21 Things to Never Do In Russia

1. Don’t Show Up Empty Handed

If you’re asked to join on a dinner, or even stop by for a visit, don’t show up without anything to offer in return. It’s not always most important what you do bring, but moreso what you don’t. Bringing some chocolates, flowers (no even-numbered flowers, please), or even a toy for the kid is a better idea than to have no idea.

In Russia, hosts usually prepare for their company by offering their best prepared meals and special foods they normally wouldn’t splurge on themselves. If you show up with nothing, it’s a sign that you haven’t a care for the hospitality in the first place.

2. Don’t Forget to Take Your Shoes Off

This rule applies to both Russian and Asian cultures. In many Russian apartments, there are many rugs, on the floors and even the walls (quite an interesting tradition). Some may be quite nice – like Persian rugs and intricate designs, and often aren’t the simple type that you just vacuum up to clean. This tradition has been going on for centuries, and hosts usually offer tapochki (slippers). At nice parties, some women may bring an extra pair of heels or shoes for inside use.

3. Never Whistle While Indoors

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 12.05.29 AM

Did You Just Hear That? Oh, yeah, that.. Sounded like bad luck. Superstitions say that it could lead to financial ruin, poverty, or just another invasion of cockroaches.

When Getting Acquainted…

4. Never Sit at the Corner of a Dinner Table

Forever Alone – Strangely I learned this one the hard way. It is said that the one who chooses a seat at the corner of a table is destined to never get married. For certain, they will never find their loverThis is mostly directed towards younger women, and some traditions say you won’t get married for 7 years. So most of the time kids don’t get scolded for this one.

5. Never Agree to Vodka If …

The shot glasses were turned, and we were “in” for drinking with our friends. Drinking with friends or with others you just got acquainted with, once that bottle is opened, it is not  stored away, set aside, or rightfully refused. I’ll clarify not all Russians I met were drinkers, and surely not all of them that did drink were alcoholics. BUT I did find several situations of drinking in Russia where some people around me, and myself included, had plenty enough. Which leads me to my next one.

6. Don’t Ruin the Toast…

Na Zdorov’ye! Or not? Before you make a special toast with your evening meal or perhaps just a casual blessing of vodka, keep in mind the proper toasts. The rules to Russian toasts are quite diverse, especially among nations of the former Eastern bloc.

I recall variations and traditions of toasting and drinking across Georgia, Moldova, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia that were in many ways similar but in some key ways different. If there was a Georgian present, you always knew, because after one man gave a toast, the second Georgian would be ready to toast. Until the next man, and on and on.

But “Na Zdorov’ye”, literally meaning, For Your Health, is a Polish toast. Some suggest “Za zdoro v’ye” “Zah Vas”, which means, “To You”

7. Keep the Empty Bottles off…

Once vodka is finished, it’s a rule that the bottle should be placed on the ground (if in the company as a guest, or one’s home) as another is introduced. Russians are quite superstitious, and to leave an empty bottle on the table can irk some.

8. Never Take the Last Shirt

A funny Russian phrase begins with, Никогда  отдать последную рубашку (nee-cog-dah ot-dat pos-led-nuyu rybashku) – Do not take back the last t-shirt. To put it in simpler terms – no matter of what expense you have for yourself, never be the one that takes the last. Always give back, and keep giving.

While living in Russia and meeting locals and their friends or families, I noticed some people who otherwise did not have much, were politely inclined to give what they felt was able to be given. The special bottle of the families’ wines produced and made in their own Moldovan or Georgian homes, for instance, were the proper and chosen drinks for a common meal with guests. And while Moldovans and Georgians are  different, some of the traditions I saw were quite similar.

This is not limited to common accommodations and drinks, but also photos, and other decorations you may find intriguing in one’s home.  Don’t simply take something just because it is offered – some Russkies may offer something not to get rid of it, but out of simply a respectful and caring act.

Unless if you’re into taking all that you can like some traveling gypsy, have some respect for the cultural norms, and understand that you can always refuse the first few times, even when your friends may insist. Personally, I only took gifts that had a strong memorable or shared aspect between the people I came to know, and the time we shared together. Likewise, I tried to give back anything that I could; as it is always nice to return this favor.

9. Never Lick The Food Off of a Knife.

Apparently it is unacceptable to lick any food or “remainders” off of a trusty utensil. It’s considered rude and a sign of cruelty. Why would you lick the knife you used to tear through your food? Are you a savage? Such is a lesson learned in Novgorod…

10. Informal Dress Codes Are Not So Usual

Russians are known to dress quite nice, for a variety of occasions. A casual neighborhood, city park walk or even a meal with friends. Nice dresses and heels, suits or ties, it’s common to see others’ dressing their best as a sign of respect. I personally liked this a lot about Russian culture. In Moscow, I once saw a young teenager no older than 14 walk past me in a fully tailored suit in a mall on a Tuesday afternoon. I was a little surprised.

Dinner parties, trips to the opera, ballet, or even a theater – dress nicely, and expect others to do so too. Dining out is often considered a nice occasion, so the ripped jeans and Pearl Jam t-shirts can stay at home. Even if the venue is not so formal, it’s a good idea to be prepared.

11. Going Dutch is Not Expected

This is where Russkies and some Westerners have some differences – while we live in different and changing times , the tradition of covering a meal and evening with a female is generally upheld. If you ask a nice lady out for diner, I wouldn’t expect her to pay for the meal or anywhere else you decide to go. Some may offer to split the bill, but I wouldn’t count on it. Hell, some of them may not even bring their rubles with them for such an occasion. If you expect to see her again, it’s a safe bet that you should be ready to foot the bill like a gentleman.

12. Don’t Smile Profusely

Maybe the hardest thing in Russia wasn’t just learning the language and it’s different parts. It was hard not to be stared at, to be stared down, rather by people. While riding the metro it isn’t hard to be noticed as a foreigner. It’s the little things you do. But one little thing that isn’t widely accepted is to smile for no reason.

