How to stay safe in Russia in general and my hometown — Saint-Petersburg, let’s talk about it today. I thought I would give this section of my blog a try, since I would love to write articles in English and probably do podcasts as well. Today I’d like to talk to you about how to stay safe in Russia, if you are planning a trip.
These days with Russian currency falling so low, Russia makes for an excellent and cheap destination. I have lived in the second largest city of Russia and its cultural capital — Saint-Petersburg — my whole life. My job is also closely connected with tourism and I had a chance to meet a lot of foreigners and discuss their impressions from my city.
I find there are quite a few prejudices about Russia, a lot of people associate Russian men with mafia and Russian women with prostitutes, which is obviously ridiculous, but still if you are on a business trip or you are travelling to Russia, following a few rules might ensure you have a better and safer time.
Common sense is something that the majority of tourists and visitors to St.Petersburg seem to lose being overwhelmed by the beauty of the museums, canals and theatres. However it is the most important and crucial thing for you to stay safe in Russia. Always be alert, always be vigilant, always take notice of things that are going on around you, notice people around you. I do not mean that you have to be tense all the time, but be observant. So many times I’ve seen tourists walking slowly with their mouths open in the busiest street of St.Petersburg — the Nevsky prospect, this might not only be irritating for the citizens who are constantly rushing here and there, but also dangerous for you, because of pickpockets or simply because someone might bump into you.
Avoid walking in remote deserted areas of the city during dark hours. It doesn’t only apply to tourists, but to locals as well. Especially if you are walking with an expensive camera, carrying your latest Iphone or wearing an expensive watch.
Choosing between fishy but cheap and well-established but expensive, chose the last one. This might relate to tour agencies, taxis, tour guides, cafes etc.
Public transport, taxis, minibuses («marshrutkas«) and roads — Russian public transport is generally safe, of course, just keep an eye on people who are standing around you and do not have your bag open widely with a huge wallet sticking out.
Underground gets really crowded in rush hours, so try avoiding these. Groping is extremely rare in Russia, so ladies shouldn’t worry.
I would never recommend taking a taxi in the street, I would never do this myself, so better call a taxi or ask anyone in the street (choose an appropriate person) to call a taxi for you. Taxi hire can also be arranged in most hotels, cafes and restaurants. When booking a taxi, you can always enquire how much the trip would cost. Usually they will let you know the exact price you’ll have to pay when you get to your destination. Be careful not to forget your personal belongings in any transport, since most likely, you won’t be able to have them back. This happens to locals too.
Marshrutkas — are minibuses which are a little more expensive than public ones. The drivers of marshrutkas are usually people from the Post Soviet countries. I do use marshrutkas regularly and have experienced very aggressive driving a few times. I definitely find them to be much more dangerous than big public buses, so if you can, please use public ones.
Crossing the road either follow the crowd or wait for the green light. Do not cross the road if there is no pedestrian crossing, since you might be fined by the police.
Oh, those Russians. While communicating with Russian people use common sense again. If you are lost or need some help, choose a nice well-dressed lady, in her 30-s. If I get lost in my own city, I usually chose an old lady to ask for help, since old ladies know locations and street names better. However it is very unlikely that they speak English. The majority of younger generation though do speak English, since Foreign Languages are compulsory in Russian schools. If you are polite and humble people will be glad to help.
Avoid drunk people at all costs, especially big groups of youngsters after football matches.
Be polite and humble. Know the rules. I remember one time I was taking a train and there was a group of tourists sitting near me. They had their cameras, maps, some food and drinks and they were talking very loudly.
I must say there are a few rules. Let me mention some of them here, so that you can follow and look like a polite well-educated local.
- Though it is not prohibited but somehow it is weird to eat in the underground (In Moscow it is ok). You can take a sip of water which is fine, but to unwrap a burger and chew it in front of the people is considered rude.
- It is weird to litter in the underground. Though there are no trash cans the underground is still very clean.
- St.Petersburg underground is very loud, which makes it almost impossible to talk. However some people, locals and tourists try communicating ignoring the technical noises. They end up shouting to each other instead of talking. It is again impolite to talk loudly on the train. You might see locals speaking loudly to each other on trains, but that is bad manners.
- When on public transport do not sit with your legs crossed.
- In public transport give up your seat to the elderly, to women with children and to pregnant women.
- When exiting or entering a place, hold the door open for the person behind you.
- Never cut lines or queue jump.
- Do not make eye contact with strangers, it is considered rude to look someone straight in the eyes.
I cannot think of any more rules now, but the general point here is to be polite and humble. Doing this will help you avoid troubles and stay safe in Russia.
I am not a club goer, but I would recommend to stay away from bars (if that’s not your hotel bar), clubs, drinking and gambling. Bar fights and violence are common at night clubs, so better not get involved if you want to stay safe in Russia.
Know that in general Russian people have become very indifferent. So as long as you remain observant and vigilant, as long as you don’t show off with camers and loud laughters, no one will notice you.
You might see beggars in the underground trains and passages. Generally, they aren’t dangerous and it is up to you whether to give them money or not.
Speaking a little bit of Russian or being able to read Russian letters will be a huge help in your trip.
If you happen to speak Russian well, the best and the least sensitive subject to discuss with strangers (probably you chat with a Russian person in a bar or at a cafe) is weather. St.Petersburg citizens love the topic as much as the British.
Have a great time in Saint-Petersburg. It is truly a wonderful place to visit. Hope this information on how to stay safe in Russia helps. Cheers!
Photo credit to Elena Terekhina
Cover photo credit Onegin musical, all rights reserved by ©MakersLab