Russian Kindness

If you haven’t been to Russia then you might have a preconception about how Russian people are. Cold? Reserved? Rude and unhelpful? That was along the lines of what we thought before we came here.

Admittedly, there is sometimes a lack of awareness of other people – we’ve learnt not to follow too closely when going through swing doors because people don’t look behind themselves and just let go, so if you’re not careful you get a door in your face… But when we’ve had contact with individuals, we’ve been constantly amazed at the level of generosity and friendliness.

The most recent example was on Wednesday in Ulan Ude. Andrew needed the knee of his trousers mending (don’t laugh, but he fell off his bike!) so we found a small clothing repair shop. We explained to Nadya, the seamstress, that we don’t speak Russian, but it was fairly obvious what needed to be done and, to our surprise, she started straightaway. She spoke a little English and asked us some questions as we waited, but pretty soon she wanted help to interrogate us, and enlisted Nikolay, a used mobile phone salesman who shares the same unit, and speaks excellent English (although he claims to be a bit rusty). We chatted for about 15 minutes while Nadya stitched up the tear at the same time as chipping in with the conversation. When it was all fixed, Andrew asked how much and was told that it was a present for us. So, we got to have a chat with lovely, interesting people, the trousers were expertly mended straightaway (we expected to drop them off and collect them in a few days), and she didn’t want us to pay for the repair. I can’t imagine that happening in the UK.

20130628-195641.jpgJulie, Nikolay, Nadya and the mended trouser leg, and Andrew

Another great experience happened in our hostel in Krasnoyarsk, we were waiting in the common room to use the kitchen after a Russian guy who was making a large pan of amazingly aromatic soup. Moving around him as he was finishing, I indicated that I thought it smelt great and before we knew it he had dished us up a bowl each! His English was about as good as our Russian which made conversation very limited but he told us it was Solyanka and I managed to work out all the ingredients so I might have a go at recreating it when we get home.


  • Russian sausage – something like a Matteson’s sausage
  • Corned beef
  • Black olives
  • Gherkins
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Dill
  • Paprika?

All diced and cooked in stock (?). Serve topped with a dollop of mayonnaise.

We’ve had several nice experiences on the train. Andrew had a long, sign language assisted discussion in a mixture of broken English, Russian, and German with Vasily, a salesman. And on the train from Krasnoyarsk to Severobaikalsk, we watched the woman in the next compartment expertly crochet and stitch together a small toy. We were very pleased with ourselves when we worked out that it was an owl, and absolutely gobsmacked when, on finishing, she got up and presented it to Julie. We hardly exchanged a sentence with her, and still don’t know whether she intended to give us it from the start, or gave it because she saw our interest. His name is Sova (Russian for owl), and he now lives in my backpack.

20130628-203142.jpgAndrew and Vasily

20130628-205215.jpgSova and his creator

These are just a very few of the many kindnesses that we’ve experienced over the last 10 weeks of travel through Russia. Not many Russians speak English, many not even a few words and so without their patience, generosity and good humour over our mangled attempts at Russian and creative sign language, our journey would not have been nearly as easy or as pleasant.

4 thoughts on “Russian Kindness

  1. Jo

    Awww, what a lovely post. Sova is CUTE!

    Did you find Muscovites less friendly? I ask because when my colleague and I were lost in Moscow and we asked for directions (in Russian, even) we got very little help. On the other hand, our hosts were enormously friendly and helpful …

    1. Andrew

      Thanks Jo :o)
      Can’t say we found Muscovites less friendly, we did think it was like London and most major capitals we’ve visited; lots of people all going about their own business, trying to avoid the meandering tourists that would slow them down, but individual interactions were open and friendly – even in ticket offices. However, there were a few times people couldn’t help us because we didn’t have enough Russian to explain ourselves and we just had to shrug, apologise and walk away!

      As an example of kindness in Moscow, I went to a small yoga session on my own. After the class finished, one of the other attendees invited me to join him for a light bite, and we spent a couple of hours talking about travelling, his study and work as a psychotherapist, and yoga, of course!

  2. Emma Slater

    Aw yes the owl is cute, how nice of that lady! Glad u r meeting lots of friendly people on your travels xxx


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