Russians have a saying, “To smile with no reason, is a sign of a fool.” And that’s a strong use of the word “fool”. In college a Russian professor once told me, “It’s not so common and maybe taken as a sign of being drunk or mentally ill.” Her words, not mine.

13. Don’t Expect A Lady to Carry

If you’re accustomed to all things that are politically correct, double think it for a second. That lady carrying her luggage down the metro steps, or the lady at the airport getting ready to get her bags ready for her departure – always be there to lend a hand. It’s polite, and as a man you are expected to be the one that assists in such a situation. You will see this even when getting in a taxi – the drivers will commonly be the ones that assist in the luggage. Such is a lesson in everyday life – lend a helping hand.

14. Never Disrespect Invalids

When you board a bus, or the city metro, you’ll first notice that younger people will always be ready to lend a seat to the elderly, women, and children. This is a common norm you will run into everywhere, and may not always be the case in some countries. While some may be offended in some countries being offered this privilege, it’s a sign of respect in Russia, and especially when elderly or pregnant women are standing there waiting for a seat it’s downright rude.

15. Never Crack a Joke about One’s Family

Though a lot of jokes you may hear in Russia and CIS, or perhaps even in many non-American countries may not be the most politically correct- you still should abide by a common rule. Never, ever, joke of the family members.

Growing up, I heard a plethora of “your momma” jokes, and while those jokes aren’t the type we often hear later on in life, it’s the same idea. The jokes surrounding others’ family members are generally taboo to make, and to be quite honest – risky. You can crack a joke on  ethnicity, appearance, or gender based jokes, but if you insult another’s mother and father, it may not come across as a joke at all.

 16. An Empty Purse is a Horrible Gift

Giving an empty purse as a gift is yet another superstition. Why is it empty? 😉 Do you wish financial hardship and poverty on your lover? Are you single again? Well to be fair, it applies to any money holding object one could thrown in as a gift.

17. Bodily Functions Are Frowned Upon

It is incredibly impolite, and you should not expect any kind of pride associated with such things. Burping loudly is not a game changing display of authority or humor. So if it happens, don’t make a big deal out of it. Some say not to even apologize, but to simply ignore it. It’s not of the most epic impressions you would want to make, so keep it in mind.

18. Never Show the Soles of Your Feet

This is common in many countries, but particularly it’s another thing they say you shouldn’t do in Russia. While on the metro once, I saw the angry looks of a few glances towards a foreign firmed of mine sitting across from me. She sat there texting, with her legs crossed – one over the other and her soles in the direction of the person sitting next to her. Shoe’s aren’t though to be the cleanest things one can point in the direct vicinity of another person, especially a stranger.

19. Don’t Go for Shock Value

Despite what many Western journalists portrayed as an act of protest, the infamous Pussy Riot “protest” in the Cathredral of the Sacred heart was less impressive to the Russians I spoke with. Russians explained to me the history of this church – a long symbol of Orthodox and Christian faith in Russian history – which was even destroyed by the Soviets and turned into a pool. Following the collapse of the USSR, Russians contributed to charity and funded what they had left to rebuild this monument.

A lot of those who I spoke with were not impressed at all, or supportive of Pussy Riot. “If they wanted to protest, why would they have chosen such a place?” I guess the line between controversy and shock value hit it off pretty well here.

20. Never Confuse Her Neighbors

“Don’t they speak Russian in Ukraine? So what’s the difference?” That’s a great question I have heard friends and family asked after I came home from Kiev. While living there, I sought to find the differences between what made Russian and Ukraine different. But it is common for some people to either ignorantly or simply unknowingly confuse Russia and it’s neighbors apart form each other.

The best thing I could do, was to acknowledge there were differences; be it politics, language, history, culture and anything else. It’s twice as interesting to have visited countries with vastly different views on wine such as in my wine tasting adventures in Georgia and Moldova. But for my time spent in Russia, it was quite interesting hearing what Russians had to say, and what their neighbors all had to say about each other.

All in all, you could never shake off the truth that the region was rich of thousands of years of culture, some shared, some bitter, but all in all, interesting as a foreigner.

21. Never Shake a Hand Through a Doorway

Russian’s are very superstitious, so superstitious in fact, it ties into getting acquainted. It is considered rude to shake hands with your gloves on – so take your gloves off before any proper interaction occurs. Additionally, shaking ones hand at the door is considered back luck. So make sure to take your gloves off, and save the hand shaking for indoors. And even then you have to take off your snow boots or else you’ll come across like a total ass.

Where Can You Learn More About Going Abroad?

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  • most of all is absolutely wrong.

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      Of course no 11 taboos will be blanket statements for the whole Former USSR. Take it lightly, it’s just a fun post.

      • vasili adropov 4 years ago

        All this rules depends of region where you staying. In Moscow you can do everything what you want. I don’t take off my shoes in house on summer time, cuz the roads not so dirty as autumn for example. 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 21 rules are only for small cities. In Moscow nobody cares about that. It’s superstition.

        • Alexandru 4 years ago

          I agree, although you should still be polite and be a gentleman towards women and when a guest in someone else’s house, capital cities are much more westernized. superstition is commonly left to the smaller cities

        • Anastasia 3 years ago

          no idea what you guys are talking about. I’ve been living in Moscow all my life and agree 100% with most of the statements (especially on taking shoes off, this is a massive difference with the west!). brilliantly put together! i’ve seen a bunch of posts on the same topic, but most were usually half fake and invented. this is real and very cordial I should say. Thanks for this!

        • Evgeny 3 years ago

          > 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 21 rules are only for small cities
          I live in a city with the 3rd population in Russia and rules 3, 4, 7, 9 and 21 are pretty common here. I’d like to add rule 22, being “Never trust anything Moscow people have to say about Russia since they never saw anything of it and never lived there, Moscow isn’t Russian at all”.

    • Nikita 4 years ago

      I’m russian and article is almost true

    • Marek 4 years ago

      I think you are worng bomzh. I am Polish having Russian wife and I can say a lot of this stuff is true. Actually a lot of them apply to Poland as well. I have impression most of them can be applied to whole slavic block countries.

