So, you’re heading off on a school trip to historic Russia! The good news is that the etiquette here is generally quite similar to that of Western Europe. However, there are a few things to remember, in order to avoid inadvertently causing offence:
Meeting a Russian
When meeting a Russian for the first time, it’s really important to maintain strong eye contact while being addressed. Looking away may be interpreted as apathy or indifference, and considered very rude. However, try not to stare – this is as rude in Russia as it is in the UK.
When meeting a Russian in a formal situation, it is perfectly acceptable to shake hands with both men and women. If you’re a man and want to shake hands with a woman, it is better to wait until she offers her hand. And if you’re a man shaking hands with another man, make sure it’s a strong handshake!
But you should never shake hands across a doorway, as this is thought to bring bad luck.
Out and about
So, there are a couple of things to remember when out and about.
Particularly relevant perhaps if you are taking a group of teenagers to Russia, is that the Russians are sticklers for good posture. Slouching, dawdling, and standing with hands shoved firmly in pockets are all regarded as rather impolite.
Chewing gum in public, especially with your mouth open, is also frowned upon.
If travelling on public transport, members of your group should be ready to jump up and offer their seat to any elderly passengers that get on board. Russians won’t be shy to tell them off if they don’t!
You shouldn’t be too alarmed if you are stopped by police. As long as you make sure you all carry your passport, visa and registration documents and present them when asked, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Russians can be quite conservative, and public displays of affection are frowned upon, so it may be worth reminding your students that these aren’t appropriate.
And this is a key one – be careful with where you take pictures. If you take pictures in the metro, or around stations and military buildings, this could lead to your camera or phone being confiscated, and in some cases you could even be arrested or fined.
Russians do have a tendency to dress quite conservatively. Women should avoid low cut tops and short skirts and men should only wear shorts in very, very informal situations.
It is especially important to dress conservatively in and around religious landmarks or buildings. Men should wear trousers and a shirt and women should cover up, opting for trousers or a long skirt. Jeans are not usually considered acceptable attire in such sacred places.
In some cases, women will wear a headscarf in religious buildings, whereas men must remove their hat.
And in some monasteries and churches, women are expected to wear skirts. Where this is the case, you should find a pile of wraps by the door.
Tipping used to be illegal in Russia. This is no longer the case and a 10% service charge is usually added to the bill. You can tip more if you found the service outstanding – but 5-10% is sufficient.
Water quality is variable throughout Russia. If you’re overly concerned, it might be worth using bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth and avoid raw vegetables and salads.
Unless you are travelling to Russia on a languages trip, it is unlikely that all of your group will speak Russian. However, it is worth learning a few words. And it’s definitely worthwhile learning the Cyrillic alphabet, as this will really help when navigating the streets of Moscow or St Petersburg.
Some basic Russian phrases:
- Доброе утро – Dobraye ootro – Good morning
- Добрый день – Dobriy den’ – Good afternoon
- Добрый вечер – Dobriy vyecher – Good evening
- Как поживаешь? – Kak pazhivayesh? – How are you?
- Спасибо, прекрасно! – Spaseeba preekrasna! – Fine, thanks!
- Как Вас зовут? – Kak vas zavoot? – What’s your name?
- Меня зовут... – Meenya zavoot – My name is..
- Спасибо – Spaseeba – Thank you
- Большое спасибо – Bal’shoye spaseeba – Thank you very much
- Извините – Eezveeneete – Sorry
- Простите – Prateete – Excuse me
- До свидания – Da sveedaneeya – Goodbye
- Вы говорите по-английски? – Vi gavaretye pa angleeskee? – Do you speak English?
- Я не понимаю – Ya nee paneemayoo – I don’t understand
Just a quick word about names, as Russia uses a different naming convention to that used in Britain.
Most Russians have three names – their given name, a patronymic and a family name/surname.
All three names are normally used in formal situations.
Only the first name and the patronymic tend to be used between friends and close acquaintances.
And use of the first name only is generally reserved for very close friends and family.
The patronymic is usually formed by ending the father’s name with ‘-ovich’, ‘-evich’ or ‘-ich’ (depending on the father’s name) for a son, and ‘-ovna’, ‘-yevna’ or ‘-ichna’ (depending on the father’s name) for a daughter.
So, the son of Ivan’s patronymic would be ‘Ivanovich’, and his daughter’s patronymic would be ‘Ivanovna’.
You should also be aware that surnames do change slightly depending on the person’s gender. For example, surnames that end in ‘v’ and ‘n’ typically add an ‘a’ for the feminine form.
We hope this information is helpful ahead of your school trip to Russia!
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