As in the UK, there are many traditions and superstitions that are part and parcel of everyday life in Russia. But they’re not all the same: there’s no stigma concerning the number thirteen, it’s not considered unlucky to walk under a ladder and opening an umbrella indoors is fine. So how should you avoid making a cultural faux pas when travelling in Russia? Russians are a welcoming bunch and you’ll want to visit if invited, so read on for some sage advice that will make you a hit rather than a miss with the locals you befriend.
Are you a klutz? Well thankfully it’s good luck to trip over something with your left foot, but be careful not to step on someone else’s foot. If you accidentally do, convention states that they should reciprocate to avoid any future conflict. Try not to step over someone either. It’s considered taboo to do so to someone who’s on the ground and if someone inadvertently does, you might see them step backwards to correct their mistake.
Going to someone’s home
When you arrive at someone’s house, never shake their hand or proffer your gift through the threshold – make sure you enter first. Make sure you don’t offer anything sharp or broken as a gift and if you bring a bag or a wallet, place a small coin inside as is customary in the UK. That also applies if your present is an animal, so hand over a rouble with that puppy and all will be well. Finally, sing if you like, but don’t whistle; if you do so inside a house, someone will lose money and that’s not going to make you popular.
Having a drink
Firstly, if you’re offered an alcoholic beverage, you must down the lot. You can sip a glass of wine or beer, but when it comes to spirits, it’s polite to down it in one before putting your shot glass back on the table where it can be refilled – it’s considered bad luck to top up a glass in the air. Make sure you have a full glass if you wish to make a toast, and clink your glass as at home. And, in case you overdo it, accidentally breaking a glass is considered good luck. Cheers!
Eating a meal
Having the chance to dine with a local family is an opportunity not to be missed, but make sure you familiarise yourself with basic knife etiquette. Never lick a knife. Not only do you risk slicing your tongue but it’s also considered the mark of a cruel person, and you don’t want your hosts thinking badly of your character. If you need to break bread, always cut rather than tear it. And never pass that knife directly to another diner. Instead, place it on the table for them to pick up. If a fork or spoon falls on the ground, expect a female guest. If a knife falls, then that visitor will be male.
Going on a journey
When it’s time to leave, travellers and those staying behind traditionally sit for a minute’s silence. Returning for something you’ve forgotten is a no-no; better to leave it behind. If you must return, you’ll need to look in the mirror just before leaving or your journey will be problematic. Just don’t break that mirror – it’s even more unlucky than the seven years bad luck rule back home. Incidentally, your room will be left untidied until you’ve arrived, or in the case of a long journey, until a day has passed.
Of course, like at home, not everyone follows every superstition. Have you encountered any of these? We’d love to know more! Why not tell us about your experiences when visiting Russian people?