Survival tips for foreigners in Russia

Today we offer you a collection of funny and serious survival tips for foreigners in Russia which we gathered some time ago all over the internet and completed with our own experience.

Survival tips for foreigners in Russia

We hope that this information, besides making you smile, can come in handy during your next trip to Russia or when dealing with your Russian friends or colleagues.

Not smiley does not mean not friendly

Contrary to the general impression, Russians are not gloomy and rough, and certainly not evil. As you might have heard, in Russia, it’s not common to smile at strangers. There are many reasons for that, historical and cultural. However, the younger generations of Russians, especially those who travelled, are more inclined to be smiley.

In any case, you can see that Russians are actually very smiley and welcoming after you become closer with them.

A bit of Russian can help a lot

Not many Russian people speak English (although the younger generation does it better), but they are always happy to communicate with foreigners. They especially like to teach them their language. Make sure to learn at least a few basic Russian phrases to break the language barrier.

Take the invitations seriously

If you are invited to somebody’s house, do not plan anything for the evening. You will be there for a long time. You can consider yourself accepted in Russian society, if you are sitting late at night in a Russian kitchen with food, drinks and philosophical talks. Be prepared for long and deep personal conversations. 🙂

Get used to wearing “tapochkee”

The floors in Russian apartments are usually cold, so every family member has his own home shoes, “tapochkee”. Most of the times, there are a few spare pairs for guests as well. On the other hand, if you were not offered the “tapochkee”, maybe it’s a bad sign and you are not really welcome.

Do not come empty-handed

If you are invited to somebody’s house, bring with you some chocolates, flowers or a bottle of alcohol.

Also never refuse an invitation to visit people in their house or at the “dacha”. You really get to know people while visiting them in their house.

Try to get invited to the dacha

Lucky to have a dacha (summer cottage) Russians go there every time they can. At the dacha, Russians grow potatoes and other vegetables and fruits. Another favorite thing to do at the dacha is “shashlyk” (barbecue). While men prepare the meat, women cut salads.

Spending time at the dacha is one of the biggest pleasures for many Russians who have it. In the recent years, people started building cottages for all year round, but often families go to the dacha only during the summer.

Only give odd number of flowers

Remember well: when giving flowers, give an odd number of them.

According to a Russian tradition, an even number of flowers is only brought to the cemetery.

The holidays can be very long

A little work is done in the second half of December, the first half of January, and the first half of May, during the holidays. Organize your schedule knowing that many companies do not work during these periods. This is the worst time to schedule appointments.

Don’t forget about the 8 of March!

Remember about the 8 of March, the International Women’s Day. Despite having the status “International”, this holiday is much bigger in Russia and post Soviet countries than in the West.

If you are working in Russia or with a Russian team, do not forget to give gifts or flowers to women and congratulate them on this day.

Do not drink water from the tap

Although the situation with the tap water in Russia today is much better than it was before, especially in the big cities, however it is not perfect everywhere.

Russians themselves often use filters in their homes. So make sure to do the same, buy bottled water to drink, or at least boil the tap water.

Careful with the doors in the metro

When entering a metro station, keep your hand in front of your face, so the door doesn’t knock your teeth out. 🙂

If you can, hold the door for the person that’s coming after you. That’s when you can get a smile along with “spasiba” (thank you in Russian).

In church, behave as Orthodox

In Russian churches, women should wear headscarves and modest clothing. If the priest finds your outfit too inappropriate (like a mini-skirt, for example), he may ask you out. Not to mention the sidelong glances of the parishioners.

Learn the public transport culture

As a part of the good legacy of the USSR, Russia has a highly developed public transport culture. If you are a man, you are expected to give your seat to elderly and pregnant women. Young women are also given a seat quite often, although it’s not necessarily. But if you keep sitting when surrounded by elderly or pregnant ones, everyone around will look at you judgmentally.

When entering a car in the metro or a bus, make sure to wait on the side of the doors until everybody who wanted to get out did so. Do not block the passage.

Don’t discuss people’s salary

In Russia, discussing people’s salary is not appropriate. Questions of this sort are considered to be not tactful.

Avoid criticizing Russia

Even if Russians themselves begin to criticize their own country, joining the criticism is a bad idea as your interlocutors might not appreciate it at all.

Of course, there are many things to critisize, but so is everywhere in the world. Russians themselves would like many things in their country to be different, but they also have a lot of reasons to be proud of their motherland and the people.

Instead, turn the discussion into a cultural exchange. Russians will appreciate learning about how the trivial things abroad differ from what they are used to in their country, and also how much we all have in common.

And as a good guest, try to make them feel good about their country, because you will leave, and they will stay.

Understand basic gestures

The gesture when the thumb is placed between the index and middle fingers is called “fig”. In general, it means “nothing”. If you, for some strange reason, see this gesture addressed to you, you can understand it as “no, you won’t get anything”.

Fig gesture
Fig gesture

Twisting one’s forefinger at a temple means that someone is considered crazy.

Snapping one’s fingers on the neck means that someone has or will have a drink.

Drinking gesture
Drinking gesture

The best way to show that you approve or like something is to show the thumbs up.


We have told you about the things that are good to know to make your visit to Russia as smooth as possible.

If you have something to add from your own experience, don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

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