      • Aliya 4 years ago

        It’s the same in Kazakhstan, and maybe in most of the former USSR countries.

    • Bomzh, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I lived in Russia for 16 years and it’s absolutely true.

    • Homeless (bomzh is homeless in russian), nothing is wrong in this article at all. are you troll? :)

    • Alexey 4 years ago

      I’m Russian. All of it is true except 8 .. But maybe it’s true in Moscow or some other regions. I never heard of that.

  • Great article! Tips to be read by anyone in contact with Russian culture.
    And… “Georgians and Moldovan are not quite Russian”???
    They were part of Soviet Union, but not Russians

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      By stating they’re not quite Russian, I basically outline how ethnically, yes, they are different. Rather than to have said in this post that all people of the former Soviet states are just “Russian”.

      • Sasha 4 years ago

        In Russian language there are two words for ‘Russian’. For instance, ‘Russian language’ (russki) refers to bigger context then country itself, but ‘Russian cheese’ (rossijski) refers to country, where it was produced. Sometimes people can be considered Russians, even if they are not nationals of RF. For instance, when I talk to my friends and we discuss people from post soviet countries living in NL, we say ‘Russians’, it’s a general word overarching every national of other countries, who speaks Russian, coming from post soviet countries or consider themselves Russian. Of course the border between Russian and not Russian is very vague, and if person is not Russian national, it rather depends on whether this person sees them self Russian. So some Russians have never actually been to Russia or don’t have Russian passport, but they are still Russians. I tend to think it’s because of our mentality and history even far before USSR.

  • Renato 4 years ago

    I just disagree with this statement: “The rules to Russian toasts are quite diverse, especially among nations of the former Eastern bloc”.
    If you’re talking about other nations, then you are not talking about Russians, you’re talking about Georgians, Poles and Moldavians.
    We, westerns, still think that everything that comes from east of Berlin is “Russian” and that’s not true at all. And with this statement, you go back to this wrong common sense.

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      I spent a bit of time in Poland and Georgia, and I know the different between sitting with a Polish family, or a group of Georgian men toasting at a table. I by no means think anything East of Berlin is just “Russian”.

  • Victor 4 years ago

    i’ve heard “Na Zdorov’ye” on every special family dinner. it’s also russian and is still totally appropriate you homosexual idiot. and almost all of the other shits you have aren’t true either.

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      Riveting contribution. I’ve also heard it, I’ve also heard it’s a Polish toast by origin. In Veliky Novgorod, I was advised by a Muscoviten not to use it during a special dinner.

      • Sasha 4 years ago

        You can freely toast for health in Russia, but with a small amendment:) ‘na zdorovie’ in Russian means something like ‘you are welcome’ and is appropriate to say if someone thanks you. If you want to toast for health, it’s better to say ‘za zdorovie’ (the same as for love ‘za lubov’).

    • InTheNameOfRussia 4 years ago

      Whats wrong with you, lol raslabsya!

    • May be “za zdorovie” then? In Russia you can’t say “NA zdorovie” because it’s simply wrong.

      • Aleksey 4 years ago

        “Na zdorovie” (a wish of something helping you in being healthy, literally – for health) is actually used:
        1. As a response to thank you. As in “you’re welcome”. This creates a somewhat funny pun when someone thanks you for a cigarette.
        2. As a response to a sneeze. As in “bless you”.

        It is indeed awkward hearing a toast “Na zdorovie”, but I could never explain exactly what’s wrong with it…
        The closest to this formulation that can fly would be “za zdorovie”. Because a simple toast requires you to drink for something (“za” something), so in this case you drink for health. Besides what Trevor said, I encountered “Budmo!” (a Cossak version), “chtob vse!” (a very informal and humorous in a way, meaning “so that everyone!” a double entendre created by two common phrases starting with that: “chtob vse byli zdorovy”=”for everyone to be healthy” and “chtob vse sdohli”=”for everyone to die”; WARNING: do not use when meeting your girlfriend’s family for the first time, use a complete “chtob vse byli zdorovy”), “za teh kto v more” (“for the ones in the sea”, has a long history, most recently associated with the namesake song by Mashina Vremeni).

        • Valeria 4 years ago

          I’m russian) It’s all true. Your message is very informative and correct, thank you))

        • Trevor 4 years ago

          Thank you a lot of your input. And clarification of the uses.

        • another Aleksey 4 years ago

          A couple of additions

          1) “Na zdorovie” is never used as an answer for sneeze, only “bud’te zdorovy”. Though it may be specific to some region, I don’t really know.

          2) “Budem (bud’mo)” and “Chtob vsyo” (exactly “vsyo”, not “vse”) are different toasts. The first being short version of “so that we continue living (be healthy)”, and the second being the short version of humorous “so that there was (or we have) everything” (with occasional humorous postphrase “and that we do not get punished for it in any way”).

          3) Toast “chtob vse” in a way that you have portrayed it would be quite unaccepted in any company beside a circle of close friends, not just family of your fiancee.

    • Peter 4 years ago

      With all due respect to all Russian and Russia, which I love dearly, I think Victor is representative of uneducated Russian population with high degree of ignorance and bigotry. Learn your own language and culture, Victor!

  • Peter The Great 4 years ago

    Good job, Trevor! Whenever my American friends ask me about the differences between Russian and American cultures, I never know where to start. Now, I have a great reference to keep in mind.

  • CALBear 4 years ago

    Good job, Trevor! Whenever my American friends ask me about the differences between Russian and American cultures, I never know where to start. Now, I have a great reference to keep in mind.

  • Being a Russian, I can say that you have done quite a bit of research and documented it well, all of it is mostly true, however younger like me aren’t that particular about some points, but when I’m at home with my family or in fact with my family going to their friends or relatives, this is absolutely true. Nice work man, appreciate that it hasn’t got to be to explain this stuff to my international friends.

  • Hello Trevor!

