the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

A Toast for Sophia’s Birthday, Russian-Style


Today is Sophia’s birthday.  Most of my fellow blog-acquaintances know how much she means to me.  After all, this blog is 75% about her!  Clearly, she is one of my obsessions.  And why wouldn’t she be?  She’s a real babe.  Above is a childhood photo of Sophia.  She still has the playfulness of a child, only now combined with sexiness of a smart, exciting woman.  She’s taught me how to live it up, how to be assertive, and how to be a better partner.  Look at that smile.  Amazing, right?  And she’s funny, too.  You should read how boring my blog posts are until she gets her hands on them.  Today certainly is a special day for me and everyone who knows Sophia.  It is the day she was born!

I’m going to try to show Sophia a good time today, but it is difficult to compete with a culture that really knows how to party. 

I recently read this great post comparing the way Americans party to the way of Russians.

Americans are boring. They don’t know how to have a good time. Sophistication is often preferred to fun. A typical American wedding, for example, involves prim girls in conservative dresses, guys nursing the same glass of Merlot for several hours while talking to each other about the box score, and a bland choice between chicken or fish. Even a typical evening out is dull – a bar with bad music, or even worse, a lounge where you can “sit and talk.” Bah! If you want to have a good time, you have to hop on the train to Brighton Beach and party with Russians.

Since getting married to Sophia, I’ve gone to quite a few “Russian” celebrations, and I’m usually out of it by the second glass of vodka.  I’m the comic foil at these gatherings, as even the old women laugh at the way I sip the vodka like a glass of chardonnay.

The Russians are a “literary” people, and a birthday event is not JUST about drinking, eating, and dancing.  There is the tradition of “toasting.” 

In the English-speaking world, we might say something like “Cheers,” then drink our beer.   To Russians, only a certified moron would make a toast like that.  A toast is an opportunity to be as elaborate and poetic as possible. 

The first toast is devoted to the occasion, the second toast is usually in honor of the host or the primary person at the gathering (or, sometimes, to friendship), the third toast is typically in honor of women or love. After that, anything goes. You should be prepared to give at least one toast, and “to life, to life, le chaim” will get you only so far. The best topics for a toast include: to our parents’ great wisdom, to a woman’s beauty, to academic prowess, to financial prosperity, to health, and to world peace (especially if foreigners are present).  When you toast, it’s good to have a story. The actual toast doesn’t necessarily have to do anything with the story, as long as the story is sufficiently elaborate. Think along these lines: Once my 95 year old grandfather visited me in Odessa. I took him to the beach, and when he saw the water, he asked me, “what is that?” I told him, “that’s the Black Sea, grandfather.” To which he replied, “and what was there before the revolution?” So, let us raise our glasses so that we may live long enough to annoy our grandchildren with such stupid questions!

One important note:

Don’t drink without toasting, or you’ll be considered an alcoholic.

I’m usually too nervous to toast anyone during the beginning of the meal.  I wait until the serving of the 25th course, when I make the toast in English while Sophia translates.  Unfortunately, unlike on my blog, where I am considered “witty,” my jokes always fall flat.  I often get blank and bemused stares.  Luckily, I’m clever enough to throw it some Russian word at the end of the toast, giving everyone something to cheer about while they drink.

I’m going to make my toast to Sophia later, in person, but feel free to pour yourself a glass of virtual vodka and make a toast in honor of Sophia’s birthday in the comments.


Drink up!

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  Happy Birthday, Sophia


  1. V-Grrrl

    We all know that behind every great blogger is a loved one who wishes the writer would get a REAL life and get the hell off the computer. Sophia is NOT that person (most of the time, at least!)

    Today we raise our glass to the smart and sexy curly-haired Grrrl who inspires, edits, and slaps around our favorite blogger, Neilochka!

    Sophia, are our Blog Supporter Crush of the Day and our Citizen of the Month!

    Happy Birthday!

  2. lizardek

    Grattis pÃ¥ födelsedagen, Sophia! Ha den äran! 🙂

  3. Dagny

    Happy birthday, Sophia! And I will lift a real glass of vodka in your honor later today.

    By the way Neil, the Russian parties sound a lot like parties with my family. Perhaps a former friend, who is Turkish and Italian, was right. She told me that people who are strongly ethnic tend to behave in very similar manners. Well, that was her theory at least.

    So Neil, today you should let go. Don’t wait until the 25th toast. You should at the very least be the second toast.

  4. Lynnster

    Happy Birthday, Sophia!

  5. kristen

    Happy Birthday Sophia! That childhood picture is beautiful, I love the light hand-tint to her lips.

    The very best party I’ve ever been to was a 1st birthday party in Brooklyn’s Little Odessa, starting at 7pm! There were a lot of Russians in my acupuncture school and I was pregnant at the same time as the mama, our daughters born days apart.
    The venue was a famous restaurant but I can’t remember the name and that party was like a wedding reception. The women were in designer gowns, there was a DJ and a singer, games for the babies and bottles of chilling vodka for the grown-ups. Platters of divine smoked fish kept coming to the table and a delicious sit-down dinner for the entire party. There was dancing and singing and a lot of hugging and kissing. We were the only Americans in the room, a lot of people couldn’t even speak English but we were welcomed and embraced like family members.

