‘On my first trip to Russia I was surprised by the level of bureaucracy which is still in practice. A really simple exercise like buying a train ticket can become a major operation. It’s not hard to get used to this after a while, although working in Moscow definitely reinforced this impression. Also, women in Russia still have considerably less social freedom than in Western Europe.’
‘Completely different culture from England. Politeness, in shops, bureaucrats’ offices etc, is unheard of, but real friendship is quite easy to come by in comparison with the experience of international students in this country. If you don’t want to drink too much, steel yourself – many Russians really just don’t get the concept of stopping at your limits and will try to get you as leathered as they are. Seriously.’
‘Blend in. It makes getting around very easy.’
provincial Samara attitudes were very much more conservative, especially regarding expectations of young women (and being foreign obviously rendered you even more helpless). I was surprised to find myself having to convince people I was capable of doing stuff, from moving a chair to more significant things…and then felt bad that I was being culturally insensitive or something. For the first time I felt placed into a particular role and set of expectations because of being a girl. In the presence of larger groups of Russians our age, I was always surprised at the apparent lack of interaction between the blokes and girls; the girls tended to be fairly quiet and stick together.’
‘Just be aware of personal safety – especially in smaller towns where people have seen fewer foreigners. It might be worth knowing that travelling is unusual for Russians – especially for a group of females – but don’t let that put you off – we found that people who seemed a little too interested rarely meant any harm. Also beware of drunken men and angry babushkas at all times!!’
For more advice, see the Safety and Security page.
‘I was disappointed by distinctly unfriendly attitude of Russian Orthodox towards me as a Catholic. This may have been bad luck on my part rather than a problem within the Russian Church as a whole (especially as I’ve never had any problems with Orthodox outside Russia).
‘All the hospitality rituals involved after initial acquaintance with any Russian family can be quite overwhelming. The concept of going out for a drink becomes problematised, as many Russian students are completely skint by our standards, and you need to be very sensitive to this.’
‘Do not let them try and give you medicine if you tell them you’re ill. For tonsillitis I was made to eat raw onions soaked in salt, then gargle the most unpleasant combinations of oils, and be forced not to drink for several hours etc. When I went to the doctor, he told me that I probably had dyphtheria (99 percent fatality). Thank God you can buy antibiotics over the counter there, I was better within twenty four hours, no thanks to Russian homeopathic remedies.’
‘In St Petersburg, it was shocking how many times I got asked for sex for money (must be the way I dressed…)’
‘If you’re going to spend time in Russia try to appreciate what a different mindset it is from the West. Be flexible and remember that you’re the foreigner.’
‘Nothing surprises me any more. It surprised me that people normally get married and have children in their early 20s.