Vodka: More Than Floor Polish


shutterstock_177572543This is the second in an occasional series concerning the role of vodka in Russian life and culture. It is offered primarily for its practical value, and not in the spirit of building bridges of peace and understanding through positive dialogue between peoples, and so forth. In my experience, positive dialogue and greater understanding are likely to lead to more mutual scorn, contempt and low regard, not less.

As I explained in the first post in this series, Russians have a deep and dysfunctional love affair with vodka. To a Russian, vodka is not just an efficient vehicle for delivery of alcohol into the bloodstream: it is an all-purpose tonic for life’s physical and spiritual ills.

But there’s more. Vodka is also the Swiss Army knife of distilled spirits. It is a sort of cross between holy water, peyote, and duct tape. The following is actual folk wisdom from the Russian internet regarding vodka’s many uses. Please understand, I am not claiming that it is good advice. I offer it for entertainment purposes only and make no representations or warranties regarding the safety or effectiveness of these uses. Also, by reading through to the end of this sentence, you agree to waive all claims of liability against me and assume all risk in connection therewith.

The voice inside your head reading what follows  should be that of Michelle Pfeiffer as Katya in The Russia House. I did the best I could with the translation.

Here we go.

  1. It is necessary to consume vodka three times per week in amount of 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. You must administer this dosage in the evening before supper. This will facilitate the cleansing of organism from unnecessary substances. [The dosage here works out to approximately 0.017 fl. oz. per pound. So if you weigh 150 lb, you must drink 68 grams (2.6 fl. oz.) of vodka thrice weekly, as John Kerry might put it. As Russian internet folk wisdom goes, this seems low. But what I love about this advice is its geometric precision. The golden ratio is precisely 1:1 when expressed in metric units. It’s like some kind of universal constant. Except that every other universal constant I know of is an irrational number. Weird. –O]
  2. To lower cholesterol, recommend doctors to consume 20-30 ml. of vodka every day (but not single more drop!).
  3. It is interesting fact. About ten years ago, there was beauty contest in Georgia for women over 90 years old. First place was won (first of all it was judged physical appearance and health status) by woman of 98 years old. In interview, she said that for last 20 years every day she drank 50 grams vodka! Therefore, it follows that moderate consumption of vodka slows down process of aging. [And all this time you thought it was the yogurt. I assume they’re not talking about Macon, Georgia. Also, this seems somewhat at odds with the dosages indicated in the first two items of this list. –O]
  4. To reduce the fever of a child, is important to rub his body with vodka, have him drink some hot tea with raspberry preserves, and go to bed. Fever will go down. This works for adults as well, also.
  5. To get rid of ear ache, put several drops of vodka inside ear, wait several minutes and rinse. Vodka will kill bacteria causing inflammation and pain.
  6. To remove adhesive bandage from wound without pain, is necessary to soak it with vodka; it will dissolve glue.
  7. To clean tile putty in bathrooms and showers, is mandatory to put vodka in spray bottle and spray on surface. Wait exactly five minutes and wipe off. The alcohol in vodka will kill mold, mildew, fungus, and other microbes. Also, if you spray vodka on kitchen faucet with hard water stains on it, then wipe off with dry cloth, your faucet will shine like new.
  8. To clean glasses, is possible to rub them with cloth lightly soaked in vodka. This will clean lens and kill bacteria.
  9. Extend life of shaving razors by soaking them in glass of vodka after using. The vodka will disinfect blade and prevent rust. [All you Harry’s Shave users, take note. –O]
  10. Is possible to spray vodka on vomit stains, rub them with brush, then pat dry. Also, please to apply vodka to stains containing lipids and send garment to cleaners. The stains will vanish without trace. [Like certain comrades did in 1937-1953. On that, please see this awesome book. –O]
  11. Using a piece of cotton soaked in vodka, apply it to your face as astringent; it will cleanse skin and constrict pores.
  12. Is convenient to add small glass of vodka to bottle containing your favorite shampoo. Alcohol will remove toxins from hair and stimulate its growth. Also, shampoo will be more effective if you add 50 ml of vodka to it. This will reduce the oiliness of your hair, improve its growth and cure dandruff.
  13. Fill plastic bag with 1:1 mixture of vodka and water and freeze. Now you have portable ice element; it will rescue you when you go on picnic or to your dacha. You can also use it to relieve pain and get rid of bruises.
  14. Does your kitchen have fruit gnats? Mix 30 ml of vodka, 3-4 drops of dish soap and 400 ml of water. Wipe this mixture around place where you find gnats and they will voluntarily leave your flat.
  15. Fill mayonnaise jar with fresh lavender flowers, cover with vodka, screw on the lid and leave out in the sun for three days. Strain through cheesecloth. The resulting tincture may be used as medicine for the soothing of the joints and muscle pains. [Unclear whether this is for internal or external use. –O]
  16. Create your own mouthwash by mixing ten tablespoons of ground cinnamon in a glass of vodka. Strain, mix with warm water and rinse. Do not swallow.
  17. Vodka can treat and cool burns. It is imperative to apply immediately to skin after a burning. If you do not hesitate, is possible to avoid the appearance of blisters.
  18. Vodka fights unpleasant odor of feet. The reason for odor: bacteria that live near the sweat glands. Morning and evening, wiping feet with vodka, you eliminate bacteria, and no one will “produce” an unpleasant odor.
  19. You go for a visit in the stunning new shoes. But you can barely sit at table: your charming shoes are rubbing strongly. Pour 50 ml. of vodka in each shoe, and after 10-15 minutes the pain subsides.

