If you're preparing to travel to Russia, chances are you've stumbled across a few stereotypes about the people of this massive Eurasian country. While many of these are facts about the culture and lifestyle of average Russians, some are just myths or exaggerations. It's important to keep in mind while traveling that not all people fit the stereotypes associated with their native country, state, city, or even neighborhood.
Read on to discover the truth about the top 10 Russian stereotypes, and experience for yourself the real culture, history, and lifestyle of Russia on your next trip abroad.
Russians Love Vodka
Almost all Russians are capable of drinking vodka like water, and most of them will always have a bottle in their house whether they drink it regularly or not. If you are ever at an event of any sort organized by Russian people, there will be vodka there, and it will be offered to you!
It’s not true, however, that Russians get extremely offended when you refuse a shot—it’s more that they’re surprised because to them it’s not at all a big deal. And of course, remember that just because the Russians like vodka, it does not mean that they are alcoholics—they can just drink more than most other people!
Russian Babushkas Are Real
One of the most popular stereotypes is that of the Russian babushka, a short, old granny with a scarf wrapped around her head. Turns out, babushkas are real—it's just what Russian children call their grandmothers.
There are, indeed, a lot of older women in Russia who look exactly like stereotypical “babushkas," but in Russian these elderly women command respect when they're out in public. Don't be surprised if they cut in front of you in line for the Metro, for instance, or demand your seat. You should comply—respecting your elders is hardwired into Russian people, and no one would take your side if you were to argue with an older woman on the train!
Russia Is Full of Corruption
A lot of people say Russia is full of corruption, especially in its government but also in its people. While this may be true in some cases, it's, again, no truer in Russia than in any other developed country.
Still, there's a chance that if you get stopped by police for a random check in the Metro and don’t have your passport with you, or even if you’re stopped for a traffic violation, the officer will often offer you a choice between an official ticket (and jail time in some cases) or to pay them off to let you go without the paperwork.
There's also a lot of speculation about the bureaucracy and government of Russia, but this really doesn't apply to much of the travel you'll be doing—unless you get in trouble with the law. Consequently, just be careful, obey all Russian rules and regulations, and always bring your passport with you to avoid any legal trouble and you'll be fine.
Russians Are Blunt and Serious
Russians do admittedly have a serious demeanor, at least while in public, and it is considered impolite to express strong (especially loud) emotions around strangers. Of course, this all changes in private, but that’s a different story.
Russian people are also very blunt and will not beat around the bush; they don’t tolerate small talk or niceties and much prefer to get to the point of a conversation. Except for young (Americanized) people, you will never hear Russian people exchanging “how are you?” as they walk past each other on the street—this question is reserved for private conversations and demands an honest answer.
Russians Are Superstitious
Russian people have a lot of “superstitions” that are mostly habits—like “knock on wood” is in many cultures. Many Russians will sit down inside their house before leaving for a trip to ensure a good journey; they will consider it good luck to break a glass accidentally, and they will spit three times over their shoulder after they knock on wood. Most people don’t actually believe these things “work," but they do them anyway.
Other Russian superstitions include not shaking hands over a threshold, bringing flowers with an even number of petals for funerals and odd number for celebrations, not whistling indoors, not sitting at a table corner or on the cold ground, and not wishing anyone a happy birthday prematurely.
Russians Are Flashy
One of the biggest stereotypes of Russians is their propensity for fancy clothing and flashy jewelry, and while the tradition of debutante balls is still alive and well in Russia, the average citizen dresses rather casually. Just take a walking tour around any major Russian city and you'll see they're not any more flashy than New Yorkers or Londoners.
Still, when Russian people dress up, they go all-out in tall heels, glittery miniskirts, and fur coats on the impeccably styled women and the latest in crisp, bright, or loud men's fashion on the well-groomed guys.
When they're just heading to work or grabbing a bite to eat with friends, though, most Russian men and women wear muted colors and outfits—it's only when you happen upon one of the exclusive clubs that you really see lavishly dressed Russians.
Russian Clubs Are Exclusive
It’s true, many Russian clubs, especially in Moscow, are designed for the very rich, with strict face control and exorbitant “cover” fees—and that’s before you have to pay for drinks!
While it is possible to find some affordable clubs in Russia, be prepared to face high cover charges and even be turned away if you are not dressed up to the nines. If you're not up for that, try going to a bar instead, which can often be just as lively but a lot less expensive!
The exclusive clubs, though, do offer a higher class of entertainment, so if you're traveling to a Russian city, consider dressing up yourself and heading out for an exclusive night at some of the finest clubs in the world.
Russia Has Specific Gender Roles
While many may consider Russian gender roles antiquated compared to other world powers, Russian citizens aren't so different in their day-to-day lives as Americans or Eastern Europeans. Many may perceive Russian sentimentality to dictate that men are meant to be chivalrous and hardworking while women are expected to be caretakers in the home, this isn't necessarily true when it comes to employment and daily life.
In fact, Russia has the highest number of female business leaders in the world, according to a 2016 Reuters article, defying the stereotype that women are meant to be homemakers. Still, gender norms do exist in the homes of Russians: men should be macho, women should be kind, delicate, and beautiful.
As a traveler, there's really no difference in the citizenry's perception of you, regardless of your gender, as it compares to the United States—Russians are mostly for equal rights of men and women, but that doesn't mean misogynistic tendencies don't exist there as they do in America.
On the other hand, Russian men are quite chivalrous to women, and if you are a man traveling in Russia, you are expected to be chivalrous as well.
Russians Are Chain-Smokers
Although the Russian government is slowly starting to impose harsh anti-smoking regulations in an attempt to end the smoking epidemic gripping the country, Russia still has one of the highest smoking rates in the world.
That doesn't mean that you have to expect second-hand smoke to be practically inescapable on Russian streets, but do be aware that most clubs and bars will have smokers in droves outside of them. If you are a non-smoker traveling abroad, you're not going to enjoy the strong odor wafting outside the busiest of nightlife venues.
Still, there's plenty of space in Russia, so it's not often that you will find yourself stuck in a cloud of smoke for long. Also, many of the younger generation of Russian citizens are extremely health-conscious and don't smoke at all.
Russian Women Are Extremely Beautiful
It's true, Russian women are known for their beauty, but that's not always the case in Russia as it isn't always the case in America's "most beautiful" cities.
Still, Russian women in cities are known to go out and lavish outfits, complete with fur coats, fine jewelry, and flawless makeup and hair. If you're venturing out to experience the nightlife, you're sure to encounter dozens of beautiful Russian women, but strike up a conversation and you'll quickly see they're also extremely intelligent and personable—as long as you're nice.