Sure, we’ve all seen hundreds of memes and videos about Russia, Russians and their cray-cray ways. But there’s a lot more to the country than just the colourful domes of the Kremlin and vodka. It is a huge and varied land with surprisingly warm people and natural beauty that will leave even the most experienced traveller spell-bound. Just take the Trans-Siberian Railway for said spell binding. But we’re not here to talk about that in detail. We’re here to talk about some social faux pas you shouldn’t commit and some rules you should observe religiously so that you don’t get into embarrassing situations or into trouble with the law. To ensure your trip to Mother Russia goes smoothly, make sure to avoid these situations or actions. Do not;
1. Drink booze on a street
We know, there are tonnes of videos that show Russians drinking beer like Pepsi in parks and other public areas, but it is now prohibited by law. Actually, you can only drink alcohol at home or in licenced joints. Beer is allowed in some cinemas and mall food courts, but only if you buy it there. The fine for drinking alcohol in a public place ranges from 500 rubles (Rs.640) to 1,500 rubles (Rs.1,840).
2. Smoke in a hotel or restaurant
Yep. Another stereotype about Russian public etiquette busted. Several years ago one could smoke almost everywhere; in airports, cafés, trains. Everywhere. But now you can only smoke in the street, in your own car, and in special smoking rooms (“kurilka” in Russian). The fine for smoking in these places is also 500 to 1,500 rubles. And don’t forget, in Russia you can only smoke tobacco. Avoid the green stuff unless you also want to tour a Russian Gulag.
3. Leave your passport in your hotel room
In Russia, any policeman can stop and check your ID or passport. Police have the right to hold a person (not only foreigners) for three hours to establish their identity. Remember to be polite with the police. They may seem gruff, but Russian cops are mostly trustworthy and no nonsense.
4. Try to beat a Russian at drinking
Eh. Here’s a stereotype that still kind of holds true. If there are two peoples in the world one should never challenge to a drink off, it is the Irish and of course, the Russians. When you go to a party, remember that according to Russian tradition, you don’t get to eat after the first glass of vodka and there’s no break between the first and second glass. The third glass usually goes down soon after the second. If you’re late for the party, Russians can make you drink a “penalty” glass. Long story short, don’t compete with Russians at drinking! Party at your own pace, eat a lot of food and stay hydrated.
5. Sit on public transport while a senior is standing
This is an unwritten rule around the world, and Russia is no different. It’s common practice to give up a seat for a senior person or pregnant woman. Actually, some Russian men don’t sit if a woman is standing nearby. Respect.
6. Buy a phone from the street
Unfortunately, petty thievery is a reality in most Russian cities. So if somebody offers you a new iPhone on a street, maybe they really need some money, but most likely they’re trying to scam you by flogging a stolen device. If you want to buy a phone, visit an official mobile shop.
7. Change money outside a bank
It’s the same thing with money. There’s no guarantee the money will be real if you don’t go through an official channel. Fake currency is a real problem there and if you use a back office in a street you might end up holding a load of duds. If you don’t go to the bank, hotels will change money but the rates might be a little higher.
8. Smile too much at strangers
I know. This one is a little weird. However, Russians only tend to smile to their close acquaintances and may feel uncomfortable if a stranger smiles at them. So keep those pearly whites hidden unless you really know someone well.
A toast to Mother Russia. And happy trails!