Why do Russians hate Ice?

Alina Simone, a singer, blogging at the New York Times:

A Russian acquaintance of mine who grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, recently told me that her father microwaved his orange juice. Her grandmother also used to heat her ice cream in a saucepan on the stove. She remembers once asking her grandmother why it was even called “ice” cream, when by all rights it should be called warm cream, or maybe hot cream. “Things have all kinds of crazy names,” her grandmother snapped back. “How should I know?”

If you were born in the Soviet Union and are of a certain age, ice is your enemy. As the daughter of émigrés from Ukraine, I was raised on room-temperature beverages and always associated ice with a raft of great American stuff other kids were allowed to have but I wasn’t: puppies, sheet cake, fun. My own grandmother would cringe from a glass of ice water as if it were a syringe of Ebola virus. To this day I have no idea what disease she associated with the consumption of cold liquids. Pneumonia? Athlete’s foot? Chlamydia?

Why do Russians hate ice? I called my dad and posed the question.

“Ice? I don’t hate ice,” he began. “It’s just that when these Americans hand you a can from the freezer, and it is already so cold that just touching it practically turns your hand into a claw, I don’t really see the need to add ice.”

Yeah, I thought to myself, you don’t hate ice. You just think the cold war was a literal attempt to freeze you. I quickly abandoned this line of inquiry and decided to take my investigation to the streets instead. What better place than Brighton Beach on one of the hottest weekends of the year?

To maximize my chances of getting any Russian over the age of 50 to talk to me, I put on a dress and more makeup than I thought I owned. But then I sort of handicapped myself by inviting my friend Amanda, who long ago shaved her eyebrows off and replaced them with black squiggles that look like Arabic writing. She tried hiding them behind sunglasses and a straw hat, but they peeped out insidiously nonetheless.

The air out on Brighton Beach Avenue hit us like a plume of dragon breath as we quickly made our way toward our first destination, a cafe. Although the heat outside was an Ecuadorean 101, it must have been at least 85 degrees inside as well. The wings of moths could have turned the air faster than the air-conditioner. Perfect, in other words, for our purposes.

Unlike the Russian restaurants on the boardwalk, the cafe was free of day-tripping tourists. A television mounted to the wall blared the Eurovision Song Contest, and talk at every table was reliably in Russian. We watched as a burly man in a red tank top poured a can of Coke into an ice-free glass. At a table near the front of the cafe, a dozen Russian men rose to make a toast and knocked back drinks that were assuredly not on the rocks. A pair of women next to us prodded their juices and we failed to hear a telltale clink. Meanwhile, I ordered us a selection of starch-based dishes, vareniki with potatoes, blintzes with cottage cheese, and — here was the test — two glasses of water. Moments later, they arrived. Sans ice.

“A mozhno eto s l’dom?” (Can we have it with ice?) I asked in Russian.

The waitress gave me a look of pity.

“We don’t have any ice,” she said.

“You can’t even buy it,” Amanda whispered, impressed. “It’s not for sale.”

Later, I asked one of the waitresses, why the no-ice policy.

“Over in Ukraine, they put ice in their drinks,” she explained. “But not in Russia.”

“Really? My family’s from Ukraine, and they don’t use ice.”

“Well then I guess we all don’t use ice.”

“Yes,” I persevered, “but why?”

“That’s just how it’s always been,” she shrugged.

This circular logic, though undoubtedly true, left me unsatisfied. So having filled our caloric quota for the week, we hit the streets again. A Chechen named Ahmed, whom we chatted up in an antiques store, insisted that Russians kept ice out of their drinks as a precaution. “Who knows where that ice came from? It’s probably dirty.” A Russian woman filling out a lottery ticket down the street concurred. “Unlike other nationalities, Russians are very clever. You can’t fool us,” she warned.

I had never considered this theory before, that ice was a riddle whose origin demanded to be solved, a potential form of drink pollution. It’s true that the tap water in many Russian cities, like St. Petersburg, can contain giardia and other contaminants. But New York City is known for having some of the cleanest drinking water in the world. I rejected this hypothesis. My gut told me that even if I made ice out of San Pellegrino before their very eyes, these Slavs would keep clinging to their tepid drinks.

At Oksamit Liquor, we found ourselves admiring a glass Kalashnikov full of vodka. I posed my ice question to the guy behind the counter, but a beefy man buying some whiskey interjected.

“Ice dilutes your drink,” he said, waving his bottle. “I put ice in it? It’s not as strong.”

“O.K.,” I said, “but then why don’t Russians use ice in their water?”

