5 things never to say or do in Russia

We have already talked about Russian superstitions in our blog before (check the article here), but there are also other interesting Russian habits that you certainly will experience when travelling in this country. Sometimes, it’s better to learn what NOT to do if you want to fit in or at least produce a good impression to your Russian friends or to Russian people in general. But don’t worry! In this article, you will find a short list of the most common social taboos that will help you not to make a bad impression.

  1. DON’T COME TO VISIT EMPTY-HANDED

If you’re invited for dinner or you’re just visiting your Russian friends, don’t show up empty-handed. Flowers are usually much appreciated or even a box of chocolates could be a nice present; if there are children in the family, it would be nice to bring also something for them, like a toy for example. Having dinner in a Russian family as a guest means that you will taste the best local dishes: they usually cook them just for special occasions and if you’re not going to buy even a flower as a present, they would think that you don’t care. During my first day in St. Petersburg, I saw so many 24h flower shops and I just wondered “Why?”. I think that now it’s clear.

  1. DON’T LEAVE YOUR SHOES ON IN SOMEONE’S HOME

Here you have another “rule” concerning Russian habits at home. This could be funny for some of you, but Russians normally leave their street shoes at the entrance, just after the main door, and even if you’re a guest in someone else’s house you should do it. You don’t feel comfortable walking around the house wearing only your socks? Don’t worry, because your Russian friend will immediately bring you a pair of tapochki (slippers).

  1. DON’T TOAST WITH “NA ZDOROV’YE!”

During a vecerinka (party) you will absolutely hear people toasting at every time and you’ll probably be asked to do it. If you want to look like you know what you’re doing, mingle with the locals and try to do the same as they do: they usually start with a toast from the hosts to the guests, then there’s the toast from the guests to the hosts and the third is always for the women (Za zhenshchin!). For instance, you may hear Za vas! (to you!), Za zdorov’ye! (to your health!), Za nashu druzhbu! (to our friendship!), Za lyubov’! (to love!).  Even if you’ve heard it many times, I would suggest you not to say Na Zdorov’ye! because it is usually used to thanks for a meal.

  1. DON’T TAKE THE LAST SHIRT

This habit relates to the old Russian saying otdat’ poslyednyuyu rubashku (to give away one’s last shirt) and even if here the idea is really clear, I think that it would be better to explain it. For Russian people is important to take care of their guests and offering them whatever they want is considered polite. They will maybe offer you accommodation or dinner; but old school Russians might also offer you whatever possession you comment on, like a painting or even a sweater. If this happen, remember that is considered polite to refuse a couple of times; then you can accept the present, but only if you’re sure that you want it and remember to return the favour and give your host something nice too.

  1. DO NOT SMILE RANDOMLY AT PEOPLE

How many times have you heard people saying that Russians don’t smile at all? Well, that’s not completely exact. The truth is that they usually don’t smile to strangers because this gesture is mainly addressed to acquaintances. If a shop assistant doesn’t smile while helping you, don’t be surprised and don’t start thinking if you did something that could have bothered her: they simply don’t know you and they don’t get used to smile to strangers. Moreover, people in Russia think that you must have a sufficient reason to smile, which will be obvious to the others. That’s why they say: “The laugh without reason – is the sign of stupidity” (“Smeh bez prichiny – priznak durachiny”).

 

Now that you know these habits, will you do as the Russians do?

Lara Malacarne

Posted by Lara Malacarne

Hello! I am Lara and I'll be interning until the end of August at Liden & Denz St. Petersburg, writing about this wonderful city and the local culture.

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