Published 15th July 2021

The Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia

With the world slowly opening up again, many countries are preparing for tourists’ visits. Simultaneously, people are packing their bags and looking for places to go. The thought of travelling to Russia has attracted tourists for centuries because of its rich history and culture; however, Russia is so different from Europe that tourists often feel the need for guidance on adjusting to such an environment. Even with that, they may still develop love-hate relationships with this country.

Travel Reddit is full of informative posts with guidance on what not to do or how to prepare for such a country. From learning Cyrillic to training your body for constant vodka consumption, you can do a lot to prepare for your trip. We think that Russia is an extraordinary place. Some things are different, so tourists should be cautious about them; nevertheless, there are aspects you will love about this country. In the hopes of clearing some miscommunications and explaining a little bit more about Russian culture, we will share the genuine experience tourists had in Russia with our commentary.

Public transportation is great.

Public transportation in Russia was quite good. The metro is awesome. […] You’ll have no problem at all finding your way around the cities.

Reddit user: “eastindywalrus”

Russia takes pride in its transportation. Many finances go to cleaning up the streets, metro, and buses to ensure the comfortability of the citizens. Since most citizens prefer public transport over cars, cities assure that it works like a clock. Russian metro deserves separate mentioning. The floors pierced with patterns hypnotize every newcomer, while the walls shine even in the darkest corners. The reason why the Russian metro is so mesmerizing – the government built it as a testament to Stalinism. Many stations are dedicated to famous authors and politicians while being decorated with marble and mosaics.

If you have a problem, and you smile, you are perceived as dumb.

Normally when in a sticky situation abroad you’d just smile to show you have no bad intentions. In Russia smiling means you’re dumb. So this doesn’t always work.

Reddit user: “DSteemers”

This is in fact not true nowadays. It is an old misconception that if you smile after making a mistake, it is a sign of you not understanding the seriousness of your actions. Nowadays, Russians do not believe in that anymore, and if you do encounter somebody assuming badly of you, it tells more about that person than you. In big cities, you will rarely find somebody thinking badly of you for smiling.

Russia is racist, sexist and homophobic.

Important disclaimer: I’m a tall, white, heterosexual male. Most Russians I’ve spoken to didn’t realize I wasn’t Russian until I opened my mouth. LGBT travellers and non-white travellers will want to be more careful than I typically have been. As a whole, I think for female travellers outside of those categories (so, white women), Moscow or St. Petersburg might not be too bad, but do note that attitudes toward sexual harassment in Russia are not quite like those in other parts of the world today.

Reddit user: “jeyforjey”

Unfortunately, Russia is indeed not as progressive as some other countries in the case of equality. Russia is a homogenous, traditional, and religious society. Nevertheless, while rural areas may exert some negativity towards foreigners, most of the time, they are more curious than aggressive. Big cities are more progressive and used to tourism, so it is unlikely to encounter somebody reacting negatively towards you. While Russia is more tolerable towards women and people of a different race (nobody will attack you because of it), we would advise members of LGBTQ+ to be careful. Even though LGBTQ+ communities exist in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, there is still a significant struggle for people to become accepted by society.

Read more: Top TEFL Destinations for LGBTQ+ Teachers

People will not help you.

Anything would always go wrong and you can’t count on people to help you out.

Reddit user: “DisinfectedShithouse”

It is unpolite for a Russian to offer help if nobody asked them for it. Offering to help is often interpreted as being too engaged in somebody else’s business, so many choose to ignore a person, even if they see that somebody is in trouble. However, if you deliberately ask for help, most of the Russians will be eager to answer. They are very welcoming and warm people, but they need to know that you require assistance.

Russians are cold.

I did feel the Russian ‘standoffishness’ quite strongly and felt quite socially isolated while travelling in Russia (for 2 weeks). True, some people were very warm and friendly (mostly outside Moscow and StP to be honest), but I generally got a sense of coldness from most people I encountered. 

Reddit user unknown

This misunderstanding comes from the fact that Russians are very reserved people. To be polite, they do not need to smile to show their involvement in somebody else’s life. Their mentality centres around the idea, “You have your life, I have mine. We don’t touch each other unless you need something from me.” Tourists often misinterpret the lack of smile as the coldness of the heart; nevertheless, it is wrong. Russians smile with their friends and close acquaintances. They laugh and chat when they have a deeper connection with an interlocutor. That is why you should not take their lack of smile as a bad sign. They simply don’t know you yet.

Russians drink a lot of vodka.

Drink lots of vodka.

Reddit user: “Artscyents”

Russians always laugh when they get asked about how much vodka they drink. Even though Russia was at some point centred around vodka, this time has passed. We don’t say that alcoholism is not a problem in Russia, but vodka is not a preferred drink among the majority. Though, people often use it to warm up in the colder regions of the country, where there is a danger of freezing to death.

There are not a lot of people who speak English, so learn Cyrillic

Learn how to read the Cyrillic alphabet, it helps immeasurably

Reddit user: “gypsyblue”

It will seriously only take like 20 minutes of your time and then a bit of practice, and the payoff is significant. Russian has many cognates with Romance and Germanic languages (including English) so once you can read the letters, you will be able to decipher more words than you think. Plus you’ll be able to read street signs, bus schedules, the names of stops etc. Cyrillic is SO helpful.

Reddit user: “Artscyents”

English is not a common language in Russia. In the centre of the city, you may find some people who speak it, but, in general, you should be prepared to use Google translate. As the Reddit user mentioned above, Cyrillic can help you understand the names of the streets, but metro stations always duplicate their names in English, so you should not worry about missing your station.

You will be arrested without a passport.

Keep your passport on your person at all times. It’s the law, and they’ll arrest you if you don’t.

Reddit user: “Gypsyblue”

A passport is not a necessity in Russia. You are not going to get arrested if you don’t have one on you. However, if you want to get a drink or get into a bar, it is better to have something to identify yourself. So no, you will not get arrested for not having it, but it is better to have it just in case.

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