    As a Russian, I can say it’s nicely put and really makes sense. As someone twitted yesterday, more than 50% Americans think a Russian sees a bear at least once a week, how I’d love to make these stereotypes be separated from truth :)

    I see what other commenters say and though they could be right in details… boy, Russia is a big country, if someone would write a post where every opinion would be counted, it should be three miles long and no one will ever want to read it. Generalizing is a way to tell things and not to bore to death people who listen in a meantime.

    I have one comment if you don’t mind: the part about shirt is in general right but there’s an issue with quote.

    “Никогда отдать последную рубашку (nee-cog-dah ot-dat pos-led-nuyu rybashku) – Do not take back the last t-shirt” – the Russian phrase is not grammatically correct, plus it doesn’t illustrate what you say later. I’d change that onto “Cнять с себя последнюю рубашку”, take oneself’s shirt off for someone.
    Source: http://www.frazeologiya.ru/fraza/rubashka.htm

    Again, impressed with your list! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Mark Heithaus 4 years ago

    Hey, first of all – good job on keeping your response comment cool and friendly to the “riveting” comment. Secondly, awesome post! Obviously, as you mentioned, it’s what you generally found in your experiences – not necessarily the rule across the board. I enjoy reading the spirit of a willingness to learn, and to simply be mindful of others – to act as a respectful guest. I think that in the end, that’s the real point, and it’s a point worth sharing! Thanks for a great article! =)

  • Tanya 4 years ago

    Приятно было почитать про нас)) Thank you for the article, all truth about us))

  • Trevor 4 years ago

    Thanks guys! If you like the article, feel free to share it!

    E-mail me for any suggestions of future articles. All suggestions welcome :)

  • Alexey 4 years ago

    Nice article with interesting information for foreigners.
    As Elena, I want to mention, that rule about the last shirt is not actually correct.
    We say it “to take off last shirt”, and commonly used to describe a person, who is ready to do everything for its friends or relatives, even give away very last he or she have (last shirt).

  • Alexey 4 years ago

    Thanks for the article. Funny to read about ourselves )
    Only one point I want to mention is that part about last shirt is not quite correct.
    We say “he is ready to give away last shirt” about person, who ready do everything for his or her family, even give last shirt. )))

  • Tatyana 4 years ago

    Hey Trevor. Great article. I have already shared it with a few friends.

    When it comes to “Do not take back the last shirt” I do agree with Elena, that “Cнять с себя последнюю рубашку” would be a better choice for that bullet point. I have heard the latter many times growing up in Russia, yet not the first one.

    Once again. Loved the article. It explained a lot of my personal little quirks to my friends. Keep up the good work!

    • Aleksey 4 years ago

      Russians indeed use the expression “отдать(or снять) последнюю рубаху”. Historically, before the introduction of the underwear, рубаха (shirt) was the cloth closest to the body and people involved in such public actions as baptism or public confessions where to present themselves to the public in their last shirt, i.e. as close to bare as a newborn as it was socially acceptable, so giving it up meant giving it away meant giving away the very last thing you could before getting to self mutilation. So it isn’t as descriptive of the moral code by which people live but is rather either a description of the desired Christian behavior towards thine brother, a metaphor for a very strong friendship or is used in a condescending way to describe someone as a nincompoop.

      What you might have meant in that bullet could be formulated as “никогда не бери последнего”=”never take the last thing one has, even if offered”. This is actually much more often practiced – be it someone asking you for a cigarette and seeing that you are offering the last one rejecting the offer or taking the last piece of cake without offering it to everyone first. The gist of this is that when you need help you should not accept an offer that would put the person helping you in a worst situation than you are.

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Anastasia 4 years ago

    As a native Russian who was living there for 23 years I can say – brilliant article, and I really would agree with everything :)

  • Николай 4 years ago

    Неплохо! Только одно существенное замечание – “На здоровье” – также и русский традиционный тост. Приятно, что русские представились Вам как достаточно вежливые и культурные люди, что в массе своей соответствует действительности. А исключения есть везде.

  • Tatiana 4 years ago

    Everything is more or less the truth. I am Russian and I didn’t understand the phrase
    Никогда отдать последную рубашку (nee-cog-dah ot-dat pos-led-nuyu rybashku)- it is not in Russian. We really do not take the last thing left, but in Russian it doesn’t sound like that.

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      Oh you know, as a foreigner, grammar in Russian is never my strongest point. I’m lucky enough to be conversational.))

      • Nadia 4 years ago

        I honestly say that i really admire you and appreciate your effort for writing this article. Most of it is true and if someone doesn’t like some tiny mistakes that might have been done in this article is simply not worth of respect. I respect you for trying to learn about other countries. You are driven, motivated and awesome person!

  • This is such a pile of common misconceptions and politically-correct advices…

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      I’ll shoot for conception and offensive posts in the future. Thanks.

  • Marianna 4 years ago

    Thank you, Trevor for being so positive. I’m Russian and quite agree – it’s 90% true. I should say a lot of foreigners have terribly narrow wiews and unbreakable stereotypes about Russia. Hate people who don’t see anything but vodka in our culture.But do know a lot of Russians are often not even trying to learn more about other cultures too. Every nation has its genious and its idiots. Let’s just be people.
    And don’t listen to сritics – they’ve just never been in here:)

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      I couldn’t agree with you more. That is why I write what I write. Russia to me, was a great bother side I had never imagined I ever would have ventured – or learned so much from.

  • I would also add one more piece of advice to foreigners traveling in Russia, based on my experience working as a tour leader for a foreign travel company: Please, avoid looking into the eyes of policemen or similar looking people in the blue/gray uniform! This may end in having really unnessesary situations with your documents and stuff, had to save my clients from being arrested or just being a case of a small bribary situations from those guys. This refers mostly to Moscow, St. Pete’s, and train stations along the Trans-Siberian RR.

