Russian is the common language, although dozens of other languages are spoken by ethnic minorities. It’s relatively easy to ﬁnd English speakers in the big cities, but not so easy in smaller towns and the countryside. Learning Cyrillic and a few key phrases will help you enormously in being able to decode street signs, menus and timetables.
What to Wear
Everyone makes an effort when they go to the theatre or a posh restaurant – you should do likewise to ﬁt in. If you’re planning on exploring on foot, a comfortable pair of waterproof walking shoes will come in handy, as will an umbrella or rain jacket. In winter, bundle up with several layers before going out and bring a long, windproof coat to stay nicely warm. Hats and coats are always removed on entering a museum or restaurant and left in the cloakroom.
What to Pack
»Phrasebook or mini-dictionary
»Mobile phone charger
»Painki1lers (or other hangover cure)
»Sense of humour
»Bucketﬁ1l of patience
Russians are sticklers for formality. They’re also rather superstitious. Follow these tips to avoid faux pas.
»Visiting Homes Shaking hands across the threshold is considered unlucky; wait until you’re fully inside. Remove your shoes and coat on entering a house. Always bring a gift. If you give anyone ﬂowers, make sure it’s an odd number – even numbers of blooms are for funerals.
»Religion Women should cover their heads and bare shoulders when entering a church. In some monasteries and churches it’s also required for a woman to wear a skirt – wraps are usually available at the door. Men should remove their hats in church and not wear shorts.
»Eating 8: Drinking Russians eat resting their wrists on the table edge, with fork in left hand and knife in the right. Vodka toasts are common at shared meals – it’s rude to refuse tzo join in and traditional (and good sense) to eat a little something after each shot.
»When to Tip Customary in restaurants, cafes and bars, optional elsewhere.
»Restaurants Leave small change or about 10%, if the service warrants it.
»Guides Around 10% of their daily rate; a small gift will also be appreciated.
»Taxis No need to tip as the fare is agreed either before you get in or metered.
»Hotels Only in the most luxurious need you tip bellboys etzc, and only if service is good.
It’s illegal to make purchases in any currency other than roubles. If prices are listed in US dollars or euros, you will still be presented with a ﬁnal bill in roubles. ATMs, linked to international networks such as Amex, Cirrus, MasterCard and Visa, are common right across Russia – look for signs that say bcmkomat (BAHKOMAT). Credit cards are commonly accepted in the big cities but don’t expect to be able to use your
American Express card, for example, in more off-ﬂie-beaten-track spots and rural areas. If you are going to rely on ATMs, make certain you have a few days’ supply of cash at hand in case you can’t ﬁnd a machine to accept your card. Also inform your bank or credit card provider of the dates you’ll be travelling in Russia and using your card, to avoid a situation where the card is blocked.