asked by Anonymous, Paris
Well, I was sure this question will arise very soon.
To answer shortly.... everything depends on the occasion and the type of dinner you are talking about. You have not specified what was the occasion.
In any case, I am sure it was not a simple family dinner...or maybe you were served a special food which requires only vodka as a drink to accompany (yes, it exists!). Was it this? Pelmeni?
Nevertheless, Russians rarely drink vodka during their ordinary dinner...and rarely drink soft drinks while eating.
TRADITIONS & REALITY
It's well known that vodka is a national Russian drink and there are many books and articles dedicated to this subject.
But to a big disappointment of many foreigners visiting Russian flat, they might see a vodka bottle in the fridge, but unless it is a special occasion their Russian friends will not offer to drink it with their ordinary dinner. The maximum you would get will be a bottle (or two) of beer to go as your aperitif. (Sounds not too much Russian but this is the reality)
More that that, it is possible that even water will not be offered. Why? Simply because we don't drink during the meal, but always finish our meal with 1-2-3 cups of hot tea.
But it will be a different case if you are invited to a special occasion dinner. Where a lot of food will be served and people are planning to spend hours and hours at the table.
For example, the fact that Russians drink pure vodka and never mix it with juice or soft drink. Alcohol cocktails are not our favorite drinks.
So for the special occasion dinner you will probably find on the table from the first course till the desert standing side by side the following drinks :
-vodka (for men & women)
-sweet red wine (for women)
-sparkling white wine (Russian version of champagne) (for women and some men)
-cognac /whiskey (for men)
-sweet liqueur (for older women)
-beer (for men & rarely women)
-juice or soda (for children)
Sometimes there will be a sparkling bottled water and if your Russian is good enough you might read on its etiquette that it is a special thermal water for treating digestion problems. Well, that is exactly why it's there and if you look at homemade pictures of Russian special occasion dinners you will understand why you would want a glass of it.
You probably will be surprised to see that people might drink high spirits during the meal as Europeans will drink wine, but at the end of the meal you might not be offered a digestive.
But once again , you have your freedom to stay with your drink.
Just one advise, please make sure you never drink less strong drinks after the stronger ones. This rule is international. Otherwise, don't blame Russian vodka for your head ache the day after.
I hope to write later a special post to Russian eating habits, but for now, just remember that you will be offered a tea at the end of the dinner or even during, but if you want a glass of water, you might just ask for it.