By now you will no doubt have been bombarded by TV ads offering the allure of far away places. It’s an unofficial winter custom here in the UK at least that clicks into place from boxing day onwards, presenting a sunlit window into a idealised Summer world of relaxation, just a few tantalising months away. With our typical slab-grey winter climate and half-hearted, icy drizzle; it’s the perfect leverage to prize our cash from our wallets and onto some glorious peak-season fortnight.
I assume that you are here because you don’t necessarily fit the demographic of course, and are tempted by something a little ‘different’ in the east – but there are questions, of course.
Into the void
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” So wrote H.P. Lovecraft in 1927, coincidentally around the time when the Soviet government’s inner circle, under Stalin, had started to devour itself. The expulsions came first, of course, and the murders, later.
There are still fears, stereotypes, and assumptions that nag at your indecision over a trip to Russia, and the strongest of those concern personal security – naturally enough. Let’s attempt a little perspective.
Yes, this is an obstacle – there’s no denying it. However, the 10,000+ extra Brits that descended upon Russia in 2018 were largely dedicated to football – not Russian language practice; and they had a fantastic time. This “extra” is on top of the 190,000 to 260,000 visits by UK citizens per year since 2010. Inevitably there will be a few exceptions, as there are in every location. According to gov.co.uk, however, “Most visits are trouble-free.”
It’s a relatively simple equation, better language skills equals greater options. This is as true of Russia as it is of any other country. It is possible to manage with minimal Russian language ability if your expectations are not too high but options multiply with increased proficiency. Having said that, Russia Beyond presents a far more optimistic angle:
“A lot of expats who don’t speak Russian live in the country and they seem to get by just fine.”
It then goes on to present the successful 3 year+ experience of a Brit working for Russia’s Sberbank with seemingly little to no Russian language ability! ‘Worth a look.
Bubbles and expectations
By comparison, I visited Prague with only a few words of Czech at my disposal -and it was fine, but I did feel weirdly like a ghost, devoid of any “real” connections to the people around me. Yes, I was in the dreaded “tourist bubble” – and that’s ok if it’s all you want, of course.
If you are planning to rely solely upon Russians speaking English to you (good luck with that), then you’ll likely be aiming at the most European, cosmopolitan, and “touristy” version of Russia. Principally, we’re talking: main-street St.Petersburg or Moscow – with perhaps a tour around the Golden Ring. Even then, you will encounter some who simply don’t see why they should be forced to speak a foreign language in their own country, simply because you couldn’t be bothered to make any effort whatsoever. Fair enough.