And on the shoals of this tricky question, our conversation stalled.

Back home, I decided my Siberian friends, with their heroic tolerance for cold, might help me gain some clarity on Russian ice aversion.

“We’re already surrounded by ice for most of the year,” my friend Vanya, who lives in Novosibirsk, replied via e-mail. Ice in his drink? “Thank you, but no.”

My friend Konst, a Siberian who recently relocated to Los Angeles, seconded this argument with the addition of an intriguing coda: “Or it could be that we have bad teeth.”

Moving west, a long soliloquy on the subject was provided by my cousin Kolya, from the also frigid city of St. Petersburg. He explained that although Soviet citizens did have the means to make ice (most Soviet-produced fridges came with “ugly aluminum devices included to prepare ice cubes,” he reminded me), Russian drinks weren’t customarily amenable to it. Most Westerners would agree, he argued, that beer, wine and vodka don’t go with ice. He also pointed out that in the years before, and immediately following, glasnost, Russia did not have a cocktail-mixing tradition. I was almost convinced, but then his cogent analysis veered abruptly toward conjecture: “Traditional Russian cold beverages, like kvass and mors,” he continued, “also do not require ice.”

Well, nothing really requires ice, does it? Ice — like most of the drinks it enlivens — is optional. And having drunk my share of lukewarm mors, a sweet berry-based concoction, on a hot summer day, I can say without reservation: a little ice wouldn’t hurt.

But in what might be construed as a sign of cultural global warming, my friend Sarah, a former New Yorker who has lived in Russia for over 20 years, relayed the following anecdote. Two 20-something couples, one American, one Russian, were sharing a meal at a Starlite Diner in Moscow when Sarah overheard the male of the Russian pair order a drink, emphasizing to the waitress that he wanted it “s l’dom.” It was a weighted gesture that seemed to signify a new kind of worldliness. Perhaps the new generation has learned that, love it or hate it, one thing is always true about ice — it’ll help you stay cool.

35 responses to “Why do Russians hate Ice?

  1. Steamed McQueen

    Why no ice? Simple really. The Russians, ever superstitious believe that if they drink anything cold it will make them sick. Of course this does not explain why one can frequently see them enjoying ice cream on the street during a cold winters day.

    I loved the line about ‘this is the way it has always been’. So typically Russian. This is the way we do things. This is the we have always done things. There can be NO OTHER WAY to do things, only THIS way. Any attempt to convince them otherwise will result in an argument.

    Ah Russians… Ever contradictory!

    • What’s so contradictory about it? I think it’s plain stupid to drink a warm Coke or whatever.

      • Isn’t it plain stupid to drink Coke at all?

        • Yes, and yet Russians drink so much of it while claiming they hate American cuisine. Isn’t tha the plain stupidest thing of all?

          • I think equating Coke with the American cuisine is the plain stupedest thing of all.

          • Guys, there’s no such thing as the US cuisine. Cuisine is created by a nation, and not by several fast food chains/ two drinks companies. And, if you ask any person in Europe what is the US cuisine (I did), you’ll get “Macdonalds and Burger King” in response.

            P.S. No, french fries is Belgian, and pizza and spagetti is the Italian cuisine. Apple pie was invented in Britain in XIVth century.

            • There is also no such thing as Russian cuisine, and Russia DOES NOT EVEN HAVE fast food restaurants to show its attempt at cuisine to the world. Borscht is Ukrainian, and Russians love to scarf down American fast food, whatever name you may call it. Your “argument” is without even coherence and literacy, much less evidence.

              • Dmitry and LR, you are both profoundly wrong. Being a great fan of food, I should say that both the US and Russia are great places to eat. However shallow the US culinary tradition is (a country with Puritan roots cannot have a great cuisine by definition), crabcakes, lobster rolls, the refined versions of burgers and pizzas (they are as American as pelmenis are Russian) fully redeem it in my view. And the availability of high-quality seefood paired with the seemingly ubiquitous skill not to ruin it is something other nations, Russia included, should seriously think of copying. And there is no point in ordering dry martinis outside the United States. And the variety of international eats in the US is second only to Brazil in my view. This said, I am a great fan of the Russian cuisine and eat Russian food quite often. Just don’t be silly already. Even mutual hatred/dislike does not excuse the stupidity of these comments.

                • …and fast food has no relationship to cuisine whatsoever. Yes, the US has pioneered a food format that provides unperishable food that does not require much skill to prepare for the masses. And the format has its value. And there will be people in any country who will eat this food. And then there are lucky ones who do not have to use this format who will speak arrogantly of it. Thank God, most commentators here can do just that.

