Culture & Leisure

Cultural differences you may face in St. Petersburg

"Rude" maybe tourist's impression towards people in St. Petersburg, Russia, but there may be an underlying misunderstanding behind the image.

St. Petersburg is always considered a must-visit city in Russia, no matter for international or domestic travellers. Being the second-largest city in Russia, the area consists of canals and world-famous spots such as the Winter Palace, Saint Isaac's Cathedral and Peter and Paul Fortress. 

St. Petersburg remains attractive to tourists, but there are some factors pushing international visitors away.

Russians rarely speak English. The majority of middle-aged and older people do not understand the language. According to a survey done by Romir research holding, 30% of the Russians can speak English to a certain degree, and only 3% of the interviewees claimed to be a fluent speaker. The low English speaking rate leads to a rough time for those visitors who do not speak Russian. No one can answer their questions if they face obstacles during their journey, resulting in an unpleasant travel experience.

Apart from tour guide, Winter Palace - one of the tourist spots in St Petersburg - launched a "Audio-Guide to the Hermitage" mobile application to explain the exhibitions inside.

Хао Yu-Fei, a 20-years-old tourist from China, believed that language is the problem travellers face. As English is not widely-used among Russians, they cannot communicate fluently with the tourists. 

"When locals answer questions with simple English and do everything in a rush, travellers get an impression that Russians are impolite and rude. We understand that being straightforward may be a characteristic of Russian, but some people might have hard feelings towards that," Xao said.

Xao also noticed that no matter what ethnicity people appear to be, Russians always intend to start the conversation using the Russian language.

"In Russia, many people with an Asian face can speak Russain. The locals are used to it, thus feel natural to communicate in the Russian language with foreigners."

The description of the exhibits are only explained in Russians, but not in English or other foreign languages.

Tourists may feel insecure when facing an unfamiliar language during travelling. If there is no common language bridging both sides, misunderstandings may occur.

According to a survey done by Skyscanner, a travel and product price comparison website, Russia was chosen as the second place among "World rudest country" by 1200 respondents from mainly UK and Ireland. According to Tatiana Danilova, Skyscanner's Russian Market Manager, the Russian language sounds less polite when being compared to the English language. Thus when Russian words are translated directly to English, they may seem rude even though the speaker does not mean to be. Such cultural differences lead to misunderstandings between Russian and English speakers.

Sam Baldwin, Skyscanner's Travel Editor, also feels surprised by the result. He believed that this maybe due to "familiarity breeds contempt". As the visa regulations in visiting Russia are loosening these years, Russians are able to get in contact with the Mediterranean and people from other countries more frequently. He thinks that tourists consider Russians as rude only because the Russians are familiar to them.

"There is a cultural difference. Sometimes Russians do look so angry, but in fact, they do not mean that," said Darina, a 22-years-old student who is studying Tourism at Peter The Great St Petersburg Polytechnic University.

There is no stop sign for the bus stop in St Petersburg, which is difficult for travellers to find the correct path to their destination.

Although there is a miscommunication between tourists and locals in St. Petersburg, both Xao and Darina agree that the locals still respect the outsiders. 

Xao pointed out that most of the tourists are new to this place, so they behave better, for instance, remain silent while visiting the church and wear headscarves in the mosques.

A group of tourists who joined the tour wear jacket in the same colours, so as to recognize their friends easier.

However, Valarie, a staff in the Winter Palace, said that some of the tourists are not behaving well, especially those from China. They chat very loudly and disturb others while visiting the palace.

"Some of the tourists disrespect our beliefs and cultures, which makes me feel annoyed. I hope there will be fewer travellers, so that this place will be more peaceful," Valarie explained.

Over-tourism in Russia is also one of the reasons why tourists are not welcomed by the locals.

In 2018, there was a record of 8.2 million visitors to the city, showing how popular the "Venice of the North" is. It was calculated that there were 4.2 million people visiting the Hermitage in 2017, which ranked among the top 9 most visited art museums in the world.

"There are a lot of tourists in this city. It becomes extremely crowded. However, they increase our revenues, so we must accept it no matter what," said Valarie.

Due to the World Cup 2018, the number of tourists in St. Petersburg in July 2018 has raised by 30 percent while comparing to the corresponding period of 2017.

Darina agreed that the large number of travellers stop her from going out during weekends and holidays. 

"In the past, we did not need to queue up for the attractions nearby, but in the past few years, more and more tourists visit this city, leading us to spend more time on waiting and queueing. It is actually disturbing for us, as residents nearby," she explained.

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.

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