A few months ago, I went on a date with a cute Russian guy. Everything was going well until he invited me to a restaurant and, when the food arrived, took the serving utensils in an effort to put some on my plate. In his world, that was an attempt to “poukhazhivat” - as in, display his chivalry. In my world, it meant “he’s a control freak and wants to decide how much I should eat.” He was trying to be nice, and I had to stop myself from stopping him.

What should you expect when it comes to dating and relationships in general? Here are some of the things that still surprise me:

  1. Russian women are always young. There’s no appropriate term to address a female, other than “devushka,” which would generally mean a young girl but, in reality, applies to every female from 15 to 55. In most cases, a sincere compliment is welcomed and appreciated.

  2. To Russian women skinny oftentimes means beautiful. They go to incredible means to achieve and maintain a low weight and are oftentimes convinced that it influences how attractive they are. I don’t have enough empirical evidence to say to support or deny that, but my guess is that guys do pay attention, even if they sport beer bellies themselves.

  3. It’s expected that women dress up to be in public, not to say anything about going on a date. You’ll see them sporting lipstick, and a nice scarf, and maybe even heels that look way too hazardous on an icy street. Looks are important, even if to communicate to other women who’s in charge.

  4. Many Russian women I know are an incredible mix: they expect and accept chivalry, as in a man carrying their suitcase or opening a heavy door for them, fixing things around the house or taking care of the car. But at the same time, they’re fully capable of doing all of this (and then some) themselves and do not hesitate to make important decisions for the family. As the local saying goes, “A man is the head, a woman is the neck.”

  5. If there’s such a thing as casual dating, it’s a new concept inspired by Tinder and other online dating services. People don’t generally date several people simultaneously, especially once they’re past the “friends” stage. Good luck if she suspects you of spending time with other women if you’ve been going out together – even if you haven’t officially committed.

  6. Russian men may be a lot of things (including awesome scientists, genius IT guys, and ad-hoc mechanics), but very few of the ones I've met know how to cook (other than barbecue) and even fewer truly go 50/50 on taking care of children. Keep that in mind before making hormone-induced decisions.

  7. The concept of engagement with a diamond ring is fairly new – most people just decide to get married, fill out an application and set a date. In that special moment of matrimony, they slip golden bands onto ring fingers of each other’s right hands.

  8. In many western countries, couples often live together for a long time, and even buy a home and have children before getting married. In Russia, on the other hand, you generally start to build a life together after the “I do’s”.

Here are some ideas for romantic places to spend your Valentine's Day in Saint Petersburg. 

Disclaimer: This story is based on author's limited experience of five dates and one happy marriage, as well as interviews with an unrepresentative sample of friends. Use at your own risk.

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