Updated: Mar 7
My name is Irina and I have been doing St Petersburg guided tours for eight years. Most often my tourists are cruise passengers who are between 50 and 70 years old although of course I work with young families, students and kids. Most often they are Americans, Canadians, Australians, Indians, and tourists from the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Naturally, people are all different, but in some cases, everyone is concerned about similar issues.
1. One of the most common questions about St. Petersburg - was it Stalingrad? Today Volgograd is a city in the South-East of the European part of Russia with a population of 1,013,468 people. Until 1925, it was called Tsaritsyn, from 1925 to 1961 — Stalingrad. It is Hero city, the most important point of defense and the battle of Stalingrad in 1943 is well remembered. I understand what causes the confusion. During the WW2, Leningrad (St. Petersburg) suffered very much from the siege, so the horror and tragedy of Stalingrad echoes the horror of Leningrad. Plus this incomprehensible identical ending of the names of two cities - "grad" which means in Russian city, it also leads to a mistake.
2. Another popular question is why do Russians not smile? It's true, there are several main reasons why Russian person is frowning. A smile is not a signal of politeness, it is a signal of personal affection towards a person. So you can't smile on strangers, even in a store, because you don't know them. A Person in the execution of official duty will not smile at you, such as a customs officer. A Russian person's smile must have a good reason, known to others, otherwise person may get the impression that you are mocking or laughing at something, such as a stain on your clothes. "Laughing for no reason is a sign of foolishness" is a saying that parents tell their children. Well, I would also add an objective reason for the difficult circumstances of life, history and climate.
3. Do all Russians drink vodka? Vodka in Russia appeared according to historians not earlier than the XVI century, but quickly became along with bears and nesting dolls one of the symbols of Russia. There are three main reasons for using strong alcohol: mentality, availability, and lack of practice to call alcohol the cause of death and disease. A person who drinks a lot looks firstly courageous, and secondly removes barriers of communication. If you don't want to smile, it helps to establish contact. Now Russians still drink a lot, but in the last 5 years – less. According to a report by the World Health Organization, in 2010, Russia averaged 15.1 liters of alcohol per capita per year – the fourth highest statistic in the world after Belarus (17.5), Moldova (16.8) and Lithuania (15.4). And in 2016 Russia averaged "more than 10 liters of pure alcohol" (the exact figure is not called, but less than 15) per capita.
4. During tours in St. Petersburg, when I tell stories about Russian tsars, I often hear a question or even a clarification that Catherine the Great was the wife of Peter the Great? No, but something connects the two of them. This is the desire for the prosperity of their country, everyone went to this goal in their own way. Catherine the Great considered herself the successor of the reforms and transformations initiated by Peter the Great. If I briefly describe the achievements of Peter the Great: he obtained access to the Baltic sea for Russia, founded the port city St Petersburg, carried out many reforms following the European example, all this led to the development of the country. Years of life 1672-1725. He was married to Catherine the First, who was not of noble origin. Catherine II was called Great because of her achievements: the increase in the country's territory, the annexation of Crimea, and Russia actively influenced European politics. Her husband was Peter the Third, grandson of Peter the Great. Years of life 1729-1796. It's all a mix-up over identical names!
5. By the way, the strangest question related to Catherine the great was: what relationship did Catherine the Great and Lenin have? Frankly, I was a bit confused, but I got out of the situation by pointing out that Lenin was more interested in the family of Nicholas II, also the teachings of Karl Marx, and he did not meet Catherine personally as he came from a family of serfs on the line of his grandfather. (LOL)
6. What does it mean "РЕСТОРАН"? This sign is very common, because it means a restaurant, even pronounced in Russian almost in the French manner. This is all because of our different Cyrillic alphabet. Learn all necessary Russian words here.
7. A rather funny question haunted me in the summer after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States: do I know hackers? It really took me a while to study what happened during the American elections. (OMG)
8. What else can be covered in Russia besides St. Petersburg and Moscow? I promise to write a complete guide where to go and why, but so far only a list: the cities of the Golden ring, the TRANS-Siberian train ride, Siberian pearls like the Altai mountains and lake Baikal.
I hope that you are already planning Moscow and St Petersburg tours and are preparing your questions for me. Remember there are no stupid questions, no, you don't need to know everything about Russian history and culture what Russian children are taught in school, exam your guide!