Nyet, Nyet, Nyet, Nyet, Nyet - the friendly people of Russia

We have finally left Russia and despite the few super friendly people we actually did meet, our main feeling has been one of why are the rest of the people so rude and unfriendly? It's a though we have defiled somebody's grave wherever we go, a smile is returned with a glare or grimace, a wave with a flick of the wrist that suggests we should go elsewhere and if we are to ever (god forbid) try and spend our money somewhere, we're growled out or shouted at for not understanding Russian or the particular system in place at that establishment, whether it be one for queueing, paying or ordering. In most places in the world these people would be sacked in half a second, but we are always greeted with a cold stare and 'Nyet, Nyet, Nyet, Nyet!!!!'. The best of the unfriendly people are the ones that completely ignore us as their complete lack of interest makes us feel almost welcome in comparison and their ability to ignore our smiles and waves feels almost friendly...like we belong!

Towards the end I gave up even acknowledging people as it was so disheartening being looked at rudely or so coldly. Occasionally we would let slip a wave or a smile and then find ourselves disappointed again by our invisibility. We did at one stage reckon that the cows were more likely to wave at us than the locals. Sometimes however, we are woken from our puzzled state by the only people who can be guaranteed to show an interest....the seriously innebriated! There are many of these all over Russia and the early morning vodka brigade are outrageously friendly in comparison, although hardly ever able to stand, let alone talk coherently. They do sometimes offer to let us buy them more alcohol or demand that we celebrate our meeting with another bottle, but for some reason we suddenly seem to find oursleves moving on, especially when they demand that we let them ride our bikes.

This is the state of Russia....at least the parts we have seen.
However there is HOPE!!!
A few times this trip while being rudely ignored or abused by a drunk or a shopkeeper, a small beacon of hope has appeared just as we thought it could get no worse. Near the border south of Biysk, as a drunk man shouted at us in the pouring rain, a wonderful family came out and gave us tomatoes, cucumbers, bread and some meat for our journey.....I nearly cried.
The following day as a hotel administrator told us 'Nyet, Nyet, Nyet' and made throat cutting gestures with her hand while refusing to let us stay there, despite the many empty rooms and the late hour, another fantastc woman appeared who rang every small ad in the newspaper until she found us a whole flat to stay in at a cheaper rate!! She then proceeded to walk us there and help carry our bags up to the 5th floor. WOW!

And in the Altai a whole car of Russians on holiday stopped and gave us tomatoes just as a guest house owner was telling us we couldn't stay because our registration was wrong (completely untrue!) They even saw us the following day and repeated the gesture. Wonderful people.
 BUT....apart from our cyclist friends, a shopkeeper in Korya, the school director and one Russian border guard (who smiled) these are the only friendly faces we have seen. As we have got closer to Kazakhstan the faces have got less threatening and angry and it puzzles us. Russia seems like an angry teenager or a toddler having a tantrum. The people can't all be bad, but there is a definite feeling of 'Go away', 'Why are you here?' It's as though people aren't interested in new things, maybe it was bad to notice things in the past? We just don't know. We both hope it changes because it's so bad it's actually bordering on funny!!



  1. I am a (smiling) Russian living in the US, which I biked through twice. Your experiences are not unique for Russia. It is the same in parts of Montana, Idaho, and particularly Wyoming (unfriendliness, motels with no water, etc.). You should know the rules by now: Just enjoy the company of friendly people and ignore the bad ones. But stop moaning about it-- unless it makes you feel better.

  2. I'm really sorry if you are offended - I don't doubt that there are unfriendly people everywhere, but I was writing about the part of Russia that I cycled through. The point I was really trying to make was how incredibly unfriendly it was - we'd just cycled through Mongolia where it was hard to pass anyone without them talking to you for ages and the contrast was astonishing. My comments should be taken in context and when I find the same elsewhere I will write about that too. Thanks for the warning about Wyoming!

  3. Simon and Isabelle: I understand you ran into my daughter Erin and her husband Sam in Biysk on August 23rd. They enjoyed visiting with you and were grateful for the information on biking Mongolia. We have not had any contact with them since the 24th. I am sure they are ok and just no where near an internet connection.

    Your trip sounds wonderful, your photos thoughtful and educational and I have enjoyed your blog.

    A word about Wyoming...I was sorry to read the comment by anonymous. I live in Wyoming and have traveled to all towns in the state and have never had a problem with a hotel. I have yet to run into someone I would categorize as unfriendly, particularly with a little effort made.

    Enjoy your trip

    Pete Arnold
    Cheyenne, Wyoming