It is well-known that the ultimate goal of any traveller is to blend in with the locals. Therefore, here are my top tips detailing how to become a true Muscovite:
The Moscow metro system, as one of the busiest in the world, is hugely efficient with trains on the main circle line arriving every 40 seconds. As a Brit abroad, you will need to brace yourself for some very uncharacteristic shoving – getting on and off the metro is like an Olympic sport here, and don’t be surprised by more jostling for position inside the carriage as everyone competes to stand with their nose pressed against the carriage doors so they can be the first to leap off the train at the next stop. All this shoving and overwhelming heating can lead to a rather warm climate on the train, however, to be a true Russian, you must stoically continue wearing all your winter clothing. The ‘Troika’ card (similar to the London ‘Oyster’ card) has just been launched in the form of both rings and bracelets to make commuting quicker (and more…stylish?!), although we are yet to see whether either accessory takes off.
Being a guest
Russians are incredibly welcoming and house-proud people, and as a guest, there is a clear set of guidelines which should be respected; shaking hands across a threshold is believed (according to Russian folklore) to be a very unlucky act. The very first thing you should do on arrival is take off your outdoor shoes and put on ‘тапочки’ (house slippers, which hosts will often provide for you), before heading directly to wash your hands. As a guest, you must always arrive with a gift, whether that be a bouquet of flowers or confectionary item. Your host will undoubtedly try to fatten you up (they often fear us Brits won’t survive the winter), so arrive expecting traditional dishes such as ‘herring under a fur coat’ or popular and renowned ‘Krasny Oktyabr’ confectionary items which are produced here in Moscow.
There are a few key things to expect in a Russian restaurant: firstly, keep an eye out for coatracks in restaurants, as it is second nature for Muscovites to hang up their bulky winter coats and scarves when entering a building. Restaurant service tends to be slow, and don’t be surprised if your party’s dishes all arrive at different times. In contrast, be aware that the second the final mouthful of food is on your fork your plate will likely be whipped away by the nearest passing waiter, no matter whether or not the rest of your table has finished eating.
Restaurants also provide a good insight into Russian mannerisms; Russians are a direct people, and the linguistic root to this apparent bluntness lies in the fact that Russian constructions contain far fewer niceties than English. Furthermore, being in Moscow really reinforces the fact that the British are by nature a hugely polite people, so you will probably be met by strange looks if you overuse your ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’-s. Similarly, the best way to get the attention of your waiter or waitress (or generally that of anyone on the street) is to call out, ‘девушка’ or ‘молодой человек’ which is simply translated as ‘girl’ or ‘young man’. Whilst such bluntness goes against our British mindset, simple constructions like ‘give me’ are used universally and in a manner that is by no means rude here in Russia.
Russia, which is subjected to so many inaccurate stereotypes from the outside world, has an incredibly rich cultural and historical background, which means that the so-called “Russian soul” is best understood from the inside.
Written by Imogen Burgoyne.
Photo from: http://fotostrasse.com/st-petersburg-metro/#.WnINe610ccg
The UoB Linguist Magazine
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