Inspired by Maryline at Franco-American Dream and her fascinating lists on things she didn’t know before she came to America, I’ve compiled a list of things I never did until I went to Russia. I found her lists interesting and informative about cultural differences and hope mine can shed some insight on life in Russia.
1) Wore slippers at home. In Russia there’s a whole slipper culture. When guests arrive at your home, they take off their shoes and you’re supposed to supply them with slippers. When you get home, you take off your own shoes and put on slippers. I adopted this habit because A) I always took my shoes/boots off when I came home because they were usually filthy, B) my flat was cold, C) the floors in my flat weren’t of the highest quality and D) slippers really are comfortable! I’ve even had this habit carry over now that I’ve returned to the United States and I can’t imagine walking in my house barefoot or wearing only socks.
2) Danced all night. In the United States, bars and clubs usually close around 2AM but in Russia they stay open until 6AM. So it wasn’t uncommon to have a night out with friends that meant staying up all night and returning home around 7AM.
3) Drank alcohol in public. When I say in public, I mean outside of bars, clubs and restaurants. It wasn’t uncommon to see people walking down the street drinking beer. I even drank an alcoholic beverage on a bus on my way out for the night with friends. Seeing people sip beers on trains while commuting home was something that I never quite got used to.
4) Wore high heels every day. In Russia people dress a bit more formally which, for women, means high heels. Of course I came to Russia straight out of university where I never wore heels. If I’d worked in an office, for example, before coming, this might not have made the list as I would have dressed in heels for a similar job in the US. But one of my friends mentioned that she wears heels every day in Russia but switches back to trainers when she’s at home in the UK. In Russia, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of trainers. It was always nice shoes or boots, usually with a heel.
5) Made all purchases in cash. In the US credit cards rule. In Russia, cash is king. Before going to Russia I don’t know when I ever saw cash. I used my credit or debit card for pretty much all purposes, paid rent and utilities with a check, had my paycheck directly deposited into my bank account, etc. But in Russia I always carried cash and bought everything using it.
6) Took cold showers. Every summer in Russia the hot water is turned off so repairs can be made on the pipes. Sometimes these repairs aren’t completed in the summer and you might just wake up and be surprised to find you have no hot water. So cold showers become something you are forced to deal with if you want to be clean.
7) Used my passport for simple purchases. When I moved to Russia I lived in the Moscow region. On my previous trip to Russia I’d been in St. Petersburg where I bought a cell phone and SIM card. After relocating I went to buy a Moscow region SIM card and was asked to show my passport in order to purchase one. To me, a passport is something official. But Russians have two passports, one for everyday identification purposes and one for traveling. So being asked for my passport was like the equivalent of showing my driver’s license. It seemed like a big deal to me but it really wasn’t.
8) Paid for my minutes on my cell phone. In the United States I had a calling plan that I paid for every month. If I went over my minutes, I was automatically charged. If I didn’t use all my minutes, I was still paying the same price. I actually prefer the system in Russia where you put money on your phone as you go. Of course it’s inconvenient if you’re broke and need to make a call, but can save you money in the long run.
9) Got paid in cash. As I mentioned above, my paycheck was directly deposited into my account. Before that job, I received a check and had to cash it. From what I observed, getting paid in cash isn’t universal in Russia, it was just the nature of my job as an English teacher and our company’s policy. Still, it was strange to be receiving handfuls of money twice a week. Even stranger, carrying that money around in my purse on my way home.
10) Took public transport. While in Russia, I really missed my car. Fortunately I lived in a small town so I could walk almost anywhere. But when in a hurry or traveling long distances, I used public transport in the form of buses, trains and the subway. Again, taking transport isn’t unique to Russia as many people living in large cities use it. But for me, it was a first and took some adjustment.