3 things you SHOULD worry about when visiting Russia

Bears, communism and the KGB – no need to worry about these if you’re planning a visit to Russia. An American expat in St. Petersburg will tell you about the real ‘dangers.’

If you’re going out into the world with the goal of antagonizing bears, well, no one can help you. Also, despite what your grandfather says, Russia is no longer communist. And if that doesn’t assuage your fears that the KGB no longer exists, then you can chuckle over the fact that in Russian, the KGB sounds almost like “The Kuhguhbuh.”

Now, not a single Russian has ever laughed at that pronunciation, and maybe you also want to check out our article on why you’re not funny in Russia.

But here are three things that you ACTUALLY need to worry about if you’re visiting Russia.

1. Having exact change and small bills

If you’re coming to Russia, bring small bills and hold onto your change. For two years I’ve been in a passive aggressive war with the woman who runs the shop down the road because once I paid for beer with a 5,000 RUB note.

She remembers, always. Also, some shops simply won’t have change, and you won’t be able to make your purchase because not all shops take debit or credit cards.

Also, 9 times out of 10, if someone at a shop asks you something during your purchase, they are asking for exact change. This can be very intimidating if you just arrived, red-faced, and are fishing through your pockets as 20 people behind you in line fidget and grumble.

Solution: Ask your bank to give you 1,000 RUB notes when you exchange money and invest in a decent coin purse.

2. Cars drive FAST

Taxis in Russia sometimes seem to be driving on fate alone, and you might feel as though your teeth are tasting your tonsils as your driver weaves through buses, pedestrians, and stops two inches short of someone making their way through a light-less intersection.

I have taken many cabs in Russia and never once has there been an accident. There are different rules, some of which I cannot begin to understand, but if wild driving is something you’re uneasy about, then make sure to look up how to say: “slower please,” or “be careful.” Taxi drivers will always listen, unless they’re knights of the KuhguhBuh taking you to their sinister gumdrop torture chamber in great haste.

3. Obligatory public speaking on birthdays and weddings

The first time was the hardest. Someone stood up at a birthday party for my friend Ivan and started speaking. When she finished, I clapped.

Then someone else stood up and spoke.

I clapped again.

Then I realized it was going in a circle. Each person was standing up and giving a speech and it was getting closer and closer to me. I had absolutely no idea what to say and when my turn came I blurted out: “I hope you have a happy life.”

The girl next to me nudged me and said: “someone already said that.”

So, I said: “I hope you make a lot of money.”

I was nudged again.

Then I said: “I hope you die in your sleep.” And everyone frowned, so I said: “No, No. Like, that is good, cause you won’t be in pain, right?”

And that was that, until I found myself at the wedding of my girlfriend’s brother. In America just the parents, best man and maid of honor speak, but as I put away my fourth or fifth glass of whisky I saw there were five people standing in the middle of the floor, passing a mic between them, giving speeches. I asked my girlfriend, “wait – does everyone have to give a speech.”

“Yes.”

Soon enough I found myself in front of a room of strangers saying, “Uh well, I think you’re nice so if you die a nice guy I guess you’ll have lived a pretty good life.”

His wife turned and whispered something in her new husband’s ear that I imagine was either: “Did he really just say something about death at a wedding?” or “does death have multiple meanings in English?” or “I think your sister’s boyfriend is an idiot.”

Nevertheless, life went on, but whether it be a New Year’s celebration or a particularly rowdy Tuesday night, Russians are much more familiar with public speaking, and you’re likely to get roped into the middle of it.

Benjamin Davis is an American journalist and author of The King of Fu living in St. Petersburg, Russia where he spent a year working with Russian artist Nikita Klimov on their project: Flash-365. Now, he primarily writes magical-realism flash fiction stories about Russian culture, self-deprecating mishaps, and babushkas while sharing his exploits on his Telegram channel.

Read more: ‘They taught me to be rude, in the politest way’: Benjamin Davis on how Russians changed his life

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