7 Things in Russia that surprise first time travellers

Things in Russia that surprise first time travellers are actually the ones I personally found awkward, strange, bad or funny during my first trip in Siberia and Russia! There are much more than just 7 to count at this gigantic country but, for me, the major surprises were :

  1. The trains run on Moscow Time

Russia has 9 different zone times!! And as if that wasn’t enough, the train websites/ tickets/ stations/ timetables etc. indicate only the Moscow time as the ”departure” and ”arrival” ones! Things can be very complicated if you are in Siberia and you are already 6 hours ahead of Moscow but you have to catch the Trans Siberian at Moscow time! And it can be totally insane when the dates are different as well, for example when it is after midnight for you (hence, a new day/date!) but you have to catch your train… yesterday because Moscow is still behind! Be very careful when calculating the correct time as there are uncountable foreigners who missed their trains because of that! Phew!

OK, not exactly a train…
  1. Limited English

I was prepared for lack of English in the countryside but I was surprised that even in Moscow, in touristic places, very basic English is spoken. We were lucky though as in Moscow our AirBnb host had been living in the Uk for 1 year so we could communicate extremely well and she helped us a lot regarding culture, local life, sexism and racism topics (questions that as a feminist, I always try to ask!) , family and personal development etc. We used the Google Translate app and more specifically, the offline Russian version that can scan a sign / menu/ place of interest and of course we learnt 10 basic words – either way our life became easier as locals rarely speak any English.

To enjoy this sunset, no English required!
  1. Why almost everything is expired in the super markets?

As we stayed in Russia for a month, we had to shop in super markets many times. The first days I got confused as in almost every single market I could find multiple items that seemed expired! In some cases nearly half of the products were «expired»!! After few days that we were not able to deal with the mystery (and we kept eating at restaurants!) we managed to ask a local and suddenly…problem solved! The explanation was funny (for us) but admittedly decent: Some of the Russian companies (especially bakeries, dairy and chocolate products ones) print on the package only the production date and they add a text (in Russian!) that indicates for how long the product is safe to be consumed! Weird, right? However, we relaxed after that even if we had to use the before-mentioned app to «read» this damn text every single time!

A frozen river empties into the Lake Baikal… this cant be out of date!
  1. Cafes = Restaurants

This is funny and easy to catch!! When you are hungry just head to the first café you will see, it is actually a local restaurant and serves proper food! We found some of the cheapest and most delicious foods in cafes around Ulan- Ude, their prices can easily beat out Thai prices !

Pigeons feeling #warm at #sewagepipecover !!
  1. Second class citizens?

Ok, the negative thing of my list ? We were told by locals that Russians with Asian characteristics are often treated as second class citizens by the «European» Russians. This is an uncomfortable truth we could not have understood by ourselves as we are Europeans too (and anyway the communication with no English is not sufficient) but the interaction with the locals helped us realizing that. Very sad and unfair, as any kind of racism or discrimination of course! But it’s not only the ”white Russians”… What if we , as non- Russians, consider our stereotypes regarding the same issue? The truth is that when we think about Russians we stereotype them as blonde/ white tall people and it is hard to picture them as Asians too. But Russian Federation has an Asian side (we all knew about it, right?)  and actually, at least the 35% of the population has Asian roots and (unsurprisingly!) Asian characteristics! Impressive, right? So now… we know and we have no excuse anymore to exclude the Asian aspect of the country!

A Russian friend proudly explains us his Mongolian roots.
  1. Right –hand side cars?

Russia drives on the right. As a result, the cars are built so that the driver sits on the left-hand side of the car. If so,  what are all of these right-hand side cars, especially in Siberia?? This was a major confuse for me but , once more, a local helped us to untangle our mind! Many people buy cheaper second hand cars from Japan and… guess what? Japan drives on the left! That was easy!

Frozen Lake Baikal
  1. Size matters

Being the largest country in the entire world , Russia has a landmass of 17.098.242 km² ! Just to make the comparison easier, Europe itself is «only» 10.180.000 km² ! No surprise that the longest railway in the world is here, the famous trans-Siberian/Mongolian! Throughout the month we spent in Russia, we covered massive distances by plane, train, vans and busses! Just to mention that a 6-hour flight from Moscow took us only up to the Lake Baikal… this is roughly in the mid of Siberia only!!

Obviously, there is plenty of room for skiing by yourself!

That was my small list with the things I got impressed (negatively, positively or just neutral!) during my first trip in Russia / Siberia! Few months after I came back, I found out about Russian cities that didn’t even exist on the map until 1993 but I have yet to visit them! I would definitely come back in this huge country, but next time it will be in the summertime! Do you have any weird things from your tours in Russia to share? Please add them in the comments!

 

16 Comments

  1. I’m so glad you shared this post! Russia has always intrigued me and some of your points made me laugh out loud. I think the hardest thing for me would be the train schedule. I have so much trouble with time zones and remembering the differences in times that I’d probably miss my train lol

  2. Great list of things that might surprise first time visitors to Russia and particularly helpful on understanding the date printed onto supermarket products, I would not have known that they print production date rather than expiry date!

  3. Being an Asian myself, some of the stuff like production date and months good for are not weird at all. But the size of the country and 9 different time zones are essential points to remember for sure. I have noted your point on lack of english even in big cities.

  4. Heather

    I have always found it interesting how other countries operate and how the citizens live. That time zone situation is very weird and confusing I wonder why they keep it like that?! Too bad you didn’t find out about the whole expiration date situation earlier in your trip! Thanks for sharing your experience! I don’t come across too many posts about Russia!

  5. Sarah

    Hi, I’ve just got back from a recent trip to St Petersburg and Moscow. I loved it and was surprised by how good people’s English was especially in the bars and restaurants. Although surprisingly in tourist spots such as museums, etc, the English wasn’t so good. It’s always interesting to hear other people’s views of destinations, thank you.

  6. Shaily

    I haven’t been to Russia yet but I wish to visit the country some day. You’ve listed very interesting facts about Russia. I didn’t know it has 9 time zones and the trains still operate according to Moscow Time – strange! Also, the fact about the expiration date on products is quite funny. I’m glad you finally came to know about this and used your app to read the text. I love your pictures – they’re simply breathtaking!! 🙂

  7. Russia is a fascinating and intriguing place. Part of the intrigue of course dates back to the days of the cold war. But present-day Russia is, of course, a different place. The confusion over time zones seems really vexing. 9 time zones may get a little difficult to handle!

  8. The different time zones definitely sound scary. I am sure I will miss at least one train in Russia. I am very bad with understanding time zones. The expiry date point is hilarious. I am sad to read about the racism part. Why would any human want to dominate over other just based on race, facial features and skin. Hope things improve.

  9. Hey! This is such a helpful post, thank you! One thing I’ve noticed when working in Russia is that they handshake only men, not women. In Finland, you always handshake both sexes so this is a huge cultural difference for me.

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