During my journeys I have already experienced some culture shocks but Russia is a whole new experience to me. I knew that in Russia, it is going to be different but had not really an idea about their style of living. In TV you might heard many things, mostly negative, but I rather explore by myself than trust corrupted media.
My first trip to the Russian Federation was in July to St. Petersburg, a very European-like city close to the border of Finland. To me it appeared as a mix of Venice and Paris with a touch on Russian culture. The city consists of several islands connected with bridges. The way the locals drive is a little furious for a citizen coming from Central Europe. They are speeding all the time and don’t really care about any rules. The underground in St. Petersburg is the deepest I have ever seen. The city was built on mood, therefore it takes up to five minutes ride to get down on the escalators. The time between the stations seems also longer than in any Central- or West European cities. The price for transport is comparatively cheap, one drive 31rb (0,50 EUR). In Moscow it is a little more expensive you pay something around 50rb (0,80EUR). The underground system is much more chaotic. In Moscow it is always full, and while looking for directions, you might get simply lost . Without any Cyrillic knowledge it’s even worst. I suggest you learn at least the basics, the underground system is not very tourist friendly. What’s nice about Moscow`s underground is the fact that you can use free WIFI (if you have an Russian SIM card)
What you may also notice are the “useless” jobs in Russia. When shopping, you see four people in a department, one of them is filling the shelves, one is looking if you don’t steel and the two are gossiping about something. It’s like that everywhere. When we went to visit Hermitage or Peterhof Palace, there is one lady in every room just looking at you or doing nothing. Imagine that need of personal when there are 120 rooms. In Austria this would be an economical death, since everybody tries to get the most done with as little personal as possible. You will also be checked and double-checked everywhere, there is security or police at every corner. A benefit of this fact might be a higher security or lower unemployment.
Another thing I noticed is the constant wave of commercials, they are everywhere and Russians know how to bother potential customers 24/7. It`s not just commercials every 5 min while watching a movie, but they also call you on phone, send SMS or Viber messages.
My accommodation for the first trip was a student dorm with six other guys in a flat. This was for most of us quite a difference compared to the living standards in Austria or the surrounding countries. It seemed like no one cleaned there for a year, the toilets were never cleaned. The kitchen was there, but no equipment you can use to cook and no fridge. In some of the rooms we found cockroaches. This is something you can expect of student housing in Russia.
Most of us students got used to it, two girls from our delegation left after two days back to Austria. The housing in Moscow is a little different, I share a house with another two colleagues. We live in a closed community, surrounded by a three meter wall with barbed wire. The only way to get in is with a special ID. The neighbor drives a Maserati or the newest Lambo. You find yourself in a house with sauna, billiard, wardrobe rooms and a big terrace. It took me a while to absorb these feeling of “luck”, but that way I experienced the other side of the life in Russia. I think the difference between “normal” and “rich” in Russia is huge. Normal people can`t afford a house for $ 2 million.
Do NOT drink tap water
Despite the fact how you live in Russia, you can’t drink tap water. If you do so, there is a chance that you get yourself an infection. Locals don’t drink it, if you have to, at least boil it first.
The life here is tough and most people have to work hard to pay their bills. In the end it doesn’t matter if you live in a student dorm with cockroaches or in a luxury house with a billiard table. You can enjoy both experiences if you can share it with the right people.
My tip for your journey to Russia: learn some Russian in advance, don’t complain and respect the Russian life and culture as it is. Let me know about your most interesting culture shocks 🙂