After having been in Russia for the past 4 months, I have learnt many fascinating things Russians do. From drinking etiquette to public behaviour, it was important for me to learn and to adapt to the culture.
My favourite pastime, and a popular Russian one at that, was going to the banya. A banya is typically translated as a bathhouse or a sauna and is considered an important part of Eastern European culture.
Some people own their own banyas, but most people would either go to a public banya or rent their own. My group of friends would typically rent one for a few hours in the evening, or even for a whole night.
When renting, it comes with a seating area, a plunge pool, a snooker table upstairs with a couple of bedrooms. You would eat food, drink beer and periodically hop into the sauna and then jump into the plunge pool. If you were brave enough, you could substitute the plunge pool for diving into a pile of snow outside (though I attempted this once but probably would not repeat).
Banyas are a great way to relax, socialise and can be very beneficial to your health, and remains my favourite perk of being in Russia.
Secondly, Russian culture, similar to British, revolves around drinking. However, I had to learn a few ground rules when drinking with Russians.
Strange rules like: ‘keep the glass on the table when pouring’, ‘don’t change your pouring hand’, and ‘don’t put an empty bottle on the table’. It is rather difficult to keep track of an endless amount of rules, but that’s Russia.
Russians also love to give toasts, and when it turns into a speech, they can last upwards of 10 minutes. Having come from a Russian/Belarusian family, I am used to this, especially around Christmas and New Year’s.
You often hear Russians say “Na zdorovye”, which means “to your health”, but this is just one standard toast. A traditional Russian drinking party usually includes a sequence of several standard toasts, like “to parents”, “to our meeting”, “to love”, “to friendship”, and after a certain point people will forget what toasts they have said and just say “here we go again”.
Russians will be forgiving if you forget a few of these rules, if they know you’re not from the country, but it’s better to brush up and know before you drink! And don’t be surprised when they start singing.
In general, day-to-day life requires you to remember a lot of rules, like how to address elders, superiors or strangers. How to behave on public transport. How to behave at the dinner table. But eventually, it becomes so ingrained that it's instinctive.
So, having been in Russia since September, this year abroad has widened my understanding of cultural practises in the country, not just my grammar and vocabulary, and I am looking forward to discovering more hidden gems and general practises while I visit Belarus and Moscow over the coming months!