You may find plenty of tips on visiting Russia online but lots of them just repeat the same basic things and sound like a carbon copy from one source. Besides, times moved on and some of these things are no longer valid.
If you are looking for some sound advice on travel to Russia to see your online girlfriend or prospective bride, check out the points below first.
20 things to never do in Russia
Practical tips for visitors of the Russian Federation may sometimes sound as a joke, but let me assure you all these things are pretty serious. The best thing you can do in a country like Russia is to try to blend in. Which is not easy: Usually foreigners stand out like sore thumbs. Thus, outsiders could become straightforward targets for swindlers of all types (for example, pickpocketers), as well as general checks by the local law enforcement officers. Such encounters with officials are a challenge unless you speak the local dialect fluently.
Blending in will allow you more privacy and security. Besides, it is the greatest compliment for a foreigner to be told, “You look just like a Russian!” It means you have been accepted by locals.
1. Stop smiling
Smiling is a dead giveaway pointing to the fact you are a foreign tourist. (Expats quickly learn to subdue smiles.)
- Westerners casually smile to officials and anyone they meet eyes with.
- Russians do not smile and look away.
- If you want to blend in, stop looking at people and keep a sombre expression on the face.
A Russian proverb states, “Smiling without a reason is a sign of idiocy.” If you don’t want to be taken for a fool, do not grin. And be mindful of smiling at public places of worship, monuments, or graveyards in Russia. It is certainly a taboo and could be seen as extremely rude and insensitive.
2. Do not wear T-Shirts with foreign flags or symbols
Anything that shows an alliance with your country may not be advisable in the streets of Moscow or St. Petersburg, if you want to fit in. (Yes, you may see some people in T-Shirts and jackets bearing foreign symbols. But these guys and girls are Russians: It’s stamped all over their faces and nobody will confuse them for foreigners. They speak fluent Russian as well and you do not.) By the same token, don’t walk around in T-Shirts you bought in local souvenir shops, if you aren’t keen for people around to decipher you are a foreign tourist.
Russian politics tend to be inconsistent in recent years: Who is an ally today could be seen as an enemy tomorrow; swings of 180 degrees happen all the time. Rather stay clear of any potentially political statements visually (and verbally).
So, simply wear inconspicuous attire: Best opt for shirts by known European brands. Watch some latest news videos from Moscow by RT (Russia Today); they have a YouTube channel as well. If you are buying clothing specially for your visit, pick similar styles the majority of people in the streets wear. Since fashion changes quickly, what is recommended today may look strange the next year. So, see the news and decide how to dress.
In general, people in Russia tend to dress up. If you went for a “smart casual” look, most likely, you would fit in.
3. Don’t forget to download a translation app
This will be a life saver. It makes life so much easier anywhere, from taxis to supermarkets. You will be able to communicate without problems with people who don’t speak English by using the app.
4. Do not sit in public transport
Russian public transport is typically overcrowded. Besides, as a male you are required to offer your seat (stand up and make an inviting gesture) to any female walking in, as well as seniors, pregnant women, disabled, children, parents with kids, etc. If you want to show off in front of your girlfriend, go ahead and sit down, then jump up when someone from the eligible category walks in. Otherwise, it’s simpler to walk to the back of the carriage and stand there.
5. Don’t criticize anything Russian
Say only positive things about Russia, even if your hosts complain about realities of their country non-stop. They live there, so they are allowed to whine. You are an outsider, and for you it will be an unforgivable sin. Rather share with the locals what you enjoy about Russia—there are plenty of things to admire. They will love you for that.
6. Never visit empty-handed
A visitor is supposed to bring a “guest-offering” (“gostinets” in Russian, from the word “gosti”—guests). A bottle of wine or liquor, boxed candies or cake will do. The more men are in the company you visit, the stronger should be the alcohol. If you are visiting a private home, flowers for the hostess are also appropriate.
So, to be seen as a good guest, get the following:
- A bunch of blooms for the hostess (uneven number of stems such as 3, 5, 7, 9 etc.—even numbers are used for funerals only)
- Boxed chocolates
- A bottle of alcohol
It won’t cost you a lot but you will surely get the nod of approval from everyone in the family, juniors to seniors.
- The more valuable is the connection, the higher the value of goods should be.
- For the family of your one-and-only you should also bring non-edible gifts such as perfumes for adults (male or female scents), toys or sweets for kids.
- You can present a souvenir from your country (city) but it’s not compulsory and it cannot replace gifts.
7. Don’t attempt to drink like Russians
The locals have extensive training in consuming insurmountable amounts of spirits. Unless you gulp a couple of bottles of vodka twice a week and wake up the next morning without a headache and exuding the energy enough to light the Moon, avoid drinking sessions with Russian men.
If you got invited to a festive table and cannot get away, bring up some explanation why you are unable to join the drinking club today (medical or religious reasons will work). Once you witness such an event while being sober, you will have a better understanding why it’s never a good idea to try to keep up with Russian guys consuming alcohol.
There is an old joke about a foreigner caught in such a situation.
Friday: Went to drink with Russians. Nearly died.
Saturday: Woke up late in the afternoon. Wish I died yesterday.
8. Don’t eat before visiting a home
- If the hosts know about your visit, they are preparing a giant feast that would feed a family of 4 for a month.
- You will be expected to try every dish on the table, at least get a taste.
- There will be hot dishes coming after the initial plethora of salads, snacks, and antipasti selections. Make sure you leave some space for later.
- The best is to put food on your plate by yourself and only take a small portion to taste. You can add more if you like it. But some things may taste rather unusual.
- If you had enough to eat, keep some food on your plate or someone will constantly attempt to replenish it for you.
