As Churchill famously quipped, “Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
Russia, even in the 21st century, boggles the mind of many westerners. It is a unique country, nestled between Europe and Asia, with its own unique culture and form of government.
If you’re going to Russia, you need to avoid making certain mistakes. This is not only for your safety and sanity, but also to enjoy your trip even more. Here are 5 mistakes to avoid while in Russia.
Not Learning Russian
If you’re expecting to get by in Russia with English only, you’re in for rude awakening. English penetration is low in Russia relative to most European countries. In St. Petersburg and Moscow, you will certainly meet some English speakers, but it is not too common.
Without Russian you can expect to get scammed and disrespected. Even simple tasks like ordering food can be difficult, as not only will the staff likely speak only Russian, but menus will be in Cyrillic.
If you’re looking to learn Russian, I highly recommend Rocket Russian.
Disrespecting the Police
Police in former Soviet countries are known for their corruption, brutality and lack of empathy. Do not expect to be treated politely as a tourist.
This isn’t meant to scare you. In fact, you will not likely even interact with police on your trip (Hopefully). That said, if a police officer instructs you to do something, such as presenting your passport/visa, do so. Refusing to do so will make matters unpleasant.
There are not ubiquitous lawyers in Russia looking to take on a police brutality case, nor will NGO’s be at your beck and call. Bite your tongue and be gracious so you can be on your merry way.
Thinking the Women Just Want a Green Card
After the fall of the Soviet Union, many women sought to escape rising crime rates and a diminished standard of living. One route women sought was to find western men whom they could marry and then become a resident of that country. Oftentimes they’d divorce the man, and keep the benefits of residency, plus more.
These days, “foreign brides” in Russia is much less common. The economic situation i nRussia has improved dramatically under Vladimir Putin. Living standards in Moscow and St. Petersburg are on par with most European cities. The women you meet will likely have good-paying (for Russian standards) white-collar jobs and don’t need a man to sponsor them.
Of course, there are plenty of Russian women who do want your money and nothing else, but it is a small minority. ..
Criticizing Russian Values, and Embracing Western Ones
Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has reverted to embracing many traditional ideals namely those put forth by the Orthodox Church. This is in stark contrast to western countries that have embraced things like abortion, gay rights and hyper sexuality. This is not to say that people have no fun in Russia—no, not at all.
Russia is a really fun country with great nightlife and parties. The difference is that there is behavior that is appropriate in the public forum and then behavior that is conducted in the privacy of ones home, night club, or internet chatroom.
In general, avoid political protests and conversations about the government. You won’t likely have an issue, but just as it is the case when dealing with the police, you’re only putting yourself in the path of needed trouble.
Staying on the Tourist Trail
Russia sites, from Cathedrals to the Kremlin are iconic. I’m sure you already know which sites you want to visit before arriving. That said, you should indeed make an effort to get off the tourist trail. This is not only so you can explore different sites and see the “real Russia”, but also for economic reasons.
The Russian ruble has taken a big hit in recent years. Your euros and US dollars will go a long way. Use this to your advantage by getting off the tourist trail where many goods, services hotels etc. are tied to the euro. This means you will get less bang for your buck as the prices have changed little.
Well, there you have it. 5 mistakes to avoid while in Russia to make your trip much more pleasant.