Personal Safety in Russia Posted by Maria on Sep 8, 2014 in when in Russia
Personal safety is a subject that is important not just from a cultural standpoint but also in terms of navigating a different society and avoiding harm. There are many things that are shared among cultures in terms of what they view as reasonable precautions — not talking to strangers for children, not sharing your credit card details, etc. However, there are also considerable differences in what is considered safe behavior in different contexts. I would like to talk about some Russian safety conventions that visitors may not be aware of.
Saying Your Name
One of the personal details that Russians may be reluctant to share is their name. For instance, household members elsewhere may answer the phone by saying “So-and-so family.” In Russia, people will avoid saying their name on the phone until they’ve established who is calling and whether they really know the people in the household. This is partly caused by the fear of social engineering, identity theft, and other fraud.
So, if a called ever asks
Куда я попал(а)?/С кем я говорю? – Who am I speaking to?
Кто это? – Who is this?
vigilant Russians on the other end of the line will probably become suspicious and say
А куда Вы звоните?/Вам кого надо? – Who are you trying to reach?
So, if you a calling a private individual rather than an office in Russia, your best bet is to say
Можно + name in accusative?/Пригласите, пожалуйста, + name in accusative к телефону. – May I speak to…?
Sharing Your Address
Another personal detail Russians are afraid of sharing is your home address. The reasons are similar to those above. As a result, you may see Russian resumes (резюме) without home addresses or people using post office boxes (а/я) instead of actual street addresses.
Apart from identity crime and burglary fears, people are reluctant to use their mailing address as a method of communication because Russian Post (Почта России) is notoriously unreliable. Therefore, you don’t want anything important sent to you that way.
As you probably gathered from previous paragraphs, Russians are very concerned about their personal safety and the security of their homes. It goes without saying that most apartment buildings will have a lock and intercom (домофон) on the front door and a few locks (замки) — and often more than one door — at the entrance to each individual apartment. It comes as no surprise, then, that people will not open the door to anyone ringing unless they are expecting a visitor or know the person. Neighbors, sales agents, and other strangers are rigorously questioned from behind locked doors. The fear of robberies may even prevent people from opening the doors to the police as they are scared the uniforms and identification papers may be fake.
Letting Go Of Your Belongings
“Do not leave your things unattended” (Не оставляйте свои вещи без присмотра) is a fairly common line in many countries. However, in Russia, it takes on a whole new meaning. You are advised to literally never let go of your belongings not only in public but also at social functions, at work, or at school. Some people won’t even leave their backpack in the classroom when they briefly leave it to use the bathroom.
Not only do you want to have your things on you, you also want to keep an eye on them all the time as thieves have been known to cut bags open on public transit to take things from them without the owner noticing. For that reason, an unzipped bag or pocket may give people a panic attack — I know it still does with me, and I have to remind myself I’m not in Russia.
Some of these attitudes have relaxed since the nineties. I do not advise you to adopt them blindly. However, it is beneficial to understand the motivation behind people’s actions in Russia as they are being overly cautious about things you would not worry about.
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I’ve been reading a book on English society by Kate Fox lately and she writes pretty much the same things about the English, especially in terms of reluctance to share one’s name and address (and she presumes it is the reason why in many towns it is fairly hard to find signs with street names or house numbers on houses). However she believes that is a matter of privacy, not safety.
It is funny how different reasons can lead to similar behaviours. Or maybe it is all about the perspective we take when we analyze the cultural facts?
I’m Russian and I get really annoyed when people who call me start by asking “Кто это?”. Luckily, among the people I know it seems to be considered good manners to start telephone conversations by introducing themselves (“Привет, это Вася, можешь сейчас говорить?”). I don’t think that was typical some 10 years ago, though.
@Anna Anna, that is interesting. I think especially now that concerns about personal data online are high all around the world, we may see more people try to make their information harder to come by. I know for a fact translators are taking their resumes offline to prevent identity theft.