  • Katya 4 years ago

    As a native 99% pure east slav Russian, from both highborn and ordinary people origin (“dvoryane” + “iz prostyh” :) ), I don’t like the article, really. I was born in Moscow and have travelled throughout the country (Veliky Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod, Chuvashia, some Stanitsas in the South etc) –
    All mentioned is possible, but describing this as the immutable characteristic is just wrong. Its like you made an effort to analyse, but didn’t get it, didn’t f-e-e-l the culture)
    Also that русскис “Russkies” doesn’t sound good for me, like some Whiskas, frr, better use “russkie” or “Russians” and “russky” // “Russian”, please.
    Thanks for trying, anyway! :)

  • Masha 4 years ago

    What you say about how “while Moldovans and Georgians are not wholly Russian, the traditions they live by are quite similar” is not completely true. Here is the difference: while a Russian person, as well as a Georgian, an Armenian, an Uzbek, etc., WOULD offer you the very last thing they have, most RUSSIAN people would not WANT you to take it from them. Like you said, they would expect from you to not take it. Citizens of many other post-USSR nations, however, would offer such a thing sincerely and wholeheartedly. Because they would want to put YOU in a better situation by helping you, by sharing with you something of theirs. Luckily, some Russians have this mentality too, but not at all the majority…

  • Where is the part about not being gay?

  • Melkorka 4 years ago

    Hi Trevor!
    I am a Russian (well, the name is Icelandic, anyway :) )
    That is a great article, you have learn a lot about the folk and hope you have a great time too.
    I did not get about the “shirt”, we really do have some kind of saying, but it slept from my mind at the moment, Or you did not get it, or I did not get what you explained. But I think it’s related to a person who will give its last shirt to an other, if the other needs it. Some kinda creasy helpfulness “give all your efforts to help if someone is in a need.” Is not it like this?
    Hey, don’t listen to Masha-Katya, they are just nasty boring ladies and, probably, in lack of boyfriends – that’s common in Russia too 😀

  • Marcus 4 years ago

    Judging by your pic, I thought you were Russian. But if I got it properly, you are American, right?

  • preston wiginton 4 years ago

    Most of this can be applied to the old south or any territory of traditionalism. I have been to Russia 16 times. All above is true.

  • БРЕД

  • Natalia 4 years ago

    Good job buddy. I love your article.

  • Sviatlana 4 years ago

    I’m not Russian, I’m Belarusian. But I would say that it’s absolutely true. Well, probably about giving a sit to an elderly one in not very true as some ill-brought people try to ignore them. But on the whole, it’s true. And special thanks for ‘Na zdorov’e’. People say this phrase sometimes only after ‘thank you’ as a respons, but never while drinking vodka

  • Pavel 4 years ago

    nice article
    russian is very superstitious and you can write whole big article about it )))

  • Ksenia 4 years ago

    Awesome article I’ll share it 😉 that’s cool that you got the hang of it and you avoid to talk about the Putin’s corruption and bears on the street drinking vodka as many europeen people think. I’m russian and I live in france, so here they think as well that “Na zdorov’e” it’s russsian errrrrrrr
    Have you been to Saint-Petersbourg?
    Cheers, Ksenia
    (p.s we are not so strong in imagination with names, so everything that has the -a or -ia at the end that means that this is a girl 😉

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      I was in St. Petersburg for three days, it was a beautiful city!

  • Alexander 4 years ago

    Good article! I’d like to offer a small clarification: “Отдать последнию рубашку” is analogous to “Giving a shirt off your back”.

    Overall, I think you did a great job getting the main points across. There will always be exceptions and some people are going to be more sensitive to some things than to others, but it covers the general principles of polite interaction.

    Well done!

    • Tanya 4 years ago

      Alexander is correct.

      Trevor, please fix the text of your post and include the correct references for “shirt” and “taking the last thing offered”.

      • Trevor 4 years ago

        Thank you for the demands. I will update the article with the proper revisions soon.

  • Tatiana 4 years ago

    I am Russian and it is all true!! Thank you!

  • Tanya 4 years ago

    I am Russian and it’s soooo true! My American husband will appreciate this article as well! The only thing is, was talking to my super pregnant friend who lives in Moscow and she said that she finds it very frustrating that sometimes people don’t offer her a seat in metro… Makes me sad, BUT but I am glad you included it in your article because they SHOULD offer a seat and it’s more noticeable when a foreigner doesn’t do it. How long did you live in Russia? Seems like you got a good experience (lucky!), your article is pretty positive :)

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      I lived in Moscow for 4.5 months, Kiev for 3.5 months, traveled to Moldova, Georgia, Poland, and Prinestroia. I studied Russian for three years prior to leaving. I had studied subjects from Russian film, music, media, politics, government, and even took a class on famous Russian fairy tales. My interest in the culture and language exploded as I got deeper into understand (or at least trying to) what Russia is.

      Thanks for the nice words!

  • Alina 4 years ago

    In general everything is correct.
    Thank you Trevor for such delicate description. It was interesting to read.


  • Yuliya 4 years ago

    I enjoyed reading the article, really a bunch of it is close to me and those I know.
    I have a small remark (no offense) – it sounded a little bit…ahm… arrogant about Russian women, that “don’t expect them to pay” or “to carry luggage”. Since I moved to Germany (and as you might know it is the Motherland of freaking feminism) – I do feel, that I am missing such an important part.. I grew up in Russia, and yes, no man would ever allow a woman to drag her suitcase upstairs by herself, I really mean it, literally..NOONE would do that. Germany hit me pretty hard with their “we are all equal” habits.
    In the end – it’s not like I am such a queen, that I instantly need dozens of men to open the door in front of me – I can easily do that (as well as pay for my dinner) myself. But I really believe, that all of us, girl, when we were little – we were all dreaming of being princesses, small and vulnerable, gentle and pretty, under protection of a nobel prince on a white horse! And though 21st century is not an epoch of chivalry and Russia is not the best country in the world – I am proud of those “left-over” good manners of my country!
    Again – that’s just a friendly remark! No offense! :-)

  • Hi Trevor, nice stuff mentioned. You forgot that men always help women to wear a coat.

