Before we get to Russia, let's talk about Georgia. My big expedition for the year will be to this country, which is described in almost all articles as a "tiny, but proud nation." I always try to read a bit about local customs before stepping foot on foreign soil, learn a few basic phrases in the local language, and understand a bit about the current political climate of the nation. To this end, I even purchased a book called "Georgia - Culture Smart", which explains how to behave in the country to avoid trouble. A huge part of the book is focused on traditional gender relations, warning Western women about the wild and untamed men of the Caucasus. :))
I place almost no weight on these types of books because they are always overly cautious with their interpretations and warnings, and I really don't fear offending locals when I'm a guest in their country. If you're running around trying to be so prim and proper all the time, there's no room for true adventure, or learning about local nuances from the mistakes you make when dealing with natives. I think it's always best to just be yourself, and simply live and learn along the way.
Yesterday, I came across another article explaining ten things you should never do in Georgia. Almost all of them focus on supra etiquette, as these huge meals and gatherings are a main part of Georgian culture. Let's take at the things this simple American woman should never do during her visit to Georgia. Then, we can think of a similar list for Russia. :)
1. Pick either chacha or wine for the long meals, never both: Foreigners are warned they will be the subject of many long toasts at the feast, and expected to drink wine or chacha each time. Pace yourself, and pick one or the other, so you don't end up unconscious after a few hours. :)
2. If you fail task one and consume too much alcohol, never try to cure your hangover with anything except the local spring water from Borjomi. Last time I was in Russia, my Uzbek friend gave me some disgusting hangover remedy, which tasted like fizzy, sour milk. What was it, I don't know the name? :))
3. NEVER interrupt the tamada, or "toast master." It's considered very disrespectful, and you should not speak unless he or she directs someone else to make a toast in your honor. I'm not sure if the tamda is always a man, or if women can also play this role?
4. Don't try to escape a supra, basically Georgians will hold you hostage at the table for a long time. :) Any threat to leave will be followed by more food being placed on the table for you to consume, or more alcohol dumped in your glass.
5. Be alert on the city streets in Georgia. Many cities have ongoing construction, lots of renovations and scaffolding hanging everywhere. Thus, you should never yawn on the city streets. :)
6. Don't pity the Roma children begging for money, or give them anything.
7. Never enter a church in shorts, flip flops, bare-headed or without your shoulders covered. This is nothing unique to Georgia.
8. Something about Georgians being very open, animated and hospitable people...I can't understand the rest because the online translation is bad.
"Грузины люди открытые. Любят громко петь, веселится, громко разговаривают на улицах. Но о чем лучше на улицах громко не разговаривать, так это "о ворах в законе". Дело в том, что с 2004 года Грузия объявила войну "ворам в законе". Грузинские правоохранители учли тот факт, что по "воровскому кодексу" "вор в законе" не мог отрицать свое звание. Поэтому в Грузии ввели такую норму: если человек публично признавал, что он "вор в законе"- вперед за решетку на 10 лет."
9. In Tbilisi, it's better to speak Russian or English, but never broken Georgian. Mangling this beautiful language can lead to a ridiculous situation with the locals. This is probably exaggerated, as I've always found that locals appreciate any effort by foreigners to speak in the native language. Maybe Georgians are so proud they can't tolerate any abuse of their sacred language? Not sure? :)
10. Never go to fast food or pizzerias in Georgia. The traditional food is delicious, and should be consumed in large quantities.
After reading this, I began to think about all my visits to Russia, and writing a similar article to guide foreigners on behaviors to avoid there. I can't think of so many items honestly, only one which has plagued me time and time again. In Russia, ALWAYS remove your shoes before entering a home! This is not a natural habit for me, because in the U.S. we wear shoes in the house. I even wear them when lying on the bed or sofa sometimes. The obligation to remove shoes in Russia is serious, and should not be taken lightly! I've been yelled at by many babushkas, and even my friends, for walking past the doorway with my shoes still on. On a similar note, I'll never forget during the last trip when I placed my suitcase on the bed, and my host grew hysterical, shouting and yelling to remove it immediately. There's some heightened sensitivity or fear of dirt/mud in Russia, of which foreigners should be very aware. :))
What else can you think of? Which behaviors should foreigners avoid when visiting Russia, or which Russian customs should they be warned about in advance? :))