Most people’s perception of Russia is based on Cold War stereotypes, such as harsh winters and stern-looking people drinking lots and lots of vodka. While all of that is true, there is much more to Russian culture than that.
10. Confusing Nomenclature
Many of you may know that, during the Soviet era, names of some Russian cities were changed to reflect the current regime; for instance, St. Petersburg was Leningrad for awhile, and is now sort of St. Petersburg again. However, this went way beyond just changing the names of cities. Most street names were changed as well, and then after the Soviet Era ended many were changed back again. This has led to much confusion, especially for tourists, when trying to find their way around major cities.
To make matters worse, many new apartment structures have been built in recent years in the major cities, and they all look essentially identical. This causes so much confusion to Russian citizens, that a comedy was made about someone confusing someone else’s apartment for theirs, even though it was clear across the city.
For a long time, Russia didn’t really have a poaching problem at all. However, since the fall of the Soviet Union, poaching in Russia has seen a huge spike. Although other animals are poached, the main target of the poachers is the Siberian Tiger, now believed to be declining due to how any of them that the poachers have already removed from the population. Unfortunately, the problem has to do primarily with budget concerns; very little money is provided for rangers and wildlife services, making it very hard to protect the animals, especially considering the massive amount of land in Russia to monitor. It is estimated that tens of thousands of cases of poaching happen every year in Russia.
Russia has perhaps one of the largest concentrations of hackers in the world, and many of them are extremely good. Much of the pirated content online has a Russian language option, because it was the Russians who pirated it and made the content theft possible in the first place. For those looking for legal recompense, it is unfortunately rather difficult to prosecute someone who lives in another country.
However, their hacking activities are not just confined to the Internet. Many ATMs on Russian streets have been hacked, and travelers are warned to only use safe ones locked up in hotels, as those are monitored carefully to be safe for traveling businessmen or tourists to use.
Many people have heard of Russia’s infamous gulags, used by Joseph Stalin to punish people for pretty much anything he didn’t like, as well as being useful for the massive amount of slave labor the system created. However, even today, Russia has some incredibly messed-up prisons. One of the worst is known as the Black Dolphin Prison. Prisons such as it are incredibly harsh, and reserved only for the cruelest people who cannot be allowed in normal society: in other words, terrorists, murders and cannibals. That’s right, cannibals. One film crew was allowed inside, and got to talk to a guy who boiled his prey before eating him, while another prisoner explained that his killing his brother-in-law was perfectly reasonable; after all, he had disturbed his daughter’s sleep.
In Russia, there are groups mostly made up of men called Walruses, and they enjoy swimming while wearing pretty much nothing in extremely icy water, and then exercising afterwards in the snow. This activity sounds completely insane to most people, but they claim it has many health benefits. Some of the things it is supposed to help with are rheumatism and arthritis, and it even can supposedly function as a hangover cure, although most who partake in these activities avoid drugs. One man who does it says he has the blood pressure of a cosmonaut, and believes it is incredibly good for him. The man doesn’t use anything else for his health; he just throws himself into icy water every morning.
5. Winter Holidays
In many parts of the world, Christmas is a huge holiday. Even if you aren’t Christian, you at least take part in the gift-giving and all of the other aspects of the big day. However, in Russia they do things a little differently. Christmas itself isn’t really celebrated as a holiday, so much as a solemn observation, where those who choose to usually go to church and spend some time quietly reflecting.
On the other hand, New Years has its own Santa figure called Grandfather Frost. New Years is celebrated by the entire country; it’s sort of a secular version of Christmas, except on New Year’s and with an incredible amount of drinking (although, depending on your family situation, you might do that on Christmas as well.) Also, instead of a ball dropping, the Russians wait for the chiming of the clock at the Kremlin to reach midnight.
Kvass is a popular Russian drink, made from the fermentation of bread. While it is considered non-alcoholic, it still often contains as much as 1% alcohol, which is not non-alcoholic in many places. Like beer, it is usually drunk cold, and is sometimes flavored with a variety of things like strawberries or raisins. However, what may surprise you is that a drink with that much alcohol is marketed like Coca-Cola, and has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity in recent years; it can easily be found in a standard plastic two-liter bottle. If you are interested in making it and trying it at home, you can find a recipe for it here.
3. Vladimir Putin
Many people in the West talk about Russian leader Vladimir Putin as if he is a mustache-twirling villain, a horrible, tyrannical dictator. However, despite this media image in the West, Putin is actually incredibly popular in Russia. While we wouldn’t say that Putin is necessarily a good guy, much of Russia still approves of him. Unfortunately for Putin, that may not last forever. Some experts feel that, with the economy in Russia not doing exactly great, people are starting to lose faith in the current leadership, and Putin’s power structure may be starting to weaken.
While it may not particularly surprise you that bribery is common in Russia, what may surprise you is that it goes far beyond simply bribing a public official now and then to avoid a ticket. Bribery is used on all sorts of people there, and is a fairly ingrained part of Russian tradition. The corruption has become such a problem that laws have been passed to fight it, though the battle is far from won.
As an example: in many Russian cemeteries, it is not legal to drive inside the grounds. However, if the weather is bad, or you aren’t exactly in shape, that long walk can be a big problem. The taxi driver will be willing to risk the law and look the other way, for the right price. This will become even easier if you use one of Russia’s many unofficial taxi drivers; just be aware that it is not exactly safe, and you will likely be swindled at least a little bit.
The Russians are an extremely superstitious people and have some mighty strange customs. For instance, if you give someone something that carries money as a gift, you need to include money in it or you will be bringing them financial misfortune. Many also won’t go back for an item they forget, unless they really have to. If that’s the case, they believe they need to look in a mirror while doing so. Many mothers will refuse to show their baby to anybody for the first month or so, out of fear that someone might curse it with the evil eye out of jealousy.
Russian students also have a saying similar to the Western expression “break a leg” where, before an exam, they say “neither fluff nor feather,” to which the other person responds with “to the devil with you,” in order to avoid bad luck. It may not sound very sensible, but “break a leg” probably doesn’t make much sense to them either.