Diseases in Macedonia enter through the throat.
Actually, this doesn't just happen in Macedonia. Diseases enter through the throat throughout the entire Slavic
world, as I’ve found out by talking to some of the other Slavs visiting or studying here. So, for example, letting a kid go out during the winter without a scarf in the Czech Republic is considered
tantamount to child abuse.
Macedonia takes this health mythology one step further, though, and
prescribes throat-based cures. For added Balkanness, pretty much all
the cures involve that omnipresent Balkan brandy, rakija.
Rakija does everything. It’s a drink! It’s a disinfectant! It makes
making julienne fries a lot more enjoyable! And it’s the key to a proper
cold cure here.
So three ways of using rakija I’ve heard so far:
Mix rakija with water and sugar. Heat it up (which is gross–-rakija
is drunk cool or at room temperature) and down it. This custom has been
updated for the modern era with an explanation that fits into the germ
theory of disease. The bacteria supposedly go swarming for the sugar in
your throat. But then the rakija comes through and kills them all off.
This image was delivered to me by a Macedonian over (guess what) shots
of rakija with highly amusing sound effects I wish I could reproduce
Rakija and cold (cold!) beer. Drink one gulp after another from
each. Wake up the next morning cured of all flu/cold/whatever. The
theory here is that the shock of heating rakija and cooling beer to the
throat confuses the germs and they commit suicide from identity angst.
And the old classic, the total favorite approved by babas and dedos
everywhere: pour rakija on a cloth, put some pepper on it (peppercorn
pepper? red pepper? I still don’t know), wrap it around your neck and
go to sleep. You'll wake up the next morning stinking of alcohol, but at least your sinuses will be clear enough that you can tell.
As far as health mythologies go, it can be amusing for an American to hear about these wonder cures. But the fact is that, unless you've gone through medical school or you're spectacularly well-read in the area of human anatomy and metabolism, everyone has ridiculous ideas about how disease works, no matter the culture. The American folk model of disease, in which 'toxins' are 'flushed' or 'neutralized,' is equally inaccurate and equally unlikely to survive empirical testing (and not just 'the test of experience': one of the lessons of the Enlightenment is that experience lies). From that perspective, curing everything with rakija is just another interesting way we tell ourselves stories about our bodies.
And who knows? Maybe double-blind studies will someday uncover a statistically significant advantage to dousing yourself with brandy for recovery from common viruses and infections! It's certainly no less likely than finding out the same about chicken soup.
Originally posted to the blog Polysemic.