10 DOs and DON’Ts in Russia

Posted on March 30th, 2012

Dos and don'ts in RussiaAre you planning on visiting a Russian speaking country soon? Here are a few tips to help you make the best possible impression while making friends in Russia. Some of these tips may seem very obvious to you, but I just wanted to emphasize that these things play a very important role in the everyday Russian life. Let’s start with dos. 

DOs:

You Need to Know What «Тапочки» Is

Тапочки are a pair of slippers. One slipper is один тапочек [TA-pa-cheyk], два тапочка [DVA TA-pach-ka] two slippers, and slippers are тапочки [TA-pach-kee]. Why do you need to know this? Because when you are invited to a Russian home (which is usually a tiny apartment with freshly swept and cleaned floors covered with rugs and runner rugs) you will be expected to take your shoes off and might be offered a pair of тапочки. Of course, you can bring your own pair of тапочки with you. If you are invited for a celebration or a dinner party at someone’s home, you might notice women wearing fancy high heeled shoes that they brought with them, but it’s highly unlikely that you see anyone wearing their dirty boots inside.

Bring a Little Gift with You

Russian GiftWhether it’s a souvenir, a bottle of wine or a box chocolates, a little something is always better then nothing. Russians are very hospitable and thoughtful. The thing is that your Russian friends will most likely spend quite a few doubloons on preparing a meal and trying to make their guests happy. Often we buy expensive yummy things for our guests that we don’t usually buy for ourselves. If you are visiting a lady, a bunch of flowers and a box of chocolates would work wonders! A little tip: always give an odd number of flowers (1,3,5,7,9, etc.), even number of flowers is only given at funerals (2,4,6,8, etc.).

Be Prepared to Be Fed Big Time!

Love food? Very good! Russians love to feed. We love cooking and baking for our guests. If celebrated at home, Birthday celebration preparation may take all day, which is very exhausting, on one hand, but very satisfying on another. We love making our guests happy, and we want for them to be well-fed and have a great time. So, don’t be surprised if you are offered food leftovers when you are leaving. A good example would be, cake leftovers after a Birthday party. Just say “спасибо большое” and enjoy!

Be Hospitable

Russians usually are very friendly and hospitable, they enjoy having guests over and they enjoy being guests. This means that you always need to be prepared to have guests over, just in case if your Russian friends decide to pop by unexpectedly. Some of Russian favourite treats would be sweets, biscuits, or maybe something baked, like a pie or a cake and tea. Don’t worry about baking cakes every day (unless you really enjoy it, of course!), just make sure to have some chocolates, biscuits or Russian gingerbread that you can get a local supermarket.

Use “Вы” Instead of “Ты” in Russian

As you know, there are two forms of personal pronoun “you” in Russian: polite and formal form – “вы” and informal form – “ты”. Always use polite form “вы” with Russians that you don’t know, especially if they are older then you are, unless they initiate to use form “ты” with you. By addressing someone by “вы” you show that you respect them. And on the contrary, addressing strangers by “ты” may come across as very impolite and offensive, even if you didn’t mean it.

DON’Ts: 

You might be considered rich in RussiaDon’t Be Surprised if Your Friends Think You are Rich

If you are visiting Russia, your Russian friends may think of you as a rich person, just because you come from another country. This is especially true about Russians who have never travelled abroad, or have never talked to a foreigner before. It is generally considered that foreigners are wealthier than Russians and it’s very easy for them to afford to buy expensive things such as cars and houses. Some Russians still believe what they see on the TV shows and movies (especially older generations). Of course, soap operas and TV shows are far from reality, so please don’t be surprised if your friends will think you are rich. Often your Russian friends would not know that you have a car loan, a mortgage and are juggling several credit cards to pay your bills.

Don’t Expect for People to Smile Back at You

Russians love a good laugh, but don’t expect us to smile at a stranger. If you smile at a passer by in the street and she doesn’t smile back at you, please don’t take it personally, and don’t think of her as being rude and cold. The truth is that it’s not generally accepted to smile or talk to strangers in Russia, especially in big cities. Even if we don’t stretch our lips into a smile a lot, even on photos, we do form very strong bonds and close friendships. Once we get to know you a little better, we will certainly smile more in your company.

Don’t Underdress

Russians like dressing up, whether it’s for school, work or just a walk in a park. Often at University you will see guys and girls wearing casual business attire: shirts and slacks or even suits. Also, it’s a Russian tradition to dress up for a test and bring a gift or flowers to the teacher. You will notice that Russian women dress up for any occasion, we like looking pretty, this is why it takes us as long as it does to get ready. A tip: if you are going out with your Russian friends, make sure to check the dress code with them, just in case if you are going to a fancy restaurant.

Don’t Allow Women to Carry Heavy Items

Help Russian women with heavy itemsIf you went shopping with a lady, don’t allow her to carry a heavy shopping bag, do offer to help, especially if she has to go up the stairs all the way to the 9th floor because the lift is broken (which, you will notice happens rather often…). Allowing a woman carry heavy items without offering to help is considered rude and impolite. Yes, we believe that men are stronger and they should be taking care of women.

Don’t Forget to Offer a Seat in Public Transport

You will have to take public transport a lot in Russia. Whether you are taking a bus, a route taxi, a trolley-bus, or a tram, you will need to make sure to offer a seat to an elderly person or a woman, especially if she is holding a child. Not offering a seat in these circumstances is considered very rude and impolite.

I hope you found these tips useful. Have you ever been in any of these situations? Do you have tips of your own? You can share your own experience by leaving a comment below.

Have fun learning Russian,

Viktoria.

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