    I hope that you and Sophia whooped it up for her birthday and at the very least, had a couple of chilled vodka shots!!

  6. susannah

    happy birthday Sophia! Neil, i hope you bought her something *really* fabulous x

  7. plain jane

    Happy Birthday Sophia. May your birthday (and the rest of your life) be a lively, joyful celebration.

  8. Alison

    Happy Birthday, Sophia!

  9. tamarika

    Oh my goodness. What a beautiful child! What a smile! Sophia, that child is still within you – no doubt about it.

    I raise my virtual glass and toast you Sophia, right from my heart to yours, and to all that mischief, intelligence, humor, and passion in those gorgeous eyes.

    Have a wonderfully Happy Birthday! {{{}}}

  10. Killer

    Sophia sounds awesome. You did say you were seperated right? Would it be awkward if I asked her out in a comment to your blog?

  11. Pearl

    Sophia, Sophia,
    that gal with grace
    who keeps Neil Kramer
    from falling flat on his face!
    She’s the one with style
    the one with flare
    the one Neil’s more than happy
    to shlep everywhere.
    From the Adirondack Mountains
    to Albuquerque, New Mex-ico
    from Cantor’s Deli
    to Leah Miller’s musical show.
    Sophia, Sophia
    this poem/toast is for you
    you’re no doubt a hit
    at all that you do.
    Because of using your skill
    at international trans-lation
    you help some actors
    get a standing ovation.
    You were a darling young child
    with a twinkle in your eye
    who grew up to be a sexy lady
    and not a Russian spy.
    I wish you a happy birthday
    lots of “mazel” I send to you
    may you continue to be the classy woman that Neil always turns to.
    A virtual hug
    is coming your way
    from all of Neil’s readers —
    they’re YOUR fans today!

    Happy Birthday, Sophia. And here’s some background music:

  12. Finn

    Ack, such pressure!

    To Sophia, beautiful muse and faithful blog editor…

    May you live long, love well and always be appreciated for all your gifts.

    Happy Birthday!

  13. Mike F

    Happy Birthday Sophia.

    Those large extended families are the best. I think we have lost so much by the fractured social fabric we live in.

  14. ms. sizzle

    Happy Birthday Sophia!

  15. therapydoc

    Vodka, birthdays, Sophia, all in one sentence, ah, here goes: From the Holy land (not Russia, silly) a toast is more than a toast it’s, well, you know it’s a bracha, right? So consider this, a bracha for Sophia, Ad mayah v’esrim, which means until 120, and with good health and hatzlacha (success), and perhaps little ones if it’s at all possible and desirable. H.B., Linda

  16. momentary academic

    Happy Birthday, Sophia!

  17. Danny

    S dniom roždenija, Sophia! Budem zdorovy!

  18. Pearl

    Happy Birthday to Sophia!

    Hope it’s a great one. I toast you (with my whole wheat and PB and banana toasted sandwich)

    Who knew it was coming (except those who look at a year ago in archives as a spoiler I suppose.)

  19. Irina

    Oh you don’t want to get me started on Russian restaurants or toasts… : )

    But a very Happy Birthday to Sophia, and here’s to many, many returns to restaurants, and many more long-winded toasts to come! : )

  20. Joan


  21. wendy

    Happy Birthday Sophia. You make Neil a such a happy man, conflicted, but oh so happy. I wish you many giggles at his expense.

  22. Nance

    I remember reading CotM and wondering if this “Sophia” person was just a literary device used by Neil Kramer to add interest to his blogposts. I couldn’t imagine a scenario wherein a seemingly unemployed man who talks to his penis and blogs sometimes three times a day could maintain such an amicable relationship with a woman like this “Sophia”, an ambitious career gal who had separated from him technically, but obviously not entirely. This ongoing saga is partly what keeps me tuned in. Happy, happy birthday, Sophia! And, as my fellow Croatians would say, with glasses raised, “Zivili!”

  23. teahouseblossom

    Happy birthday to Sophia!! Hope you guys get properly sloshed!

  24. paperback writer

    Happy Birthday Sophia! I shall have a virtual vodka just for you!

  25. Ariel

    At last, an excuse to go and rescue my bottle of [Polish, sorry!} Bison Vodka from the freezer. Many happy returns Sophia!

  26. buzzgirl

    Bon Anniversaire, mes voeux les plus sincère.

  27. Hilly

    Buzzgirl – Now you have me singing that song!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SOPHIA! I will raise many glasses of Vodka in your honor!

  28. Noel

    Nance is entirely correct:

    “I remember reading CotM and wondering if this ‘Sophia’ person was just a literary device used by Neil Kramer to add interest to his blogposts. I couldn’t imagine a scenario wherein a seemingly unemployed man who talks to his penis and blogs sometimes three times a day could maintain such an amicable relationship with a woman like this ‘Sophia’, an ambitious career gal who had separated from him technically, but obviously not entirely”

    But even literary devices have birthdays, and I wish this “Sophia” character a good one.

