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11 Things Tourists Should Never Do While Visiting Russia

11 Things Tourists Should Never Do While Visiting Russia

Picture of Yulia S.
Contributor / Journalist
Updated: 25 October 2017

Russia is a country full of ancient superstitions, and if you’re visiting you might be curious as to why these old traditions still seem to dictate how a person should and shouldn’t behave. To make sure you don’t make any blunders, here is a list of 11 taboos to keep in mind if you’re visiting the country.

Don’t wear your shoes inside

No, forget about it, seriously. You’ll find this is a custom in both Russian and Asian cultures. When entering someone’s home, you should immediately take off your shoes to avoid being disrespectful. Hosts often provide slippers for their guests. This tradition is centuries-old.

Don’t whistle indoors

Whether you’re having fun with friends or absentmindedly humming along to a tune while you go about your daily chores – make sure you don’t whistle indoors! If you’re with a group of Russians and you happen to forget, you will be scolded. It’s believed that whistling brings bad luck, and that it will lead to losing money.

Don’t leave empty bottles on the table

In Russia, it is believed that leaving an empty bottle on the table brings you bad luck, specifically, that you’re going to become poor. Many people across Russia say that this superstition arrived with the Cossacks in the 19th century, however it’s still a heavy debate. For superstition’s sake, don’t do it.

Don’t smile all the time

How come? Easy! In Russia smiles are reserved for family members, friends and colleagues at work. It’s just a typical Russian thing, and it’s recommended you don’t smile randomly at strangers while riding on public transport or going shopping. Russians have a saying  “to smile without a reason is a sign of a fool”. 

Don’t sit by the corner of the table

This is another Russian superstition that people still believe, especially when it concerns a young single lady. You’ll notice that in every single restaurant or bar, if there’s a large gathering, girls are usually in a rush to sit somewhere in the middle. Russians believe that someone who always chooses a seat at the corner of the table might never marry or be romantically involved with someone.

Don’t shake hands with gloves on

You might think that it’s a cold country and that’s totally fine, but shaking hands with gloves on is considered to be extremely impolite. Be ready to take your gloves off if you’re about to be introduced to someone.

Handshake | © ESUN7756 / Shutterstock

Don’t shake hands over a threshold

Another ‘handshake rule’, never shake hands over the threshold if you’re in Russia. Russians believe that it brings bad luck, likely involving an argument between both of the people partaking in the action.

Always take part in toasts

A toast is a very important ritual, especially if it’s during a birthday meal. If you’re invited, you’re expected to participate. In Russian culture it’s an important gesture indicating friendship and appreciation.

Don’t exchange money with people in the evening

Imagine that you owe money to your Russian friend. You have to pay them back as soon as possible – just make sure you don’t do it in the evening, as they won’t be impressed. Many Russians believe that dealing with money so late in the day is a bad omen. You’ll be better off waiting until it’s morning.

Don’t argue with Russian babushki 

Babushki (old grannies) are not the ladies to mess with. While elderly people are among the most vulnerable members of society, they also command a lot of respect and power. No matter what they tell you, just smile and agree. If you see one of these ladies in the subway and she asks you to carry her bag, just do it her way, because there’s absolutely no point in arguing with her. 

Don’t show up empty-handed

If you have been invited to dinner at a friend’s house. Never show up without anything to offer in return, as this is considered to be really rude. Even if you bring just a small chocolate bar or a cheap bunch of flowers from the kiosk in the neighbourhood, they’ll still be happy. You can expected a warm reception in a Russian home.