Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Russia Vs. USA: A Guide on Country Differences

After living in Russia a year I feel completely at home. I get asked all the time if I miss America and my family or how I like living in Russia. I do miss my family and I do miss some aspects of American culture (I'm looking at you Mexican food and the ability to understand the language). However, living in Ufa feels like living back in Mentor, Ohio. There are a lot of differences in the cultures and ways of life but its pretty easy to adapt to living in Russia.

Before I begin I will start by saying I'm comparing Russia to suburban, Midwestern life in the United States. I lived my who life in Ohio, mostly in Cleveland with five years in Cincinnati. So, from that point of view, understand that you may have a different interpretation on things. If you've been to Europe you may see that there are similarities between Russia and the European country you visited. I noticed more similarities between Russia and Madrid than Russia and Cleveland. Also, this isn't a comprehensive list. I know there are things I'm missing. It's what happens when you live here for a year and everything that was overwhelmingly different in the beginning is completely normal now. Finally, I'm trying to avoid stereotyping an entire country so I'm going to stay away from social and political issues. I don't want to give you a warped view of the country based on my own views. Also, every Russian is an individual and it would be ignorant of me to categorize their beliefs into a single view.

  • House clothes - Russians usually change their clothes when the are inside and rarely wear "street clothes" when lounging around the house. Anton and I argued about this one because I would would usually change my pants when I got home, and he used that as an argument that Americans change their clothes also. I HATE wearing jeans so almost immediately I'd change, but I'd almost always leave the same shirt on. So, yes, I changed but it's not the same. I think I win the argument.
  • Tapochki - They never ever wear shoes inside the house. A lot of homes have an extra pair of slippers. called tapochki, for guests who come into the home. Russian streets are incredibly dusty so I understand why.
  • С лёгким паром- The phrase means Enjoy Your Bath, and is a phrase they say to people after a shower. Anton told me this one, and I can't say this is widespread because I don't take many showers at different Russian homes, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
  • Apartments are rented by rooms not bedrooms. An apartment with a kitchen, bathroom, and room (living room and bedroom as one) is considered a one room apartment. An apartment with two bedrooms and an extra room (living room) is a three room apartment.
  • Dachas - Dachas are pieces of land for growing fruits and vegetables and may contain a house of varying size. Almost every Russian I know either has a dacha of their own or their family has one. They are located outside of the cities.
  • No dryers - Almost every apartment has a washing machine but rarely do they have a dryer. You need to hang your clothes up to dry. 
  • Most times they will leave one menu at the table or ask if you'd like to keep one menu with you.
  • There is a difference between restaurants and cafes. I still don't know the difference but I think cafes are more casual and usually cheaper.
  • You have to ask for your check.
  • Napkins are small squares and usually colorful. I think I've been to only one or two restaurants with American sized napkins good enough for my big mouth.
  • Servers will sometimes tell you the time it will take for your food to come out.
  • There is no tipping, although if I have exceptional service or I'm in the mood I'll leave about 50-100 rubles depending on how much my bill was.
  • It is very common for food to come out at different times. You friend might get their food five minutes before you.
  • I wrote a post on Russian fast food that you can read here.
Grocery Stores 
  • Cashiers never bag groceries
  • They start next person right away even before you have a chance to move.
  • There are less options in stores except for certain things like pickles and milk.
  • There are many different kinds of milk and milk even comes in a bag!
  • It is very common for things not to be there the next time you go. For example, I wanted tomatoes and I remembered seeing them there one day and the very next day there weren't any. It makes cooking extremely difficult for people like me who aren't creative in the kitchen.
Food & Cooking
  • "Salads" are heavy in mayo. Caesar salads are becoming very common, but it's hard to find lettuce in stores. If you can find it it is usually very expensive. 
  • It's very hard to find things like peanut butter and parmesan cheese. This is due to both sanctions and the fact that they just aren't that popular here.
  • Measuring spoons and cups aren’t common. I had to have my parents ship me these because I couldn't find them anywhere.
  • No cooking spray - parchment paper or oil is usually used to keep baked items from sticking.
  • The wedding ring is worn on the right hand. 
  • Men usually pay on dates, and it's not very common to "go dutch." 
  • Men don’t shake the hands of women. 
  • I wrote a post on 5 things I learned in an intercultural relationship here.
  • Weddings are usually two days long. The first day is the ceremony and a formal dinner and the second day a celebration somewhere outside. 
  • Russians usually go out late. While I'm usually in bed by 10 it's common for them to meet up around 11.
  • Cafes are a more popular place to hang out than bars.
  • They are very superstitious. I plan on writing a separate post on this at some point because there are so many superstitions.
  • They don’t follow order or lines. This makes me so mad and so often I just want to cuss people out in English, but I don't because I'm not that kind of person. But it's so common for people to cut in line or there to not be a line at all.
  • To go along with my last point there is less personal space. There isn't a bubble around you like in the United States.
  • You should always bring something to a persons house if they invite you over. This can be wine or dessert and they should serve you until you want to explode. 
  • Eastern Orthodox is the Christian religion most people here follow, but in places like Bashkortostan or Tatarstan Islam is very popular.
  • Men constantly spit in the streets and you feel yourself dodging spit wads every time you walk outside. This is definitely one of my least favorite things next to the lack of lines and order.
  • Russians aren't as pressed for time as Americans and it's common for them to show up late.
  • They clean a lot and many times weekends are reserved for cleaning the apartment. More than that there are always trucks cleaning streets and once I even saw a lady cleaning the dust of shelves in a clothing store. This cleaning doesn't happen every once in a while either its several times a week.
  • Grades are called marks and they follow a 1-5 point system, 5 being the best of course.
  • Saturday is a school day. 
  • Russian schools consist of 11 classes: Elementary (1-4), Middle (5-9), and Senior (10-11). First class starts around 6-7 years old.
  • After 9th class students can choose to follow a university route or a technical school route for their remaining two years. 
  • Cheating does happen more often than in the USA and many teachers will help students cheat on state exams. 
  • Physical education is more strict and it is required even at the university level.
  • Teachers are paid the same salary everywhere in Russia regardless of standard of living except in Moscow where they are paid more. 
  • It is very rare for someone to have voice mail on their phone.
  • Phone and internet plans much cheaper.
  • There is a 12 month required military service for every male between 18-27. Many men choose to do this before or after university. Although it's mandatory it's very common to be excused from serving.
  • Cities shut off hot water for a week or so every summer. I don't think this happens in Moscow, but it happens in most Russian cities. Supposedly, it's to fix the hot water pipes in the city. Most homes do not have a hot water tank. The city provides hot water.
  • Police will ask for people on the street to act as witnesses when writing reports.
  • Everything has a stamp, literally everything. 
  • Russia uses the metric system and military time, like pretty much every other place on the planet.
  • Women walk in heels all the time even just through the park.
  • They don’t own a lot of clothes, so it's common to wear the same thing more than once a week. 
  • Russians tend overdress. Anton ironed a t-shirt just to walk to get lunch. A T-SHIRT!
  • New Years and Victory Day (May 9) are the most popular holidays in Russia.
  • New Years is similar to Christmas.
  • Субботник, or mandatory day of volunteer labor, happens on Saturdays hence the name and usually in the springYou will see people sweeping sidewalks or painting fences all over the city.
  • The birthday person pays for everyone at the cafe or restaurant.
  • Russia doesn't follow daylight savings.
Health Care
  • Free health care 
  • Small pox vaccine scar - You can tell who is Russian based on a scar on their arms. It looks like a circle and almost everyone has one. When I'm bored in public I always look to see who has one. 
  • Peace sign means victory not peace.
  • Most public places - like malls, schools, and theaters, restaurants - have a coat check where you can put your coat.
Does anything surprise you?