  • sorry I ment to help to put a coat

  • “NA ZDOROVIE” we say normaly in this situation: when someone gives you something, you say “spasibo” (thank you) and the one who gave it to you replies “na zdorovie” … is like wishing you the best out of the thing which was given.

    when Russians drink vodka they normaly starts with long stories called “TOST” … georgian people have the longest “TOSTs” within all USSR people :) … when vodka is being half consumed we start saying something like “budem zdorovy” (let´s stay healthy), which with the time of drinking converts just in “budem” (we will) :))))

  • Alice 4 years ago

    Hi Trevor! Nice article, I left Russia 15 years ago and moved to US. Now I have to remind myself to remember those simple etiquette rules when traveling back to Russia. Especially taking shoes off. :)

  • “And while Moldovans and Georgians are not wholly Russian, the traditions they live by are quite similar.”

    You, my friend, need to say NO to crack cocaine. You keep referring to Georgians and other ex-Soviet ethnicities as “almost-Russians”…that’s not only deeply inaccurate (Georgians are a TOTALLY different culture), but insulting too. It’s like saying — “Koreans, Japanese, what’s the difference, they are all Chinese!”

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      Let me put it this way, you ask the average foreigner or Westerner about former Post-Soviet countries like Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine and they may say “Isn’t that Russia?”. It’s the truth- a lot of people can’t distinguish Ukraine (or Ukrainians) from Russians. Are there similarities? Yes. Are there differences? Of course.

      Can I write this and express there are similarities and point out they are different ethnically? Yes I did. Sorry if you didn’t like it, but I think the Korean, Japanese and Chinese is a bit of a stretch. These post Soviet-Areas speak and spoke Russian and it’sl anguage and shared it’s political systems and parts of culture and history for a long time.

      Tell me that Japan, China, and Korea speak the same language and have stayed in the same geographic and cultural orbit for the past 100 years and that’d be completely wrong.

      • Let me put it in starker terms: just because some redneck from Alabama can’t distinguish a Georgian from a Russian doesn’t mean that you should be catering to their ignorance. Most educated Americans know the difference between Georgia and Russian, and even Ukraine and Russia. So, do you want us to view you with the standards of an educated person, or those of an ignorant confused hick?

        Just man up and admit that you made a mistake and correct it. Why all these silly excuses?

        • Trevor 4 years ago

          Wholly is definitely not the best word choice, I didn’t think it would have come across the way it did. I traveled with Ukrainanians through Georgia, Poland and Moldova, staying with locals and sharing a lot of these experiences so the similarities blended in with my experience. I studied at MGU and institutes in Ukraine, and if I made a mistake – so be it. It’s not my backyard where I traveled, I tried to soak up what I could find in my experiences.

          And much of what I saw and observed felt similar in many different ways. If that makes sense. Now to be called a hick or suggesting I’m bringing down the rest of the population with one opinion is your word, and I’m sorry if your’e offended by it.

  • Trevor, great insight! I see you wrote it with love :-) Thank you for the post!

  • minimalist 4 years ago

    Good stuff, I am russian, all pretty much true.

  • Hi, Trevor!
    Thanks for a nice article about my country!You did a great job!
    I recommend you to spend another 5 months in of the Russia’s republics and you’ll see how diverse and united we actually are!)
    Thanks again!

  • Debbi Price 4 years ago

    Hi Trevor,

    I enjoyed your article! I hope to visit Russia in the future – specifically St. Petersburg. I’ll be sure to contact you for great ideas when I do. I’m truly amazed at your adventures post-VCU. Congrats on living your dreams!

  • You nailed it, as always. I am forwarding this to all my Russophile friends :)

  • Xeniya 4 years ago

    “Никогда отдать последную рубашку (nee-cog-dah ot-dat pos-led-nuyu rybashku)- is completely wrong. Literally the prase goes: “отдать последюю рубаху” – “to give away one’s last shirt {for others}” – it has the exact opposite meaning that you are trying to describe in No.8.

  • Sasha 4 years ago

    As a Ukrainian, I must say these are all (perhaps with the exception of “soles”) very accurate. Very nice list!

  • Juliette 4 years ago

    I am Russian from Estonia everything is totally true :).
    I would only add emphasis on that:
    1. a man is totally MUST pay for a date
    2. bodily functions (if not controlled) would be remeberd forever!
    3. One should be not smiling without reason and not looking too excited and curious when looking at wall posts on the subway and bus…
    I had to personally learn how to smile, because I was constanly asked why am I so apset when I came to US.
    Oh, I cannot stand those shoe soles next to me in New York trains! I was wondering why am I so sensitive to it, now it makes sense lol.
    Great job man.

  • Laura 4 years ago

    Being half-russian and half-lithuanian and growing up during the Soviet Union-times I can’t other than AGREE with everything. You caught the most accurate things that usually comes naturally for me but realizing it’s not the way people do things where I live now, in Sweden. So interesting, loved it!

  • Liliya 4 years ago

    Loved the article! Thank you so much for sharing!Very impressive you made all those observations in a given time! Great job!

  • I am from Russia living abroad now. But I can say this is the best article I´ve ever read about Russia written by a foreigner! Especially the observations about the “gentleman treatment of the ladies”!!! 😀 I´d just add a couple of things to your collection of tips…

    Never ever put your feet on the table! It´s one of those old traditions to respect a table because it “gives you food” and logically it´s not a good idea to put your dirty feet there where you eat. Another thing is that this pose is considered to be lack of respect to a person in front of you and a sign of arrogance.

    Don´t sit on the stairs or on the ground in the street or any public place. You will never see any Russian person doing that (only if it´s a homeless or just some alcoholic) because unfortunately it´s not the cleanest place to sit down, you know!.. Another belief is related to the girls´ health. Many of the girls are said from the early childhood that they should avoid sitting on the cold surface (like stone, metal, snow, pavement, stairs, etc.) because they “risk not having children in future”. Now people seem to be more relaxed, but still many of them don’t do this because the surface is just dirty!

