10 Things I Never Did Until I Lived in Russia (Part 1)

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.

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7 Responses to 10 Things I Never Did Until I Lived in Russia (Part 1)

  1. Maria says:

    So interesting! Each of these items on its own represents a fairly small adjustment to make, but together they equal one helluva culture shock. I do like #1, though. When I visit my Korean friends, I’m always invited to take a pair of slippers from the 4 or 5 pairs kept in the basket by the front door. It’s practical, but also extremely hospitable, and makes me feel welcome in their home.

    • JMS says:

      I agree, especially because some of them were welcome changes but a lot of small things you have to remember do do differently add up until you get used to a new way of life.

  2. Maryline says:

    Nicely done! This was so much fun to read!
    I am glad my list post inspired you, I hope to read more.

    Russia is quite the place it looks like!!

  3. Max Yankov says:

    2 — “In the United States, bars and clubs usually close around 2AM” WOW. I just realized what a sad country that might be. (I hope that doesn’t offend you, I’m not that serious.) And 7AM, really? What about after party?
    3 — “Seeing people sip beers on trains while commuting home was something that I never quite got used to.” I’m born in Moscow and spent here most of my adult life, but it still disgusts me. Although, I occasionally find myself drinking beer in the park with a company of friends, and at least ones returned home from a wild new year party with one champaign bottle in the left pocket, one in the right and another one in hand.

  4. cyclotimia says:

    Yes, most people still buy things in cash. Although I usually pay with a card in Russia (my company deposits the paycheck onto my account), but have a small amount of cash on hand – for farmer’s markets, taxes and places that don’t accept cards (yes, in St. Petersburg there are some, but few!)

    The slippers thing is a part of what I wrote about in the previous comment to another post. You really have to wear it when the floor is not warm enough and it is very dirty outside. My American friends were making fun at me when the first thing I wanted when I came to America is a set of homewear pyjamas (to change from outdorr clothes) and slippers.

  5. Alan says:

    thanks! It was really interesting to read opinion about my country from foriegner

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