Russia Just Rolled Out a Tourist Etiquette Guide for Its Citizens Traveling Abroad

See recent posts by Alisha Prakash

While traveling abroad, be patient, show friendliness, and respect the local customs and traditions. Oh, and don’t show up with a shovel (or any excavating tool, for that matter) at your Mongolian yurt, avoid frowning in Mexico, and don’t you dare mention the word “apricot” in Iran. These are just a few of the instructions outlined in a new travel etiquette guide that was recently rolled out by Russia’s Foreign Ministry. The document, which is aimed at Russian tourists around the world, was released in order to prevent “undesirable incidents” from occurring abroad.

Although this is the first of its kind for the Kremlin, it’s not the only time a country has put out a how-to-behave-abroad manual for its citizens. In 2013, Chinese tourists were provided with a 64-page “Guidebook to Civilised Tourism,” which included advice like don’t pick your teeth or nose in front of others, don’t urinate or defecate wherever you feel like it, and in Spain wear earrings, as failure to do so is the same as going out naked. Russia’s thorough document covers etiquette in 52 countries, including off-the-beaten-path spots like Guinea-Bissau and Kazakhstan. And while much of the country-specific advice highlights no-brainers — don’t be rude, don’t humiliate the dignity of the local population, practice good hygiene when visiting swimming pools and saunas — reading the fine print will reveal enlightening tidbits.

For example, travelers to Japan should avoid the common Russian gesture for “fed up, fed up,” which can come across as a physical threat. Russians traveling to the United Kingdom are advised that raising eyebrows is perceived as an expression of skepticism; and those headed to the Netherlands should know that tardiness is not accepted (and that it is better to zip it up for any mentions of the Dutch royal family). 

The briefing of cultural sensitivity also warns of discrimination against LGBT groups, cautioning travelers to France not to address members of the LGBT community with “insulting words or gestures.” It notes Canada’s “serious ‘fixation’ on gender equality,” advising Russian tourists not to joke on the matter. In Spain, Russian travelers are warned that “public expression of negative attitudes towards people with different sexual orientation are not met with understanding, so you should refrain from it.” 

It is important to note that the U.S. State Department warns its citizens that “discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread in Russia. Acts of violence and harassment targeting LGBTI individuals occur.” 

Other double take-worthy points include where to sit on public transportation when in Sweden, the fact that touching the head of a Thai person will land you in hot water, and words that have a different meaning in Russian (did you know that the Serbian word for “pride” sounds like “diarrhea” in Russian?). There’s also a lengthy low-down on cultural faux pas in Mongolia (it is forbidden to pour water or milk on fire, don’t even think about taking the meat out from a boiler with a knife, and if one person accidentally steps on another foot, the offender must apologize and shake hands). 

Still, as comprehensive as Russia’s behavioral dos and dont’s manual is, the United States interestingly didn’t make the cut. (On the flip side, tour operators in the U.S. are reportedly noticing an upswing in demand for travel to Russia by Americans.)

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