One quick anecdote relating to all this. The best job I ever had was the one I got right out of college when I was an analyst in a small think tank. My boss and I would go to Moscow, find old communists and army generals, and talk to them about how they planned to blow up the United States during the Cold War. This was in the early 1990s, before the dust from the Soviet collapse had settled, and most of these Russian guys were still dazed and reeling from the events of the preceding few years. Even though they lost the Cold War and their country was on the scrapheap of history, most of these grizzled veterans were extremely proud of what they had achieved. They were more than happy to talk to us, and there was no one around to stop them. My boss did most of the talking; I mostly just tagged along and took notes. But it was incredibly exciting.

On one of these trips, I had a very bad cold. We were sitting in the main Central Committee office building with a tremendous view of the Kremlin and talking with Vitaly Katayev, a rocket scientist who had been a major Communist Party industrialist responsible for the development of a number of strategic missile systems. He was telling us about the development of these systems, then stopped, looked at me with pity and said, “Young man, what you need is 100 grams. We have academicians who study vodka – really study it – and their work proves that it can cure many ailments, including the cold, by opening up cell membranes and improving ionic flow.” He weaved together the fingers of his hands, illustrating the flow of ions through the cell membranes. I took him up on this advice later. I think it helped a little.

There is a slightly chilling epilogue to this story. Katayev eventually ended up at the Hoover Institution, where he wrote about his career in the Soviet missile industry and where he deposited his papers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter Robinson knew him. On one of his trips home to Moscow in 2001, he supposedly fell down a flight of stairs in his apartment building and died. That’s the official story, anyway. I doubt that vodka is of much help where falling down a flight of stairs is concerned.

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  1. Oblomov Member

    Do Russian dogs eat vodka? Only when they are playing poker.

    No, sorry Russian dogs play chess.

    • #31
  2. Grosseteste Thatcher

    A bit tangential, but a professor of mine liked to talk about making vodka from shoe polish and bread when he was in the Soviet army.

    • #32
  3. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.

    Ryan M:Also … I’ve had a horrible hard-water stain on my windshield that won’t go away no matter what I try (ammonia, lemon juice, literally scrubbing it with a cut lemon, etc…). […..]

    Are you sure it isn’t on the inside?   ;D

    • #33
  4. Hank Rhody Contributor
    Hank Rhody


    Son of Spengler:

    iWe: Can you clean for Pesach with Vodka? It evaporates….

    I’m guessing you probably can, because any surfaces used with food will be kashered or covered anyway. Consult your LOR.

    Do Russian dogs eat vodka?

    I thought that the damascene/toledo steel debate between Pseudodyonisius and Percival was going to be something, but this, this flame war I want to watch to the end!

    • #34
  5. Oblomov Member

    Ryan M:Oblomov, I am jealous.

    In college, I studied Russian History. Did Pimsleur, but never made it too far with the language. After college, I applied to 2 programs: Law school, and the Russian and Eastern European Studies Ph.D program at University of Oregon. I was accepted into both, and chose law school (this was the year that I got married) because I felt it held better job prospects. I’m happy enough with my job, of course, though not with my student debt. However, I sometimes wish I had chosen the other route…

    I got really lucky with that job. Right place at right time. I also faced the same choice later and also chose law. In 1996 we were supposed  to be at the end of history, so a Ph.D. in international relations seemed pretty pointless. In retrospect, it probably would have worked out OK. Well… we all make choices.

    • #35
  6. Percival Thatcher

    Grosseteste, the shoe polish was for body, right?

    • #36
  7. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks

    1. I read a biography of Smirnoff, who revolutionized – sorry; comes with the terrain – the sale and production of vodka in Russia. He pioneered advertising in novel ways, sending representatives to small towns to demand Smirnoff vodka; if it wasn’t available, the rep would drink NOTHING. This impressed the locals, as you might imagine. Smirnoff made a quality product that passed the Homer Simpson test – it did not make you blind – and rolled out a big line of flavored vodkas.

    Taxes on vodka were a great source of revenue, but the government suffered one of those transitory spasms of conscience: how can we profit from the suffering of vodka addicts? So they nationalized it, intending to control its use and effect. After a while this turned into guilt over the state’s distribution of an inebriating substance, and it was privatized again. Rinse, repeat.

    2. The most Russian moment I ever had, or will ever have, took place in a dark St. Petersburg bar, where we had Horseradish Vodka and a plate of black bread, lard, and pickles. After fifteen minutes I wanted to run up to a German tank and stuff a grenade down the barrel.

    • #37
  8. Oblomov Member

    James Lileks: The most Russian moment I ever had, or will ever have, took place in a dark St. Petersburg bar, where we had Horseradish Vodka and a plate of black bread, lard, and pickles.

    Yup, that’s pretty much the elemental essence of the place right there. I hope you did not try to understand Russia at that moment. One cannot understand; one can only believe.

    • #38
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