Going to Russia: Tips?

In a couple weeks I’ll be in one of the most amazing places in the world, Moscow. This will be my first time there, so I’m hoping for some travel tips for those of you who have been there (recent missionaries, tourists, businessmen, spies, etc.).

I don’t know any Russian, apart from a few standard greetings that a Russian friend taught me: “Я шпиона” (Ya shpiona – apparently useful to break the ice with Russian customs officers at the airport) and a “Пожалуйста, мой арест – Я вор” (Pozhalooysta, moy aryest – Ya vor – a more formal greeting best used with authority figures). Other than that, I’m pretty inexperienced when it comes to life in Russia, so I’d appreciate any thoughts you have. I’m going to be meeting a large group of scientists and exploring opportunities to make connections with Western markets to commercialize some of their many inventions looking for peaceful applications and new homes. (Our contract with Russia is now a public story in several places, including Market Place Magazine – go to the bottom of that page.) Would appreciate any guidance you can give me.

Do they have alcohol-free vodka?

And what are good ideas for gifts? I’ll want to bring gifts for about 20 people, so they can’t be too large.

And how about the Church? I might be able to be there on Sunday – would love to attend a meeting.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

9 thoughts on “Going to Russia: Tips?

  1. I’m not sure who is really the jokester, you or your Russian friend. Maybe this is an inside joke for all the Russian speakers to have a good laugh. You do know that those phrases mean roughly, “I’m a spy…arrest me I’m a thief,” right? I think that I had snot bubbles coming out my nose. Russians seemed very xenophobic when I lived there in the 90’s. Once again, hilarious.
    Nesting dolls(matroshki) are the prototypical Russian souvenirs.

  2. I’m jealous. There are a dozen branches of the church in Moscow. The meeting places change sometimes, so you will want to check with the mission home. Heres’ the adderess:

    ul. Vrubelya d.1 str.1
    Moskva, Moskva 125080

    General Phone: 7 (095) 721-9510

    email: 2013088@ldschurch.orgdug

  3. Thank you – or as I would say in Russia, Блин меня, я слишком глуп (Blin myenya, ya slishkom gloop).


  4. 1. Be careful. Russia isn’t particularly friendly to tourists these days (I’ve abandoned my original plan to study in Russia and instead am now planning to go to Ukraine, where they teach Russian and the chances of bureaucratic hassles are much, much lower.) Make sure all your paperwork is in order. Then check it again. Then make eight photocopies, and make sure some are in the hands of people who can get to a fax machine in a hurry. Do you have your visa yet?

    2. Bring a plastic grocery bag with you just in case. It never hurts. Also be prepared for shopping to be painful.

    3. Get a basic phrasebook. Don’t use your jokes.

    4. Don’t say you “don’t like” alcohol, say you “can’t” have any. Even my Russian instructors who’d lived in the US for a number of years thought it was a “strange” thing to want to say. I don’t feel like braving all the spiders to hunt down my second-semester Russian textbook, but if you happen to have a copy of Nachalo Book 2, there’s a miniature section on the topic. One of the coauthors was a BYU prof.

    5. Give any local folks who invite you over some small gifts unique to your area. Though I don’t know anyone who’s lived there in the last three years, all the native speakers and regular visitors keep reiterating how important it is to give a gift to your host. I live in Ohio, so they always suggested chocolate and peanut-butter Buckeye candies. I don’t know if Wisconsin cheese will make it through customs. Apparently there are lots of rules about gifts, but if you remember to keep things very small (and just flat-out avoid giving anyone flowers) you should be fine. If you want a detailed explanation of the flower thing… just trust me, it’s easier to give them something small. And unique/interesting.

    6. Matroishki are great, and people routinely get a kick out of anything written in Cyrillic, or, if they’re not terribly serious people, stuff that looks very USSR-like. But honestly, I’ve seen people go nuts over cute little Russian candies just because they have writing on the packages. Also, Russia has different versions of almost every cartoon Disney’s done, such as Cinderella.

    (Note: I can’t tell whether you were being sarcastic or not. I hate sarcasm on the internet. Anyway, I figure future visitors might get here by Googling and actually be looking for advice.)

  5. Thanks! The request for help was serious, though the part about “ya spiona” (I’m a spy) was a joke – and I’m not really looking for alcohol-free vodka. I do value the tips you gave and have already begun looking for the right gifts to bring.

  6. I don’t know if it is more of a Ukrainian thing, but the Easter egg (made of wood or ornate eggs are a real fun thing to have) Also linen table cloths or things like that which may have traditional patterns on them. Russian army souvenirs or shopka’s are a cool thing to pick up as well.

    http://translate.google.com is a great website to know what something is in russian or english.

    By the way, I was your son’s room mate -(Stephen after my mission to Ukraine) Where is he nowdays?

  7. Thanks, Weston. He’s in graduate school in Wisconsin. Send me your email and I can get you in touch with him.

  8. I’m an LDS American living in Moscow. Feel free to give me a call when you get out here. 8(916) 023 4090. I can help you navigate some of the more adventurous (but worthwhile) aspects of the experience, such as the metro, Red Square, and shopping. I also do recommend attending one of the local branches, as opposed to the international (English-speaking) branch. Make sure you use your phrases as introductions to the locals. They’ll sort of reinforce their preconceived notions about Americans. We’ve had a bit of a thaw. Hopefully it’ll last a little while. Enjoy.

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