    And the last thing to mention is never ever drink water from the tap!!! I think this statement needs no comments! 😉

    I’d just correct the saying about “the last T-shirt”, but some guys have already done it! :)

    All the rest was really very well observed! Bravo! I’ll recommend this link to all my foreign friends! Many thanks for an amazing job! :)

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      Russian grammar is super complicated. This is why I don’t write my posts in Russian :)

  • julia 4 years ago

    Aaaand I just remembered why I hate Russia and Russians (and surroundings) with a passion. Russian women – PAY FOR YOUR SHIT, your gender does not automatically make you a charity case! and Author – do yourself a big life favor and get out of this hole where smiling is a sign of mental disease. You only live once, so unless you are a masochist, you deserve to enjoy.

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      Well if you hate Russians like you say you’d probably be just as close minded to not understand what I wrote about not smiling. I think you need to take a deep breath, shut your computer, and go out and enjoy your day rather than get heated over a humorous blog post.

      Go enjoy your day :)

    • Павел 4 years ago

      I understand your frustration, but not all of us are so bad.

  • Elena 4 years ago

    I’m half Russian half Ukrainian woman and I’ve lived in both countries most of my life. #13 is total BS!!
    Lend a helping hand? Really? This is so NOT about Russia and Ukraine!!! But it is very much about the US! I’ve lived in US for the last 10 years and I can say with absolute certainty that men in US are WAY more polite and considerate then men in those Slavic countries!!! I’ve traveled back to Russia and Ukraine many times from US, couple times while I was pregnant and many times with young children. No one EVER would help me at the airports in Russia or Ukraine with my enormous suitcases or kids’ strollers.. But in US there would ALWAYS be at least 2-3 guys ready to help with everything if they saw me struggling with those bags or strollers!

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      Strange, I can’t think of a time where I didn’t see a man help a woman or older woman, pregnant or not pregnant. I must have been in the polite areas of Moscow 😉

  • Aleksandra 4 years ago

    Trevor, thank you for the article , i am Russian and these all is very true, i really enjoyed reading you! People like Julia are stupid cows, absolutely narrow-minded creatures, i hope they will stay in “hole” of fat humbuggers , fat lonely ugly emancipated women who are pride to pay for a man and for herself ( holy bullshit) and broken life values… Sad, very sad…
    TRAVOR, thanks again! Great article !

  • Goran Batovanja 4 years ago

    I am from Croatia and I was thinking that most of this things are universal for whole world. Besides, I think that English gramar is super-simple and gramar of slavic languages is normal. I would add one more thing : if you eat edge of bread, you will have good relationship with mother of your wife.

  • Mariya 4 years ago

    Good job Trevor! Almost everything is correct! And I really like how you answer to some of these rude comments in a such a positive way. I am Ukrainian, but I know that a lot of slavic people tend to be harsh and arrogant, so it is better to smile and to walk away and let them choke on their angriness 😉

  • Frank 4 years ago

    I’ve lived in Peter for the last 8 years – I have a Russian wife and two beautiful Russian daughters – I enjoyed your article as I remember learning some of these do’s and don’t’s the hard way ))) Now I am in Canada and have brought some of these traditions with me.

  • Vadim 4 years ago

    Nice, nice compilation. Most of Americans care very little about local traditions and then they get surprised why they are treated like they are. While I lived in Russia in late 80s – early 90s, I have been in charge of getting together groups of young people to meet and spend some time with the tourist groups from West. People in the visitor’s groups were also in the teen – early 20s. Every group we met, people were hungry to get to know Russians and talk, talk, talk – about changes, how life is, etc. One time we met a US group. The first thing they have asked if we have a sound system, then pulled their tapes and have started to dance among them selve. Our folks were shocked…
    Now, about more things not to do in Russia
    – you may get an absolutely opposite effect if your flower count in a bouquet is even unless your are attending a funeral
    – when you have to carry someone for any reason, make sure you carry that person head first. Carrying someone feet forward is reserved for a dead person and doing that to a live person is a sign of bad luck.

  • Great article! Most of it is true, I will definitely share it with my foreign friends :)
    As somebody mentioned above, yes, there is no saying as “Никогда отдать последную рубашку (nee-cog-dah ot-dat pos-led-nuyu rybashku). And yes, we don’t toast “Na zdoroviye” this is on the most common misconceptions about Russians 😛
    But in general, there are many interesting observations, we Russians don’t realize we are that superstitious :))

  • The only thing should be said beforehand: these are not “taboo’s”, you won’t offend people as they know you’re a foreigner, and it will not get you in trouble. For those rules that come from superstitions, your russian friend will gently correct you, being aware that you might not be aware.

    Rules that should be better alwais followed – to take off the shoes in ones home (no religion, just dirt) and take the gloves off before handshake. But simply “doing as romans do” will guide you with that.

    16 – put a small coin or the smallest banknote inside the wallet. And if you are presented a knife (any) you should give back a small coin, as knives “are not presented, but sold”.

  • Diana 4 years ago

    I would added – “Don’t eat at the dining table with a cover head” and “Don’t sit on the table”. Yeah, for cover head I ready to kill, it’s really makes me mad.
    I’m Russian.

  • Fantomaz 4 years ago

    All true. Very useful for foreigners visiting Russia I guess.

  • Павел 4 years ago

    Mostly right, but highly exaggerated.

    The phrase “Никогда отдать последную рубашку” doesn’t mean anything in Russian. What did you try to say? Before showing off you foreign language “skills”, consult with native speaker.

  • Trope 4 years ago

    All this applies to uneducated Russians or just mere conservative and nationalist morons (but I guess there are plenty of those, like in any other country).

  • Carolina 4 years ago

    This is such cool information! I lived on Japan and so many of these are true there as well

  • Тeтя Зина 4 years ago

    Looks like Trevor’s trip to the motherland was pretty uneventful:
    ride the metro, attend blue-collar festivities, drink with strangers, and take local girls out on the town.
    I’m sure your college buddies will find this post relevant, but will they spot all the English grammar mistakes?

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      Нет. Они не знают что, Я не носитель английского. Я Русский!

