Top 10 Russian Stereotypes: Myths & Truths About Russia

Top 10 Russian Stereotypes: Myths & Truths About Russia

A man wearing a traditional Russian ushanka hat

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Even if you have never been to Russia, you've probably heard a thing or two about this amazing country. In fact, you've probably heard quite a lot. The biggest country in the world is covered in stereotypes, including bears, extremely low temperatures, vodka, bad drivers, funny headdresses, and so much more.

And although there is a certain charm in being shrouded in mysteries, there are so many Russian myths around that it became almost impossible to form a comprehensive picture of what's Russia really like. So, inspired by the legendary Mythbusters, we've decided that it's time to have a closer look at the most popular believes about Russia and its citizens and separate truth from fiction.

1. Russia is Unbearably Cold

Russia is famous for its harsh unwelcoming climate. After all, the Russian winter defeated Napoleon's army during the French invasion of 1812. The weather conditions were so harsh that the numbers of Grande Armee decreased by half due to cold, deceases, and desertions during the first eight weeks of the invasion. And all of that even before any major battle of the campaign!

A young girl in winter clothing playing in the snow

But the devil is not so black as he is painted. Russia is large and boasts four different climatic zones, including the subtropical one. The country houses several popular summer resorts, nestled on the Black Sea coastline, such as Sochi and Adler. Both Moscow and Saint Petersburg boast an average summer temperature of 23°C (73°F) with occasional spikes over 30°C (86°F) for several weeks. And even winters in Russia are usually not so scary with an average temperature of -10‎°C (14°F), so all you need to comfortably experience the fairy tale white winter is warm clothing and a good mood.

2. All Russians Drink Vodka

Vodka is probably the most widely known thing about Russia. It's featured in half of the Russian stereotypes, and the locals have already got used to bizarre questions like "Do you drink vodka for breakfast" or "Is it true that you start drinking vodka since the age of ten?" Well, sorry to disappoint, but the answer to both of these questions is no. Over the last years, this essentially Russian drink became significantly less popular and was slowly replaced by good wines and craft beers, which younger generations find much more suitable for an evening in a pleasant company. Plus, many young people in Russia are healthy lifestyle devotees who don't drink alcohol at all.

A bottle of vodka with salo

Although it's fair to say that all mentioned above is true for Russia's major cities like Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Vladivostok. In the countryside, old traditions are much stronger, and vodka remains the most popular alcoholic drink as it was 20 years ago.

3. The Russian Language is Very Difficult

Yes, this stereotype is definitely true. The great and mighty Russian language is one of the most challenging languages to learn for those whose mother tongue doesn't belong to the Slavic group. There are no articles there, but there are six cases, and each has its own set of rules with plenty of exceptions. Even the alphabet is not easy. Some letters in Russian don't designate any sounds at all ("ь" and "ъ"), there is a letter that represents a sound a bit like the exhale one makes when punched in the stomach ("ы"), and a letter that looks like some weird bug ("Ж"). And, to top it all, for foreigners, Russian sounds like a peculiar mix of Klingon and the language of Gru's minions from the "Despicable Me" franchise.

A woman studying on her laptop

But if you bravely decide to tackle the difficult task of learning this impossible language, you will be rewarded with the ability to read such literary masterpieces as Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and "Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov in the original language (and brag about it to anyone willing to listen).

4. Russians Never Smile

One of the most famous stereotypes about Russians is that the citizens of this fantastic country are always miserable, which isn't true at all. Yes, if you are walking the streets of Moscow and see a stranger flashing a dashing smile to everyone around him, the chances are that he is a tourist, but that's not because Russians are gloomy.

A man holding a picture of a sad face

The thing is that while in America and most European countries a smile is, first of all, a signal of politeness, Russians don't believe in smiling without a proper reason. Even more, in Russia, anyone who constantly wears a polite smile is considered a disingenuous, secretive person who refuses to show his true feelings.

So the locals are not perpetually depressed. They just save their smiles for when they honestly feel like smiling, and you can rest assured that all of the smiles you receive from them are genuine.

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5. All Car Roads in Russia are a Disaster

There is an old saying: "There are two troubles in Russia: the fools and the roads." So this particular stereotype is not ill-based, although not entirely true anymore. There are no problems with the roads in the metropolitan Russian cities, as they are excellent and well-maintained. The main highways connecting the major cities also promise a pleasant ride, and as long as you keep to the most popular travel destinations, you are unlikely to encounter any unpleasantries on the matter.

Zhivopisny Bridge

But if you are planning a car trip to some distant Russian town, you will see a completely different picture. Due to the impressive territory, it's impossible to maintain all the car roads in top-notch condition throughout the country despite the best efforts. The remote roads are bumpy, narrow, and rather busy. Traffic jams due to roadworks are also very common, so it's a much better idea to travel Russia by plane or train.