  29. whoorl

    Happy Birthday Sophia!!

  30. Jennifer

    Happy Birthday Sophia!! I wish you could join us in Alabama tonight; the girls are getting together for movie night and we will be drinking vodka martinis!! We’ll be sure to toast you, the woman in charge of the man!!

  31. psychomom

    Salud Sophia!

  32. Rhea

    Sophia, you seem like an articulate, bright, clean Russian. May your life be always like seltzer — full of fizz.

  33. Ellen Bloom

    Happy Birthday Sophia! I toast you…Nov Shmoz Kapop!

  34. deannie

    Wow, how does one top Pearl?!?

    What a beautiful child who has turned into a lovely woman that charms all who meet her. Happy Birthday Sophia.


  35. better safe than sorry

    happy birthday to your beautiful sophia!

  36. Caron

    The clinking of glasses all over the world, CHEERS! to Sophia on her birthday.

  37. Brooke

    My God, you haven’t changed a bit. Many happy wishes on your birthday.

  38. PocketCT

    Cheers to Sophia!

  39. rdl


  40. nelumbo

    Hope you had a very happy birthday Sophia!

  41. Jocelyn

    С днем рождения, Sophia. Я желаю вам здоровье и счастье

  42. Mariana

    That’s nice, happy birthday to her!

  43. Karl

    Sophia, a very happy birthday to you!

  44. alissa

    Happy Birthday Sophia!

  45. sween

    Crap! I’m late!

    Happy Day After Your Birthday, Sophia! I hope it’s pretty cool too!

  46. sarah

    Happy Birthday, perhaps late now! i’ll have to toast something other than vodka though, sorry. Taste aversion from earlier escapades!

  47. Jazz

    Happy Birthday Sophia! I’ll lift a glass of vodka to you tonight.

  48. Not Faint Hearted

    Sophia, your smile is still as bright as when you were little. Your heart is even bigger. May you always find the time to do the things you love, the money to do them and the friends to do them with. Have a wonderful year. Happy Birthday!

  49. EEK

    Happy Birthday, Sophia! I won’t even attempt something witty until I get a chance to consume a little more of this internet vodka.

  50. Leslie

    Happy Birthday! May today and all days be filled with love and laughter!

  51. Churlita

    I’m Irish, so our toasts, are usually inapporpriate and contain lots of swears. I’ll take a stab at it, though…


    You were adorable when you were little, but now you’re even cuter and totally hot. That is so f@#*ing unfair. I’m so jealous. Ah, hell…See what I mean?

    How about, Happy Birthday Sophia! Woohoo!

  52. Bre

    Happy (belated) birthday, Sophia!

  53. kapgar

    Happy birthday, Sophia! Oh yeah, check, that… Happy belated birthday. My bad. I’m behind.

  54. Javacurls

    Happy Belated Birthday Sophia!

    Russian celebrations sound like a blast but have you ever celebrated with Puerto Ricans? Mix up a good dose of Salsa music, dancing till the wee hours, Rum, and fun, loving people and you’ve got yourself the best night! Just a thought for next year’s birthday celebration. 😉

  55. Jurgen Nation

    I miss ONE DAY of blog reading and I end up missing the chance to tell Sophia Happy Birthday. Goddammit.


    Happy (Belated) Birthday, Sophia!!

  56. AscenderRisesAbove

    awwww I missed it. Would she rather a belated greeting for this year; or an early one for next year?
    Happy birthday Sophia; may the heavens rain blessings all over you.

  57. Edgy Mama

    Happy Birthday, Sophia!

    Sorry I’m a day late.

    You look great as a Vodka label!

  58. Karla

    I’ll go one step better. Along with a toast of the virtual vodka, I’m going to do a line of virtual blow for Sophia as well. Cheers, and Happy Sophia Day!

  59. Mo

    Sophia! I’m sorry I missed your birthday, but the great thing about getting older is that you get more days to celebrate, so hopefully I’m not too late. You are a gorgeous woman with a hell of a smile. I really enjoyed talking with you on VDay. I felt really honored to catch you on your surprise hosting duty! You have such a special something about you, I can see why Neil is so entranced by you. Your sparkly energy, wit and super sexyness shine through.

  60. NSC


    I am so very sorry I missed your birthday. I have no excuse except I am a total loser of course and can only beg a forgiveness that is undeserved.

    My best wishes of course.

    Your Tennessee Fan,


  61. BA

    So sorry I was busy when this post went up and didn’t see it on time! Happy Belated Birthday Sophia!!!

  62. Judith

    Happy Birthday Sophia~
    I have a friend now named Seltzer – his heritage is Russian – When his father came to America they changed his original name to Seltzer saying Seltzer sounded like the original name. Do you know of a name or names from Russia that sound like Seltzer.. Please?

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