                  … and the development of the fast food and soda industries are, is in my view, one of the factors that brought about the tendency to overuse ice. Ice numbs taste buds, just like salt and sugar do. A sugary soda drink, like Cola, tastes the best when your taste buds are numb — very few people would probably deny that.

                • There are several great regional types of cooking in the U.S., of which Dmitry obviously knows nothing. See, his “proof” that we don’t have U.S. cuisine is based on the fact that some Europeans equate it with Mickey D or Burger King.

                  I bet those people in Europe didn’t tell him about Gulf gumbo, or Louisiana style crawfish or jambalaya, or Memphis barbeque, or Georgia pecan pie, or New Englad clam chowder, or chimichanga from Texas, Arizona or California. And I am not sure if he ever heard of California wines from Napa or Sonoma.

      • Well, RV, the original source for this article:

        http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/03/ice-enough-already/?smid=tw-NYTOpinionator&seid=auto

        provides 200+ comments evidencing than taking drinks with ice is actually something very American. Also, ice in your drink and the temperature of your drink are obviously not the same. Few people like to drink warm beer or white wine, but adding ice to these drinks pretty much ruins them.

        • You are right, nobody would drink beer or white wine on the rocks. Ice does ruin fermented stuff. But not so for distilled beverages and having ice in liquor based cocktails is very common. As for soft drinks or even plain or mineral water, unless they are cold, they are not as refreshing, don’t you think?

          • Cold does not equal a glass full of ice. Putting a bottle of mineral water into a fridge or a freezer achieves a much better effect than pouring tepid mineral water in a glass full of ice in my view.

            • Yes, all those billions of people worldwide drinking iced tea, iced coffee and coca-cola over ice are inbred morons. Only you and your fellow Russians see the real truth, just as was the case in the USSR.

              • LR, there is no “the truth” in how one prefers things to be served. In insisting that things should be done one way and not another, you reveal nothing but your own aversion to diversity.

        • AT, you really are a moron. Obviously you are nowhere as well traveled as you like to claim.

          Go into any bar in the civilized world and order a spirit drink and they will put ice in it unless you specifically request otherwise, be it Vodka, Whiskey etc, from China to the US and most points between.

          As for putting ice in wine or beer, nobody does that, but the article is not talking about wine or beer, it was mainly talking about soft drinks, spirits, and water.

          Of course, with spirits, the Russians style of drinking spirits is just to knock it back in one go, which explains the fact that they have such huge problems with alcoholism and premature death…….

          • Ice in a shot of vodka… you are classless.

            • No moron, ice in vodka & orange juice, or vodka lemon and lime.

              Or Whiskey on the rocks, or Rum & Coke, all are better with ice.

              And Russians binge drinking on shots is very gauche, and extremely classless.

              You are a gutter rat AT

              • @vodka & orange juice, or vodka lemon and lime– just say no more, Tbilisi is probably the right place for you.

                On a serious note, I am not the one to tell anyone whether to put ice in his/her drink or not. Ice in whiskey appears to be natural and is generally served in Russia. Russians generally do not put ice in water and juice, and it feels right to me. I, however, do not think its somehow offensive if my neighbor at a restaurant orders iced water, and I expect him/her to mind his/her own business with respect to my preferences in this.

                LR and Andrew’s lecturing to other on this reveal an interesting facet in their personalities. A pure and simple supremacist approach to everything.

                • Vodka and orange juice is called screwdriver, which is quite popular. With all your supposed sophistication, I expected you to know it. I don’t know how they serve this in Tbilisi, I’ve never been there, but in every bar in the United States it’s definitely with ice.

  2. In the old days, all northern Canadians had within their root cellars
    an ice house section, with lake ice embedded in sawdust.

    Thus the iceboxes where supplied with ice all summer and milk,
    meat and other perishable could be preserved and kept.

    Bad food may be the explanation old Canadians built a country while the old Russians where so busy destroying it to build gulags in it’s stead…

  3. – Why do Russians hate Ice?
    – Because it reminds them they actual lost at Stalingrad (and WW2 in general for that matter).

    • How did they lose at Stalingrad? Don’t I remember correctly from history books that Marshal Paulus surrendered together with his army?

      Or do you mean the victory at Stalingrad cost them too many lives?

  4. This article is wrong. I am Russian and I like ice. My grandparents also really enjoy very cold ice cream. My friends love ice cream, the colder, the better. Strange article… Maybe there is simply less icy drinks in Russia because it is only 1-2 months when it’s really hot. Unlike Califronia…

    • First of all, there’s NO icy drinks. NOBODY in Russia keeps and ice try in his freezer, and good luck trying to find an iced drink on the street unless you are in an American restaurant.

