of villages have at least one drinking establishment.
Many breweries, distilleries and wineries around the country offer tours of their facilities that include tastings of their products.
Many beer festivals, large and small, take place around the country throughout the year and wine festivals are common in the Autmn months.
In spite of alcohol being so deeply woven into Czech history and national identity, it may come as a surprise that it’s not a point of pride for all Czechs.
I’ve met many Czechs, particularly younger ones, who abstain from alcohol completely for a variety of reasons.
To underline the fact that not every Czech is proud of the part alcohol plays in their history and the view much of the world has of the Czech nation and people because of it, the Dry February event enjoys a surprising popularity among Czechs.
This Radio Praha article goes into a bit of detail about how and why the event appeals to Czechs.
Nepít je Úmění – Not Drinking is an Art
In the Czech Republic, Dry February is organized by the Czech branch of the League of Open Men NGO. While that organization’s main focus is mens’ health issues, Dry February is certainly not aimed exclusively at men. A quick look at the Suchej Únor wesbite and social media pages shows a significant number of women also participating. This is a good sign, as alcoholism among women in the country is on the rise according to this Radio Praha article.
The theme of the 2023 edition of the event is “Not Drinking is an Art”. The idea behind it is that the time and money people save by not drinking for the month can be put into artistic talents they already enjoy, or towards taking up a new hobby of a creative sort.
As someone with a background in the arts, I find this a fascinating approach. There is an age old mythos that connects arts and alcohol, and many believe that alcohol is a help in “getting creative juices flowing” due to its ability to part people from their inhibitions.
I believe this is a mythos very much worth breaking as, with a bit of research, it’s not difficult to find a number of great artists and creative minds down the ages who were noted as very light drinkers if not outright teetotalers.
In this view, I have empathy for Czechs who wish to make alcohol a much smaller aspect of their national character as outsiders perceive it.
A Foreigner, Like Me
While I’ve been living in the Czech Republic for nearly two decades, have attained permanent residency, and am happy to call it home; I am still foreigner enough to have empathy for the newly arrived in the Czech lands.
The majority of foreigners in the Czech Republic come from countries where alcohol is heavily taxed or otherwise regulated by law and not so easy to access. Going from that into a place where alcohol is comparatively cheap and plentiful is a recipe for disaster for many foreigners here.
As a growing portion of the population of the country is made up of foreigners, many of whom are here for work or study, an event like Suchej Únor can serve foreigners just as well as it can native Czechs.
If you are a foreigner new to the country, or soon to arrive in the country, keep the following in mind:
- Not all Czechs drink alcohol and many are not proud of the country’s history of alcohol production.
- Czechs are not likely to be offended if you decline an offer of alcohol. Feel free to say “No”.
- Consuming ridiculous amounts of alcohol will not impress any Czech who is worth impressing.
As For Myself…
I paid a visit to the Suchej Únor website and had a look around. it’s all in Czech, but I found it responded well to online translator functions. If you’re a foreigner in the country who doesn’t speak Czech, you should still be able to get something from the website in English at least.
I filled out the alcohol test questionnaire on the website and it rated me in the “Moderate” category in alcohol consumption. Not bad, but something to work on.
As writing is the main art I indulge in these days, I’ve decided to use “Beyond Prague” in my Suchej Únor endeavours.
My goal is to create a permanent page on the website that will be a comprehensive resource for native Czechs and foreigners in the country who have alcohol problems, or friends and family who have them, to find counseling services wherever they may live in the country.
To this end, I have reached out to a number of agencies and organizations around the country who may be able to help me gather enough information to create such a page in the near future.
At the time of writing this article, I have heard back from one or two. Hopefully I will hear from more before Suchej Únor is done for 2023.