Only in Russia – Russians and rules

The Russia Only articles are a series of short stories about Jeroen's experiences of living and working in Russia over the past 25 years.

The Russian interpretation of rules

Russians have an interesting interpretation of rules. See a ‘no swimming’ sign and you can be sure that there will be people swimming. See an emergency exit and you can be sure that the exit is either used as a regular exit or it is closed with a lock rendering it useless in the event of an emergency. See a garbage container, and usually, you will find the trash next to the container. See a ‘no smoking’ sign in airports and public buildings and you will see that the largest congregations of smokers assemble within a 2-meter radius of this ‘no smoking sign’. Moreover, on closer inspection, you will notice that close to the ‘no smoking signs’ you can actually, in most cases, find ashtrays placed there by the facility managers.

It’s a matter of practicality

The Russian needs his freedom and when the foreigner gets used to this way of life, he or she usually starts to appreciate certain aspects of the Russian’s particular relationship with rules. While standing in a long line at passport control at the airport, the Russianized foreigner will try the empty line for diplomats and will be gladly surprised that nobody says a word. Next time, he will try the shorter line for Russian citizens and also understand that this is no problem whatsoever. He will be happy to understand that you can park your car almost everywhere and that speed limits only apply there, where the police controls them. The thing in Russia is to understand that most Russians are practical instead of formalistic about rules. Very often, the short-term objective takes precedence over the long-term rationale of a rule. This can be exasperating to foreigners once in a while, but once you get used to it, you will sometimes see the benefits of a liberal and practical interpretation of rules.

Share this article

Sign up for our newsletter​

Sign up for our monthly mailing to make sure you never miss out on Jeroen Ketting's latest publications, events and webinars.