10 things a foreigner should never do in Russia

Be careful during drinking competitions with Russian friends and don’t smile too much.

10. Drink alcohol on a street

You’ve probably seen movies or videos about Russia, where people drink beer in parks, but now it’s prohibited by law. Actually, you can only drink alcohol at home or in licenced joints. Low-alcoholic drinks (like beer) are allowed in some cinemas and mall food courts, but only if you buy it there. The fine for drinking alcohol in a public place ranges from 500 rubles ($9) to 1,500 rubles ($26).

9. Smoke in a hotel or restaurant

Several years ago one could smoke almost everywhere: In airports, cafés, trains. But now you can only smoke in the street (but not closer than 15 meters from the entrance of metros and railways stations), in your own car, and in special smoking rooms (“kurilka” in Russian). The fine for smoking in these places is also 500 to 1,500 rubles. What about a balcony? Good question. In November 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court ordered some people who smoked on their balcony to pay their neighbors compensation. So it’s a bad idea. And don’t forget, in Russia you can only smoke tobacco - not the green stuff.

8. Forget your passport

In Russia, a policeman can stop and check your ID or passport. Police have the right to hold a person (not only foreigners) for three hours to establish their identity. Remember to be polite with police: You don’t have to worry if you don’t do anything wrong. Here is the ultimate guideon what to do if you’re stopped by Russian police. 

7. Try to outdrink a Russian

Imagine, your Russian friends invite you to a party and start feasting on tasty dishes and alcohol. According to Russian tradition, you should not eat after the first glass of vodka, and there’s no break between the first and second glass. The third glass usually goes down soon after the second. If you’re late for the party, Russians can make you to drink a “penalty” glass. Russian parties usually last for several hours and include multiple toasts. Don’t compete with Russians at drinking! But if you do, make sure to line your stomach with lots of food first. Traditional mayonnaise salads are good for this.

6. Call a woman ‘woman’

There is no special way to address a man or woman in Russian, like “mister” or “misses.” So young people are often called “girls”/”boys” (“devuchka”/”molodoychelovek”) and “grannies”/”grandpas” (“babushka”/”dedushka”) - but it’s not clear how to address middle age Russians. Somehow the address “woman” / “man” (“zhenschina”/ “muzhchina”) sounds offensive in Russian, so it’s better to find out the name of a person or just to avoid addressing them formally.

5. Ask somebody’s age and salary

Such talk is considered private in Russian. A woman can ask another woman about her age, but a man should not ask a woman how old she is. The same applies to salaries. You can discuss your own with Russians, but don’t expect them to open up about theirs.

4. Sit on public transport while a senior stands

This is an unwritten rule around the world, and Russia is no different. It’s common practice to give up a seat for a senior person or pregnant woman. Actually, some Russian men don’t sit if a woman is standing nearby. Such gentlemen!  

3. Buy a phone from the street

Somebody offers you a new iPhone on a street...maybe they really need some money, but most likely they’re trying to scam you by flogging a stolen device. If you want to buy a phone, visit an official mobile shop.

2. Change money outside a bank

The same thing with money. There’s no guarantee the money will be real if you don’t go through an official channel. Fake bank notes exist and if you use a back office in a street you might end up holding a load of duds. If you don’t go to the bank, hotels will change money but the rates might be a little higher.

1. Smile too much at strangers

This “don’t” seems bizarre only at the first glance. Russians only tend to smile to their close acquaintances and may feel uncomfortable if a stranger smiles at them.  

Why don’t Russians smile? Read this story and find it out

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