The Truth Behind 14 Well-Known Russian Stereotypes

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Russians have always fascinated the West, and countless stereotypes exist about Russia and Russian people. While some are not too far from the truth, others have no grounding in reality. Find out if what you have always thought about Russians is true or not.

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Russians Love to Drink a Lot of Vodka


Vodka is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Russia, which may partly explain why Russian alcohol consumption seems so high compared to other countries. The World Health Organization places Russia fourth in the world based on its consumption of pure alcohol per person over 15 years of age. Since vodka is very high in pure alcohol, this could be the reason why Russians are considered heavy drinkers compared to nations where beer or wine are the most popular drinks.

That said, Russians do enjoy their vodka, and can be suspicious of anyone who says they don't drink at all. This is because drinking is associated with having fewer inhibitions, and therefore people who refuse to drink can be seen as uptight and secretive. However, many younger Russians don't drink much because of the popularity of healthy living in contemporary Russia.

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Russia Is Always Cold and Covered in Deep Snow

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While Russia does get a lot of snow in the winter, it also has other seasons, including warm and even hot summers. Sochi, the city of the 2014 Winter Olympics, has a humid subtropical climate similar to Florida. Volgograd, a city near the border with Kazakhstan, gets temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

In large cities where temperatures are generally higher, snow often turns into slush. However, in more rural areas, especially in the northern parts of Russia, it does get very snowy. Even so, Russians usually get to see all four seasons, including a very mild spring.

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Russians Are Aggressive and Brutal


Just like in any other country, you will find all sorts of characters in Russia, including aggressive and soft-spoken. The stereotype of Russian brutality stems from the Hollywood depictions of Russian gangsters and doesn't hold up to reality.

However, Russian culture sees a constant smile and a happy face as signs of low intelligence or insincerity. Only a fool constantly smiles, say Russians. Instead, they see a smile as only appropriate when genuinely amused, for example when laughing at a joke. Flirting is another appropriate occasion for a smile.

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Every Russian Has a Relative in the Mafia

Welcome to Russia: Bread and salt, vodka and a weapon shots, treat and threat
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While the mafia was a prominent feature of the 1990s, even then this stereotype would have been considered untrue. Most Russians are law-abiding citizens and don't have any connections to the mafia. Besides, with a population of over 144 million people, it would take an enormous mafia network for it to be related to every Russian.

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Most Russians Have Links to the KGB and Are Probably Spies


While there are many prominent ex-KGB employees in the Russian government, ordinary Russians are not related to them or the KGB, which stopped existing after the collapse of the Soviet Union and was replaced by the FSB (Federal Security Service).

While it is a well-known fact that Vladimir Putin worked as a Soviet spy in former East Germany, most ordinary Russians have other careers. Traveling abroad was highly restricted during the Soviet Union, with those with links to the KGB given easy access to the West. However, nowadays many Russians travel internationally both for pleasure and business, without being involved in any spying activities.

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Russians Say Na Zdorovie When Drinking Alcohol


Russians abroad hear this stereotype all the time, and yet it is far from the truth. In fact, when drinking, Russians usually say Поехали (paYEhali), which means "let's go," Давай (daVAY), meaning "let's do it," Будем (BOOdym) for "we shall be," or Вздрогнем (VSDROGnyem) for "let's shudder."

The origins of this misunderstanding stem from the confusion with the Polish Nazdrowie, which is indeed a toast when drinking alcohol—in Poland. Since Eastern European languages and cultures can often seem similar to an average Westerner, the Polish version must have been accepted as a universal Eastern European toast.

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Ivan and Natasha Are the Most Popular Russian Names


It is true that Ivan is a popular name in Russia, but nowhere near as popular as Aleksandr, which has dominated the name charts for decades. The name Ivan came into Russian from Greek and is of Hebrew origin, meaning God is gracious.

The name Natasha, which is an affectionate version of the full name Natalia or Natalya (Наталья), is also a popular name but has not been in the top ten names for a while, replaced by Anastasia, Sofia, and Daria. The name Natalia comes from Latin and means "of Christmas day."

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Most Russians Are Communists

Side View Of Man Drinking Beer Against Former Ussr Flag
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Soviet citizens were expected to believe in Communism and contribute to its development in the world. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia adopted democratic values and now has different political parties, with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union banned in 1991 by the Russian president Boris Yeltsin after a failed coup attempt.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation has existed since 1993 and has consistently come second in presidential elections, with the 2018 candidate Pavel Grudinin gathering just over 11 percent of all votes.

Most communist supporters in contemporary Russia come from the older generation, many of them romanticizing the Soviet past.

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Russians Wear "Russian Hats" and Fur Coats

Portrait of mature man wearing trapper hat
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The Russian hats, called the "ushanka" (ушанка), were part of the winter uniform in the Soviet police forces known as "the militia"—милиция—, and originated in the Kolchak's army of the White movement during the Russian Civil War 1918 - 1920.

Originally a men's hat, it has now become a fashion accessory worldwide and is often seen in Russia as part of both women's and men's fashion. The original hat design is not easily spotted in contemporary Russia.

As for the fur coats, there has been a significant movement towards artificial fur, with many fashionistas campaigning for real fur to be made illegal in the clothing industry.

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Russians Speak English With a Thick Russian Accent


English is the most popular foreign language in Russia, with most schools teaching English as part of the curriculum. There are also plans to make English compulsory in the final examinations for all school graduates. Many younger Russians speak English fairly well and have opportunities to go on student exchange programs, acquiring great English accents in the process.

This is different for the older generation, many of whom studied German in school or had very basic English lessons. They can often have a thick Russian accent when speaking English.

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Russians Love to Read Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Chekhov


Reading was considered very important during the Soviet years, with the aim of eradicating illiteracy across the country. Russian classics have always enjoyed a particular prestige, being thought of as the most complex and therefore the most impressive to read.

However, because Russian children study classic Russian literature at school, the most popular genres to read for pleasure are crime fiction, fantasy, and science fiction, followed by work and study related books.

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Russians Spend Their Weekends and Holidays at Their Dachas Drinking Tea


Dachas—seasonal or second homes located on large plots of land in country settings—are a very Russian invention. In the last century, they were often used as a way of supplementing food supplies, with many Russians spending all their weekends and vacations working on their allotments and growing fruit and vegetables.

The word dacha comes from the word дать, which means "to give," and originated in the 17th century when plots of land were distributed by the tsar. During the reign of Peter the Great, dachas became a Russian symbol, hubs of social gatherings, attracting writers, artists and poets, and encouraging local crafts. Tea drinking was a very popular pastime, too, with tea parties becoming a popular custom.

In modern Russia, dachas are still used as an affordable and easy way to get out of the city for a few days. Not everyone has one or even enjoys spending time there, so this stereotype is not that close to reality.

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Russians Constantly Fight Bears

Grizzly Bear attack
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Bears do sometimes wander into small towns and villages from the surrounding woods, and Russians sometimes end up fighting a bear if they encounter it in a forest. For the majority of Russians, however, bears are seen simply as cute animals from the Russian folk tales.

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Russians Are Immune to the Cold


Russians are human and feel the cold just like anyone else. However, Russians take particular care to dress appropriately for the weather, wearing several layers, using clothing made of wool, as well as outerwear designed for cold climates.

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Nikitina, Maia. "The Truth Behind 14 Well-Known Russian Stereotypes." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nikitina, Maia. (2020, August 28). The Truth Behind 14 Well-Known Russian Stereotypes. Retrieved from Nikitina, Maia. "The Truth Behind 14 Well-Known Russian Stereotypes." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).