Working at the Soviet Europe office of YPT, one of my favourite parts of the job is breaking stereotypes about Eastern Europe, an area of the world still largely undiscovered by Western Tourists since the collapse of the USSR. A common stereotype I find people have is in relation to Russia and the people there. Many assume that Russians are cold and unfriendly before travelling to Russia, but are pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the locals when they arrive (mostly). When it comes to people, Russia is similar to many countries: it has its nice people and not so nice people. In my opinion, travelling to the biggest country on earth is a waste if you don’t have interactions with the locals. Russians themselves can give you a deep insight into this ancient and fascinating land. So we decided to provide you with 5 pieces of advice on making friends in Russia!
1. Learn some Russian!
My first point is the most important. Russians are two different types of people depending on if you can or can’t speak Russian. Try to learn some basic words and phrases and it will open up a whole world of possibilities when it comes to interactions with locals. If you think English will get you anywhere in Russia, you are mistaken.
2. Make the most of your time in transit
Now, it’s no secret that Russia is slightly on the larger side. This is the biggest country on earth with 11 time zones, so if you intend to see it all you are going to spend a lot of time in transit. One of the best Russia travel tips is to make the most of the Russian train system. One of the best and safest ways to cross Russia is via train, Russia has invested billions into their national rail network and it certainly shows. If you use 3rd or 2nd class trains in Russia, you’re going to have to interact with people at some point. One of my top tips is to load up with snacks, tea and drinks and offer them to your fellow passengers, they’ll happily accept and reciprocate and it helps to break the ice. Again, this is where knowing some basic Russian comes in.
3. Relevant conversations only
Russian’s don’t have time for meaningless small talk, so make sure you have something to talk about. Find some common points of interest: study topics, sports, etc. Many Russians are hard-working people focused very much on education and achievement, so talking to them about science/culture and exchanging new information in your field will be very much appreciated. Avoiding stereotypes and expressing genuine interest about what really the Russian way of life is like can really help.
4. Be bold and act yourself
Russians don’t tolerate weakness and can sense a false person from a mile away, one of the most important things you can do in the company of Russians is to be confident, bold and act yourself. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind or join in a conversation, Russians will respect you for it.
5. Don’t turn down an invitation!
If you have a Russian acquaintance and they invite you to a family event, dinner or party, don’t turn it down! An invite to such an event is a sacred thing for Russians and to turn it down would be considered offensive and may make or break a friendship in the early stages, such events are also a great chance to meet other Russians!