One of you asked to what extent Russians actually drink that much, or whether that’s just a stereotype.
Let me try to answer:
Twenty-odd years ago I traveled Russia in my mobile home for about three months, between St. Petersburg and Moscow.
I spent my time with lots of friends, Russians and others, and we all fell into the category of nature loving hippies. Alcohol did not play a role in this at all.
A classical music hippie student from St. Petersburg, living with his mom. We picked him up there, it was a normal suburban single mom flat, and the son was of the quiet type with glasses. Nothing to suggest a history of alcoholism or anything. I was developing a cold, and he told me that he knew the perfect remedy from his mom.
He started: “You get into bed, really warm. Then you need a bottle of vodka infused with lemon and garlic…”
We were already laughing hard at that, somebody said: “Yeah, and then you drink it all!” (more laughter).
He looked at us seriously (and a little hurt) and replied: “No, not all. You drink half of it, then you go to sleep, and the next morning you drink the other half.”
He didn’t understand why this was even funnier to us.
I traveled with only 2 friends, father and son, very serious and intellectual people who rarely drank more than a glass of wine on weekends. They wanted to make a stop to visit some friends/relatives, and bought a bottle of vodka as a present. So far, so normal. We slept in the mobile home and went to visit them in the morning. What threw me was that it was considered equally normal to open the bottle and start drinking right there, at 11 am.
Another thing I noticed is how they made do with very little, adapted what they have to what they need.
I think the hand sanitizer story falls more into that category of inventiveness (or at least they thought they were being real clever and inventive).
For example, one day someone came up to me - the only guy who came with his own car - and asked me to borrow some diesel. Why? because he had a sore throat and wanted to gargle with it. A well-known “home remedy” apparently.
But I’ve also seen positive examples of inventiveness: camping in the forest, we had very little money to buy food for a lot of people - so we just bought rice, onions, salt, some oil. Then they (I wish I could say I joined them) went to pick mushrooms and berries and we made a very decent dish out of all that.
A bottle of vodka was always half a litre back then.