3 weird Russian travel habits

Irina Baranova
Sitting before a long journey or clapping when a plane is landing... St. Petersburg-based American writer Benjamin Davis tries to unravel some of the superstitions and traditions of traveling a la russe.

If you find yourself sitting in your apartment, bags packed, jacket on, ready to go, yet unable to leave until you close your eyes for a minute; it’s a safe bet you’re about to go on a trip with a Russian. Sitting before you leave on a trip is one of the many characteristics of Russian travelers, and the first step in determining if you indeed travel like a Russian. 

1. Sitting before you leave 

I am an anxious traveler. The twenty-four hours leading up to my flight are rife with pacing and having to pee with ever increasing frequency. All I want to do is get to the airport, get on my damn flight, take off, and forget. Yet, every time I have one shoe on, suitcase in one hand, jacket in the other, whoever I am traveling with suddenly stops, sits, closes their eyes and I think, “Well, f**k,” and immediately have to pee again.

This sitting isn’t just about resting your legs. It is almost meditative, and you’re not allowed to talk. My Russian companions will close their eyes and just take a moment to relax before the trip. When I asked my girlfriend before our trip to Warsaw why she insists on doing this, she said, “It’s so you can calm down and collect your thoughts, make sure you have everything you need.” 

“Yeah, sure,” I told her, “Then why are you always the one forgetting things?” 

The taxi ride was silent as well. 

2. On the flight 

There are three things that I see happen without fail on any flight I take in and out of Russia: 

  1. Clapping: In America, when a flight lands, the only thing you hear is the unsticking of butts and a collective groan of “well, thank god that’s over and done with”. But with Russians, every time the plane lands there is at least an enthusiastic minority, and sometimes a majority, of the plane that claps. I suppose this is a nice way to say, “Thank you for not crashing into a mountain and forcing us to survive by eating the weak ones first.” Because that’s what everyone thinks about on a flight, right?...Right? [Find out why Russians really applause on plane here]
  2. Taking empty seats: I love this about Russians. Before travelling with them, when I’d be crammed into a middle row, and there’d be a few free seats together behind me, I’d either be too shy to ask, or ask and be denied. Not Russians. Russians go straight into “f**k-it” mode and will move to a better available seat at first opportunity.
  3. Not staying seated after landing: On every flight I have taken in and out of Russia, once we are on the ground, the first instance when the plane feels like it might have reached the arrival gate, at least one Russian stands up and starts grabbing their sh*t from the overhead compartment. I’ve started to observe the flight attendants now whenever I land on a Russian flight. As soon as there is a pause on the runway, they know what is coming and tense up. “Excuse me!” “Excuse me, Sir, sit down!” “Ma’am, please, the plane hasn’t reached the gate yet.” “No, Ma’am! Ma’am!” At which point there are at least six or seven (sometimes more) people standing and she is forced to use the loudspeaker: “WE ARE NOT PARKED YET, PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS!” And then, finally, almost everyone sits.

3. Buying souvenirs and gifts 

If no American ever bought a single souvenir abroad, no one would notice. Russians, however, always buy something. Mostly, it’s gifts. Not just for close friends and family. I have had coworkers bring in things from abroad for the whole office. Mostly it’s food. My friend’s family takes an entire extra suitcase with them to Spain... to bring back wine. When Russians travel, they act like the country they're going to might suddenly burn to the ground as soon as they leave, so they better get out with all the good s**t they can carry. Food and alcohol are the kickers, but also loads of trinkets and souvenirs and items from any shops that aren’t in Russia. 

Whenever I travel, I get a single keychain for my brother. So, you can imagine my confusion and horror as I was forced to help pack yet another additional suitcase before leaving the U.S., because apparently, I’m nuts if I think we aren’t bringing two boxes of American candy back to St. Petersburg! 

Sound familiar?

Benjamin Davis, an American writer living in Russia, explores a wide range of topics, from the pointless to the profound, through conversations with Russians. If you have something to say or want Benjamin to explore a particular topic, then write us in the comment section below or write us on Facebook! 

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