Continuing from last week’s traditional boons and curses, here is more advice from my native Russian colleague on the subject of behaviour whilst visiting Mother Russia, plus an insight into (some of) the consequences should you decide to do something excessively “foolish”. The following text has again been translated from a larger Russian work, then further adapted and expanded here. Although the original author prefers to remain nameless, you can find the original (translated) work and a lot more on Live Journal.
“You shouldn’t loudly smack your lips or lick the plates, even if the food is delicious. People around you will also be unimpressed upon hearing you loudly slurp your tea, coffee or soup. Don’t hail waiting staff with a disrespectful whistle or a shouted command – just because you are an American citizen or a subject of Her Majesty and have been kept waiting for 5 whole minutes. This form of arrogant grandstanding does not impress. Neither does waving your hands, slapping your palms or menu on the table for attention. In a good cafe or a restaurant, tapping a tea-spoon on a cup or a glass should be enough to alert the staff.
Generally, you should leave tips of 5-10%, depending on the quality of the food and service. The same principle applies with the maid who has just cleaned your hotel room. If you appreciate her efforts, leave a small sum of money or a souvenir. On the other hand tips for taxi or bus drivers are not expected.”
A detour by taxi
I’ll interject here, to say that the whole subject of taxis and foreign tourists within Russia is a minefield and should be carefully researched beforehand. I was hassled within seconds of approaching the exit hall in Pulkovo airport (St. Petersburg) and still pressured for extra money during the ride, -even after booking an official airport driver from the kiosk outside! I refused to pay above the official fare which was either a wise, foolish or risky decision. Let’s just say that subsequent trips were courtesy of Uber and Yandex Taxis or, most enjoyably (and cost effective) of all; via the Metro. You will have heard of Uber, but Yandex Taxis are worth considering and (at the time of writing) offer a cash payment option on the completion of the journey. Yandex offer a range of services that are accessible via a desktop computer or phone/tablet App, -in a similar manner to Google.
Unfortunately, Airports in Moscow or St.Petersburg do not have end-of-line Metro stations, thereby presenting you with these extra hurdles at the start and end of your Russian trip. If your hosts/tour-operators are prepared to arrange your travel to and from the airport, then things suddenly become easy. However it is possible by public transport and usually involves completing the connection via bus or train. This will in turn require you drag your luggage over to the station, up/down some stairs etc. -something to bear in mind. Three of Moscow’s international airports are served by Aeroexpress who review well although I have not used them myself. Let’s continue.
“You should remember that after accepting certain ‘everyday’ services in Russia, it is not generally acceptable to give tips, -and attempting to will risk embarrassing or even offending the provider. If some formal service is provided, pay according to the invoice or to the initially agreed price. If you particularly liked the work or the quality of service; gifting a small souvenir from your country (assuming you have brought some) is usually a safe and appropriate option.
If a friend or even an unfamiliar person bestows a gift or accepts you as a guest, then your attempt to pay may even insult them. As a token of gratitude, it is better to give them a souvenir or food from your country. Obviously, this approach will require some preparation in advance and some baggage space, depending on what you decide to bring along. However, the best reward for your Russian friends is definitely your sincere words of gratitude and compliments to the hosts on a delicious dinner!
When visiting Russian friends or acquaintances at their home, take off your shoes and leave them near the door (the hosts usually provide slippers). If the hosts insist that you can leave your shoes on (very rare), then thoroughly clean them on the doormat. Usually when arriving home or visiting, most Russians wash their hands. You will show respect to your Russian friends if you do the same, especially if the hosts have invited you to their table. It’s just good manners.
Out on the town
In Russia, especially in big cities, it is not appropriate to approach strangers and start talking freely to them. They can easily misinterpret your motives (or perhaps assess them correctly in some cases!) and then react adversely. However, if you politely ask for help, folk will likely respond with advice and assistance, although their patience is not infinite.”
I’ll interject again to state that being stand-offfish on your part can also cause offence in Russian company, as the Simthsonian reports, by;-
“…refusing vodka when offered, and sipping it once your glass is filled. Instead, you must gregariously chug your shot glass of Eurasia’s favorite booze.” There is a balance to be found between being retiring and forthcoming. Let’s continue.
“Russians appreciate the virtue of modesty. So, whilst in a public place or when out visiting, you shouldn’t speak loudly, ”hee-haw” (laugh like a horse), blow your nose or make other loud sounds. In a cafe or restaurant, you also shouldn’t stare at those on neighbouring tables, even if they are beautiful! If the object of your unwanted attention is a girl with a male partner, for instance; this can even be quite dangerous. You may inadvertently (and foolishly) offend the “wrong guy” which could result in a physical confrontation. Taking inappropriate liberties with waitresses, could also land you in hot water, especially when they complain to burly colleagues who may seek to defend their compatriots honour!”.
Yes, if you can imagine it, -then someone, somewhere probably thinks it is acceptable to do it. Don’t be that person.