      Second, lots of people in the West drink iced drinks in the winter. You need to get out more.

      Third, the article doesn’t say nobody in Russia eats ice cream. The article is about ICE, not ice cream. It mentions ice cream as an extreme example with SOME people.

      Fourth, most Russians have no idea what real ice cream even is. The pallid garbage sold most places in Russia is not worthy of the name.

      You have a knee-jerk neo-Soviet desire to deny that any foreigner knows or understands anything about “mysterious” Russia. Get over yourself.

  5. Larussophobe, I agree with many articles on this website. And I love(d) your website. But sometimes you are over the top. Also, as many foreigners, you think you can be rude when talking to someone with Russian name. Firstly, I think in this article you found some crazy Russians who don’t even like ice cream as an example, this is low quality example. Secondly, I don’t think you get out a lot spending so much time with this blog in fron of your computer. Thirdly, if you go to any modern restaurant in Moscow, I am sure they will have plenty of ice (have you been in Moscow at all in recent 10 years?).

    I agree that ice cream in Russia is often low quality. But don’t tell me your cheap US international brands are of good quality. They are source of obesity and cheap fat, that what they are. What ice cream do you like? Please amuse us.

    I never said anything about “mysterious” Russia. Now I see that you are a crazy nerd who only sits in front of her computer and scans internet, also with some racist problems. I would prefer to spend time with uneducated and stupid Russians than with neo-liberal racist person like you. So long for my respect for this website. I don’t even want to comment on your website any more. Just do your stupid job which you do and I will sometimes check out your website for some nice links. But no more comments from me here. I had enough already. That’s why you have only two types on comments here. Only pro-website or russian “trolls”. Too sad… the reason why? You understand like life a book-worm. Go and try to be rude with some american in real life, the way you are here in virtual world… and sooner or later you will be simply shot by your fellow “freedom loving” “self-respecting” american.

    The only reason you write this shitty articles about ice and Sharapova is because you lack some human qualities in yourself. And I don’t think you are well integrated into your own society. All foreigners who strongly love or strongly hate Russia are usually big losers at home. Just an observation.

    • Umm, OK, but you do realize WE DID NOT WRITE THIS ARTICLE, right?

      A blogger who is never over the top is not a blogger, but a coward. And over the top is in the eye of the beholder.

  6. Why there are two taps in UK? One for cold water, another for hot water? Isn’t it stupid? Why they drive on the left side of the road? Why French eat frogs? Why there are carpets everywhere in the UK? Why americans think guns can protect them when in most cases they die from some junkies with guns? Why US jales are most populated in the world? Maybe because you love ice? This article is extremely stupid…

    • It got not one but TWO comments out of you. We think, for that reason alone, this article is extremely brilliant.

  7. Ok, here is the third comment for you. I am Russian and I LOVE ICE. Get it? Lol.

  8. But I don’t like lemon in my water… you get this lemon all the time when you ask for water. I don’t know why they put lemon in your water… oh, wait, I know, because it makes you want to eat more. Maybe if more people removed lemon from they water, there would be less obese people. Am I superstitious? Nope. Lemon juice stimulates stomach.

    Does the fact that I like ice cream or ice make me non-Russian? I wish. Give me US citizenship please!

  9. Larussophobe, you can actually edit my previous long comment. I did not want to call anyone loser… got too emotional because of your kinda rude comment, but don’t want to be rude myself. Maybe you did not mean to be rude, I dunno, anyway, got too emotional.

    GIVE ME US PASSPORT, I LOVE ICE !

  10. I kind of came across this article by accident, but it fascinated me. I’ve read all the comments, and the last thing I want to do is get in the middle of that fray. What I will do though, is give a comparison of sorts. I’m a born North Dakotan, and our climate is the same as Moscow, a long cold winter with a short hot summer. We do use ice here year round, eat ice cream year round, and believe it or not we’ll drink a cold beer in a heated portable shelter trying to catch fish through three feet of ice. We’ll also drink hot coffee in the summer. So…LOL

  11. Fun article! Came across it by mistake as well.. looking for russian ice cream recipes… but enjoyed reading the whole thing!!
    I am one of the non-ice eaters. Personal preference, I just don’t like things too hot or too cold, but I also don’t wan’t my drinks diluted (watery iced coffee, tea, booze). When they hand me a cup of ice with an ounce of beverage in it, I feel I should be paying for a quarter cup..

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