  • Evgenia 4 years ago

    Hi Trevor,

    Your observations about Russians are so genuine and accurate!
    I wouldn’t have left this comment, but there is one single thing that keeps your article one step way from being a EXCELLENT cultural guide:

    “Никогда отдать последную рубашку” – the sentence is both grammatically and logically incorrect. “Отдать последную рубашку” means “to give your last shirt off your back”. It’s about being self-forgetful and ready to sacrifice something to bits (last money, best food and wine, etc). But somehow the word “никогда” inverts the whole idea.
    Correct me if you tried to say something different though. :)

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      As mentioned by many, acknowledged though. Thanks for the contribution.

  • Andrey 4 years ago

    I’d like to add one superstition to the list. Kind of similar to an empty wallet as a present.
    NEVER give a knife as a present (birthday, new year or any other occasion). You can only sell it for a symbolic price. Otherwise it is considered very bad luck.

    A little comment on #12.
    A smile in Russia is usually a genuine expression of sympathy. Therefore the American “every day smile” is not understood. How can you smile to a complete stranger? Are you mad or a fool?

  • Maria 4 years ago

    I’m a Moscovite, living abroad for most of my life, and I loved this! Some are not universally true, but a lot of these rang a bell…

  • Да, американская улыбка на все случаи жизни для русских конечно еще та дикость)
    Вот вам ответ, почему русские “не улыбаются”))

  • Martini 4 years ago

    Thank you so much! it’s so true and i can show it to my new friend who was telling me that this all BS :) now i hope they will better understand me :)

  • Roman 4 years ago

    There’s one thing that’s not true.
    It’s no longer a common thing for men or boys to vacate their bus seats to elderly people or even pregnant women.
    Sadly we’ve turned most indifferent towards one another over these past five-or-so years.

  • Hey, Man! That was adorable… I never seen such well balanced report about our habits without unnecessary sarcasm or making them sort of understandable, just plain and friendly. I had much fun myself and going to share it with my friends from the US too. Less to explain, for its all well settled and formulated in good english. If you let me follow you in fb I’d be honored.

  • Alexandra 4 years ago

    Hi Trevor!
    Thank you for the article – it’s probably the first one of the kind I’ve read so far that contains truthful information and is not full of stereotypes and exaggeration. Was really interesting to read.
    Thank you for such an appreciative and respectful view on our culture :)

    You wrote you had studied at MSU – which faculty did you study at? Was it ФИЯР (faculty of foreign languages and area studies)?

    • Trevor 4 years ago

      Я изучал Русский язык на филологическом факультете. Это была летная программа.

      • Alexandra 4 years ago

        Right, филфак was my second guess.
        Well, people with such positive attitude to foreign cultures are always welcome everywhere – so come back to Russia soon! :)

  • Slava 4 years ago

    The post is very popular among Russians )) Someone should tranlate it to Russian.

  • Evgeny 4 years ago

    Hi, being Russian just can’t avoid commenting,

    I believe the tonality of what you write is a bit off. It is not ‘never do this’ – it is like ‘it is not recommended to…’ in most of the cases. And also, some things like ‘you never store opened vodka’ were rather manipulative stint to get you drunk for whatever reason – like have your host’s pride of heavy drinker or else.

  • “Don’t Forget to Take Your Shoes Off”
    – not because the Russians followed the Asian culture.
    The reason is simple: dirty streets. Not the garbage that someone threw into the street, but the ground, that gets on the road and from it – on your shoes

  • Maria 4 years ago

    Hi guys,
    I’m Russian and I wanna say that this is really great article!
    I agree with almost everything!
    Respect to author!

  • Elena 4 years ago

    That’s a great article! Thank you Trevor)
    Being Russian, I totally agree with almost all the things you wrote about! With some small differences, depending of the region of Russia. As Dmitry mentioned above , you did it with respect and love to the national traditions and believes) Thank you!

  • Most of it is correct and is applicable to former Soviet states as well. In the Western culture, constant smiling means being polite, friendly, pleasant. In the Russian culture, it means being drunk, retarded, fake. Also, smiling showing off your teeth is considered vulgar.

  • When you are entering someone’s home, take your cap or hat off. Women and especially children are excepted. Also applies to many public places such as schools, hospitals, libraries, etc.

  • Alexandru 4 years ago

    As a Romanian, we have similar but also vastly different customs than in Russia but these are mostly common courtesy and nothing more. Although i do believe that the most important one of these is to not get its neighbors confused, this can anger people.

  • Brandon 4 years ago

    Regardless of where any of us live in the world isn’t this all just standard proper etiquette? Nothing on this list surprised me and i do basically all those things. And would love to go to Russia one day.

  • Shaun 3 years ago

    Americans must be barbaric as most civilised cultures do most of these as normal. Some are so wrong it is embarrassing, ten years experience here.

  • Euhhh êtes vous sûг de ce que vous nous écriveƶ ?

  • Fun post! Brought back a lot of memories from my time in Russia, I think it’s lighthearted humour that we can have about any race, enjoy the article for what it is :) I miss Russia!

  • Brian Pritchard 2 years ago

    Never use the American expression, “that’s a load of hooey!” “Hooey” is a vulgar term for a penis and, like our f word can be used as an insult or placed almost anywhere in a sentence.

  • Maria 2 years ago

    I m a Russian living in Europe and most of the rules are out-dated. The only useful rule up there that can confuse foreigners is the not-smiling-rule (rules 1 and 2 are valid as well, but they are clear, dont they). The not-smiling-rule can be especially extended to services: don’t be nice to waiters, hairmakers, cashiers, receptionists, secretaries, shop assistants, aso. They won’t understand! Be neutral, but distinct, then they ll do their job well. It is simply not common to smile to waiters and “be friends” with them, look into their eyes and say “thank you”.. which is soooo European. In Europe they expect you to suck up to them if you wanna have your steak, but in Russia they just want to do their job and be practical, and they wont do it worse if you are just normal. When services are concerned, I definitely prefer Russia because you really can relax in the restaurant or when getting a manicure, you dont need to waist energy to satisfy the emotional needs of the guys who serve you.