Six Tips to Help You Navigate in Russia
Moving to a new country can be daunting and it comes with many twists and challenges. I know this from my own experience and talking to friends who have lived abroad. Here are some tips that I hope will help you when you move to Russia!
Tip 1: Learn Russian. Even if you aren’t planning to stay for more than 6 months, learn it, learn as much as you can, talk to people, study it, try to say things. Everyone is super encouraging. If they speak English, they’ll probably respond to you in English but don’t be discouraged, the next guy will respond to you in Russian. You might find there’s certain phrases that will come in handy. For example the phrase, “kto posledni” is useful in many situations. These days in many banks, post offices and at the doctors, you can pick a number and your spot in the queue is fixed on the fancy screen, but in many places this system still hasn’t developed. So when you walk into such an establishment, and see lots of people but no actual queue, you can’t just stand there and hope your turn comes, you have to ask “kto posledni?”, “who is last in the queue?” and then you have to pay attention to who that person is, and watch them like a hawk so you don’t miss your turn.
Tip 2: Make friends with the locals. Don’t spend all your time with the other international students or expats, immerse yourself. If your class has Russian students, get to know them, be their friend. If you’re only surrounded by international students in your classes then join a sports club, find a craft, go to a local English-speaking club. What’s the point of going to another country if you don’t actually get to know the people? Of course, sometimes it can be hard, so you can start by making friends with someone who has lived abroad. They will understand your experience from the other side and know their own culture and circumstances probably better than someone who has never been abroad. They can help you navigate through any dumb questions you have, help you find some weird specific food you’re looking for, and explain to you how things work in a way that other people might just be like “duh, obviously it’s like this, isn’t it like that everywhere?”.
Tip 3: Never show up empty-handed anywhere. If you’re invited to someone’s home, you should always bring something. Even if it’s not a super thoughtful gift, even if it’s something you wouldn’t eat yourself (I don’t totally agree with this philosophy but I’ve noticed it’s not the point), you should take something, usually something sweet that can be enjoyed while drinking tea. If it’s a housewarming, maybe something more exciting. If it’s a birthday, you definitely can not show up without a gift, and if it’s a wedding (ok this is already obvious), you must certainly remember to bring a gift with you because you may even have to give your best wishes to the bride and groom and present the gift in front of everyone.
Tip 4: Always have exact change. If you like to pay in cash, try to avoid buying chewing gum with a 5000 ruble note. Pretty much the only place you can change your 5000 or 1000 note is at the metro ticket counters because they’re loaded with cash. Everyone else, everywhere else, is going to glare at you, some may even refuse to break your large note. And if it costs 325 rubles, and you don’t have 325, you should do your best to give 525 or 1025, because they will ask you for that 25.
Tip 5: Watch your step. This advice is mostly for icy weather, but actually I fell over when it was dry… so watch where you’re going. Sometimes you want to take in the scenery and look around, sometimes you’re desperately attempting to respond to messages on your phone, but the best thing for you to do is to watch where you’re going. If there is snow and ice on the pathways you need to look down and ahead but watch out because above your head someone might be cleaning the roof from snow or icicles might be on their way down. So pay attention when you’re walking!
Tip 6: Don’t complain about life in Russia. You really have no right. Russians can complain about life in Russia, about politics, about the weather, about the quality of life, but you can’t. You’re a foreigner, you made the choice to come here and you need to respect the place and the people. Imagine you invite someone to your home for dinner and they spend the whole time complaining about the food and the furniture and the layout of the house. You would feel pretty upset wouldn’t you?
Living in Russia is loads of fun! You will enjoy it no matter what. Let us know if you have any tips that you think are useful for someone coming to Russia for the first time.