6. Every Family in Russia has a Matryoshka Doll

You've definitely seen a picture of a Matryoshka doll, one of the things associated with Russia the most. We've already told you the fascinating story of this colorful Russian symbol, but in case you've forgotten what hides behind this beautiful name, let us quickly remind you.

Several traditional Matryoshka dolls

The traditional Matryoshka doll is a beautifully painted wooden doll, housing a whole set of similar wooden dolls of different sizes placed one into another. It's a perfect memento to bring back from your vacation as this souvenir is essentially Russian, and is widely known all around the globe as such.

But despite the worldwide recognition, you are unlikely to find the Matryoshka doll anywhere but museums and gift shops in Russia, just as balalaikas and ushanka hats are, unfortunately, not mandatory attributes in Russian houses.

Fun Fact:
Despite the traditional female form, Matryoshka can also portray famous artists, politicians, pop-culture characters, and even bride and groom.

7. Russians are Very Superstitious

Yes, that's absolutely true. Russians are superstitious, and some of their beliefs might seem absolutely crazy (in the best possible way) at first.

For example, if you meet someone with an empty bucket, get ready for a day full of troubles. Sitting on a table brings poverty to a person who does it. You also shouldn't leave an empty bottle on a table, as it brings misfortune to everyone around it.

A white broken plate

But not all superstitions promise the upcoming disasters. Russians believe that seeing a spider on your clothes is for money. And that if you accidentally break a mug or a plate it's not a reason to feel down, but to celebrate as it's a lucky sign. Or don't be surprised if you see a student sleeping with a pile of books under a pillow. There is an old superstition that if you sleep on your textbooks the night before an important exam, you will pass it successfully.

8. Traditional Russian Food is Tasteless

Russian cuisine is unique, that's for sure. It's a lot like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. Although often considered plain because of the lack of spices (traditional Russian recipes don't include anything but salt, black paper, and vinegar), it offers some very interesting combinations that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. Some of the most peculiar ones are traditional Olivier salad mixed with sweet carbonated Russian drink, kvas, and raw pig fat, salted and served with garlic and dark rye bread.

Pirozhki about to be put in the oven

But at the same time, traditional Russian cuisine offers a wide choice of much less controversial dishes, such as beef stroganoff, pirozhki, and borscht. Keep in mind that all major Russian cities offer a wide choice of dining options, including excellent venues specializing in mouthwatering Italian, Asian, Spanish, and French dishes (among many others). So even if you are not a fan of the classic Russian recipes, you definitely won't starve.

9. There are Bears Everywhere in Russia

This mighty animal surely can be found on the Russian Federation territory, but definitely not casually roaming the streets of Moscow. The picture of a grizzly bear was used as a symbol of Russia for over a century now. The Western world used the bear to represent the country in various political cartoons, article illustrations, and even dramatic plays since the 20th century, although not in the most flattering context. Russians quickly picked up the idea and started to use the bear image as their symbol as well. The most famous occasion is, of course, the Moscow Olympic Games of 1980. As a result, the image was so overused that the joke about the bears being a common attribute of Russian cities was born.

A cute bear cub in the forest

But you know how Chinese whispers work, what started as a joke grew out to be one of the biggest misconceptions about Russia that thousands of people around the world took on faith. The truth is that the only places you can see a bear during a Russian vacation are a zoo or a nature reserve.

10. Russians are Rude

Another popular opinion about Russians is that they are generally discourteous. Which isn't true at all, but we get where this presumption came from. Russian culture is very different from the rest of the world, as Russians are very straightforward.

A man shouting at the phone

For example, there is no Russian equivalent of the expression "to make a small talk" or "an icebreaker" because this is not a common practice there. People prefer to go straight to business without wasting time on talking about the weather first. Although it's a completely normal practice in Russia, it might seem ill-mannered for the rest of the world. Plus, the general policy of not putting on a facade in public that we've discussed above definitely doesn't help with breaking that stereotype.

But despite what it might seem at first, Russians have big hearts, so if you need any help while traveling the country, don't hesitate to ask the locals for assistance.

Hopefully, we helped you to get a better idea of what is Russia really like under the veil of myths surrounding the biggest country in the world. But no text, to matter how detailed, can provide the unparalleled insight you get during an unforgettable Russia tour. So why not dedicate your next grand vacation to breaking remaining stereotypes and solving the enigma of the mysterious Russian soul? After all, the worst that can happen is that you leave your heart in this incredible country and will want to come back to Russia time and time again. And let us tell you a secret, you would not want to have it any other way.