  1. I'm sorry, but I'm laughing at this uncontrollably right now:

    Small pox scar - You can tell who is Russian based on a scar on their arms. It looks like a circle and almost everyone has one. When I'm bored in public I always look to see who has one.

    Some of us people watch; others of us small pox scar watch :P Great post though- so interesting to hear the differences!

    1. I first noticed it on Anton, and then my roommate's girlfriend had a huge bruise on her arm and the first thing I noticed was her scar because it was right next to it. I can't help it. When you go to Ukraine look for it!

      It's a corny post, but I thought it would be interesting for some people to read!

  2. So interesting! If school doesn't start until 6, what do the young children do? Do they already know how to read before school starts?

    I think the cutting in line thing would drive me crazy.

    1. I know there are daycares and they have preschools. But I'll have to ask Anton.

      Oh my gosh! I get angry every time I think about the cutting in line thing.

    2. So, I asked Anton and he said there are kindergartens, but he never went to one. I think it's expected in upbringing that parents teach stuff.

  3. I'm getting my hair done and I just read this to the hairdresser! We were cracking up and the spit and lines thing and kept going "that's so interesting!!" Lol!

    1. Haha! I actually laughed imagining that happening! I'm glad it provided you some entertainment :)

  4. I loved reading your post! It's fascinating! It's interesting because Korea actually is very similar to Russia. Thank you so much for sharing! You've inspired me!

    1. You should write one on Korea! I'd love to read it. We all know the language is different, but I'd love to read your perspective on it!

  5. That is really interesting about the smallpox scar. Forgive my ignorance, but was it from a vaccine, or just that more Russians have had the disease in childhood?

    1. From the vaccine! I should go back and make that more clear! :)

    2. Yes, from the vaccine.
      And vaccine is in some complex way: I suggest anti 3-4-5 different diseases.
      And that's why skin restoration goes so hard.

  6. > "С лёгким паром!" and I can't say this is widespread because I don't take many showers at different Russian homes, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

    Yes, it is widespread! ;)


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