Who are Russians?
Russians are all kinds, like everywhere else. But more so than you would expect or hear about. The Russians that come to mind for most people are Slavic, and have origins in central Russia and Ukraine. During the early history there were frequent incursions by Scandanavians, Mongols, Poles, Estonians etc. Then there are many nationalities within Russia like Bashkir, Tatar, Mari, Komi etc all with distinctive ethnic traits. So there is no single way of describing a Russian, or Russian culture. But we will try to cover some questions and stereotypic beliefs in order to help you understand what to expect.
Russian is obviously the language used in Russia, although there are many ethnic languages recognized officially and in various areas. You may know some Russian words, and we encourage you to try to use them. Along the way we will help you learn some words and phrases. English is widely known in larger cities like Moscow, especially among younger people. Even in regions, people under 30 will generally be able to carry out a basic conversation in English. Actually language is not a major barrier to communication and you should try, in whatever languages you know. People in Russia are used to situations which require an unusual solution, and are always ready to try. Our guide of course will be on hand to help or translate if necessary.
Many people may struggle to describe Russian cuisine. Like many other national cuisines, Russian cuisine has certainly changed over the last 20 years. It would be fair to say that Russian food tends to be stodgy, with higher levels of fat, but tasty. There are always salads, usually soups, and generally meat and vegetables. Specialties include pelmeni (dumplings), pies, and many dishes have mayonnaise in large quantities. In larger cities like Ekaterinburg the food is European/American style. We will endeavor to adapt the food along the way to restrict some of the excess mayonnaise, salt and fat etc, without making it boring. There are also local ethnic dishes which could be available, such as Bashkiri dishes of mutton or horse meat or Kazakh manty and plov.
Manners and Outward Traits
Some cultures smile constantly even when they do not like you.
To many, Russians on the other hand, appear not to smile much. On average this is true, although of course some smile a lot. Russians do not believe in smiling for the sake of it, and generally can seem distant at first. That does not mean they do not like you, so do not take notice of whether they smile or not. But if you smile they will generally smile back. One thing Russian do more than most is shaking hands. Often they will shake hands at a minor car accident, to lighten the situation. If you like shaking hands, then there will be opportunities. Strangers may well offer their hand, for example at a market stall, or a chance meeting. Russians may come across as old-fashioned in certain situations. For example, men will hold doors for women and carry their bags. They may be uncomfortable around invalids and untraditional relationships. This is mostly due to the fact that they have not had much exposure.
Russians are generally very willing to help strangers in need, whether this may be a broken down car on the side of the road, or someone just needing some instructions. Coming from a place with such extreme climatic conditions, and historically very challenging times, Russians are ready to help and expect to get the same help. The historical reasons and climatic conditions, which explain this, and also explain some of the other traits above, such as the smiling, shaking hands, the cuisine.
Drinking and Smoking
In recent years consumption of alcohol and smoking have reduced dramatically. Drinking is generally something done for a reason, such as a holiday or celebrate something, and yes there can be excesses. Smoking is allowed in certain places, but not in hotels, airports or public indoor areas. If you wish you will have a chance to try some local drinks, like vodka and locally brewed beers.
During our trip together we hope that you will have a pleasant experience of the people in Russia, make some new friends, and get a better understanding of why people in Russia are different to your culture.