Russian Perfume Tester | Crooks and Liars

Came across this telling little video apparently from a recent scene in Saratov, according to the Reddit post, via Telegram. Saratov is a large city and is about 700km southeast of Moscow

And lest anyone think this is simply a gag video from the Internet (which it could well be, admittedly), I’ll remind you that for a time cologne was the number one alcohol consumed in the old Soviet Union just as it was about to collapse. Gorbachev, instituting Perestroika set about restructuring Soviet society, and one of his aims was to combat widespread alcoholism by closing about 80% of the shops that sold alcohol and raising and reraising the price of vodka until it got out of reach for ordinary Russians. With the supply cut off, Russian alcoholics turned to other means. Varnish, insecticide, and cologne being among them.

Ways had to be found to get around the prohibitions, so hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens – perhaps even millions – took to drinking alcohol surrogates. In the Eighties, the most popular were lotions: the two commonest being Cucumber and Rose Water (both 31 per cent alcohol). Colognes were on average stronger, among them the popular Lilac (64 per cent), Carnations (73 per cent), Let’s Go! (75 per cent) and Triple (64 per cent). Triple, nicknamed “The Three Musketeers” or sometimes simply “Dumas”, was also good value: in 1988, a 200ml bottle cost less than a rouble, whereas a bottle of vodka cost 10 times that.

Initially, people drank cologne simply because they did not have enough money to buy vodka, but gradually, it became the “drink of the people”. Varnish, too, was consumed in such large quantities that it became a national drink of sorts. Widely used in factories, undiluted varnish in measures of 100ml to 300ml would constitute a “serving” for one person. Varnish drinkers were colloquially referred to as “aubergines” because their skin acquired a purple hue.

Methylated spirit would often be mixed with other drinks. Insecticides were sprayed from the can directly into a glass of beer, in two or three short bursts. Air fresheners, also in aerosol cans, had to be purified if they were to be consumed in large quantities: a small hole was punched in the can with a nail; 15 minutes later, all the pressurised gas would have escaped, allowing the can to be cut open. The contents would then be left to rest for an hour. After salt and water were added, and the sediment removed, the potion would be ready to drink.

Russian Perfume Tester | Crooks and Liars

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