If the hosts do not know about your visit (for example, a friend invites you to come to his place without prior arrangements), then everything that is in the fridge will be on the table, plus someone will do a run to a local supermarket to buy additional meats, cheeses, etc. Don’t worry about it, they enjoy feeding a guest.
Visiting on a spur of the moment is a typical Russian style of gathering with family and friends. No one is surprised to welcome an unexpected guest to their home if he is brought by a friend (whose visit also wasn’t planned). The more people the merrier.
9. Never wear shoes in a private home
If you are invited to a private home, shoes are to be taken off immediately once you step inside. Usually the hosts offer a pair of slippers to a guest but they won’t mind if you walk around in socks. You can also bring your own pair of slippers to wear indoors or use a pair of thick socks for this purpose (as they do during long-distance airplane flights). Socks are probably easier, as these can be stored in a pocket in a small plastic bag.
10. Don’t sit on the floor
Any floor surfaces such as grass, stairs or pavement are considered too dirty to sit on. Even indoors sitting on a carpeted floor will be viewed as weird. However, summer picnics in parks and on river banks are very popular. People bring a blanket to sit on.
11. No shoes on seats ever
For the same reason shoes on seats are considered a taboo in Russia: The floors you walk on are “unhygienic”. This is why in hospitals they give you special overalls for shoes and require to wear a sterile gown over your clothing if you are visiting a sick relative, to avoid outside germs.
12. No outdoor clothing indoors
Warm clothing such as jackets and hats are not supposed to be worn indoors (the same reason: perceived germs and dirt), no matter how cool is the temperature inside the building. Hats in particular should never be worn inside by a male (females are OK to wear head covering items). Most places have cloak rooms where you leave your gear in exchange to a token with a number, to collect it later. Don’t leave anything of value in the pockets though.
Also, find out what time the cloak room closes. You need to collect your items before the attendant finishes her shift and goes home. Some places such as restaurants may allow you to stay past the advertised working hours: Russians won’t cut off a good party. But the cloak room attendant may leave, with your gear hanging unattended, which could cause it disappear within minutes. It is acceptable to put your packable jacket in a bag and carry it with you.
13. No whistling
In particular, no whistling inside private homes for any reason. There is an old superstition that it would cause all the money to be “whistled out of the house”. Whistling in Russia is used to specify unhappiness: For example, with a judges’ decision during a sporting event. Whistling as a sign of approval is not practiced.
14. No communication over the door threshold
Before you start talking or shaking hands, one of you should walk in or out. Normally the host invites you in. However, it is also acceptable for a host to walk out to chat to you in the hall. Russians believe that talking or shaking hands over a threshold would also make both parties lose their wealth.
There are many more superstitions that Russians abide by (too many to be included here).
15. Don’t sing indoors solo in the morning
Somehow it is connected with a man’s drinking too much when he is married. Singing at a celebratory table in a group of friends, however, is permissible and encouraged. So, forget about singing in the shower in the mornings while you are in Russia.
16. Don’t accept an offer the first time
In Russia a polite guest will only agree to accept a kind proposal or gift when offered it for the third time. If the proposal seems a bit too much, the person may be simply expecting you to reject it. Even on the second time the proposal still may not be for real. Only the third offering is considered true. This is the reason why Russians do not take “No” for an answer and keep proposing the same thing even if you have already given them a negative response.
Complimenting your host’s belongings may cause a problem: The person may insists on giving it to you as a gift. Find an excuse why this is not required: You may already own a similar item, for instance.
Be especially careful with kind offers when people have been drinking. Citizens of Russia see pleasing a visitor as their responsibility and highest honour. They may propose some extremely strange things when being slightly over the limit and thinking it would delight you.
17. Don’t forget to learn a few Russian phrases
You are unlikely to pronounce it 100% correctly and there is no chance to fool anyone with your knowledge. But it will score you major points with Russian women and men alike.
Go to Google Translate and enter some general phrases you’d like to know how to say. There is a button to listen to audio. Learning 10-15 phrases would give you enough to get by. As a bonus, your girlfriend is going to laugh hysterically every time you attempt to speak in her language. What do they say about a man making a woman laugh? He is half way there…
18. Don’t go to a date without flowers for the lady
The first time you meet your online girlfriend, you must bring flowers. It’s not optional. Whether you are meeting her at the airport or somewhere else, the man is supposed to bring pretty blooms on the first date. Otherwise, you will be seen as rude, ill-mannered, having no regard or care for her at all. Even if it’s your getting off the plane and her picking you up!
Russians have this peculiar “flower-based dating culture”. The initial phase of a man courting a lady is officially called “the period of bouquets and candies”.
To make it easier on yourself, you can present her with a bouquet made of candies. (Pop wrapped chocolates on the ends of sticks and arrange like a bouquet in a vase or jar filled with the foam that florists use.) Or buy some “chocolate flowers”, they sell plenty of them for Valentine’s or Mother’s Day.
19. Don’t offer a woman to split the bill
Unless, of course, you want to get rid of her forever but don’t know how. Russian men still pay for dates: Meals, activities, as well as they bring flowers and gifts. Just like guys were doing in America or UK in 1950s.
20. Do not leave her behind
You are supposed to hold doors for her and offer your hand when she gets out of a car, bus, or train. If you just walk away and do not offer her your hand to hold on, she will think you have no manners and won’t make a good partner.
As you walk around together, offer her your elbow to hang on (“take under arm” or “pod ruchku” as it sounds in Russian). Since Russian women love wearing high heels, especially on a date with a nice man, they indeed require support in conquering icy or slippery streets and stairs.
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