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Difficulties in reading restaurant menus
Russia is very proud of its heritage and nowhere is that more clear than Moscow, it's biggest town.
Almost everything is in Russian. No problems for me, a Russian speaker, but some potential problems for those who can't read Cryillic, as all the street signs, restaurant menus and pricing information is shown in Russian.
the metro map has Anglicised names under the Russian ones, but don't expect them to be easy to remember (eg. T'svetnoi Bulvar) and of course the announcement of which station you are arriving at is all Russian.
Still, if you use your common sense, are polite and ask around, someone who knows English will be more than happy to help you. So please don't be discouraged!
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Do Learn the Language
As a Russian who has lived in Russia for quite some time, I can tell you that the majority of Russians treat foreigners with skepticism. Hearing a foreign speech for me before I moved to the USA has always made me look at the speakers in suspicion and not with amazement. While some people differ, unless you are located in a touristy place, do be prepared. You don't have to be fluent or have a great accent, but most Russians will appreciate your attempt to learn the language (because so few do) and will be amazed if you can piece together any kind of decent sentence.
The biggest problem is, of course, the Cyrillic alphabet. But if you're going to learn anything, you should learn Cyrillic, because even though the use of english words is growing fast, especially when it comes to company names, a lot of companies prefer to spell out things in Russian. The majority of Americans obviously try to make letter connections with the English alphabet, which works sometimes, but is also confusing in many cases.
If you have done some math in college, you are probably familiar with Greek letters. If you don't remember, go online to look them up to refresh your memory. Cyrillic was invented by Cyrill, a Greek, so the Russian alphabet actually has more in common with Greek alphabet than Latin. Give it a whirl - especially if you're coming from a mathematical/scientific background.
Almost no-one speaks English
Seriously, they don't. This especially applies to people over the age of about 30. Unless they are one of the hookers that hangs around in bars frequented by western businessmen, don't expect anyone you meet to speak a word of English. If you are desperate for directions (for example) and don't speak any Russian, your best bet is to find the nearest 4 or 5 star hotel and talk to the reception staff.
Learn to read Cyrillic before you go
All the signs are in Cyrillic (Russian script), not Roman ("English") letters. It's relatively easy to learn the letter sounds of the Russian alphabet so if you have a couple of hours spare before you travel, I suggest you do so. It will make it a lot easier for you, particularly reading street signs. And a surprisingly large number of Russian words seem to be English ones that are simply written in Cyrillic. Like "stop" or "jackpot".
Do your Homework!
One thing that I would recommend more than all else is to try to learn some Russian before you go. Even if you can just read the alphabet you will find that some words are very similar to English but unrecognisable as they are in Cyrillic script. It is particularly useful for travelling on the Metro as very few signs are in English and you will struggle when changing lines.
That's right! I strongly recommend you to learn some Russian before going to Russia. Not just some scattered words from your phrasebook, but get acquainted with the language. It would prove very useful to you because in Moscow virtually nobody can speak other language but Russian. And, if you can't read the Russian alphabet, you're doomed...
Learning the Language
This sign is my best example of how learning Cyrillic comes in handy, even in a major city like Moscow.
You may be able to get by in the metro by counting the number of stops, but if you're looking for another line, or a specific exit to a street, hotel or square, nothing beats being able to make headway with a sign like this one. Keep in mind, a single station can change names up to three times, depending on the level in which you are standing (Okhotnyy Ryad, Teatralnaya and Ploshchad Revolutssii for example).
It's not difficult to learn. . .I did it during my lunch breaks at work, using website below. It took about three weeks to master the Cyrillic, and a bit of extra work to pick up a couple dozen spoken phrases. . .that also helped pave the way with locals.
The Cyrillic alphabet
In Russia, you not only have to cope with a different language but also with a new alphabet. Cyrillic is similar in parts to the Roman alphabet with some notable variations, R's are displayed as P's, S's as C's, so RUSSIA is written POCCIA (I think).
Again my vocabulary was very limited in Russia, I just stuck to spasiba (thank you), paschalsta (not at all/ you are welcome).
As stated before, better learn...
As stated before, better learn at least the cyrillic signs to be able to get around in Russian cities and -for example- metro (subway). Russians do not frequently speak any other language then their own.
In Moskva there's quiet the amount of beggars in all forms and shapes (from drunk Vodka-addicted lowlifes to handicaped veterans that have to come around from a few roubles of 'welfare'money that deserve some gratitute). If you're compassioned, try to look carefully (eyes tell a lot) if your gift is well-spended.
Not a warning per se, but my...
Not a warning per se, but my strongest recommendation - Learn the Cyrillic alphabet before arriving. Signs in Moscow are mostly in Cyrillic (other than the most important ones). If you're going to use the Metro, you NEED to be able to understand the map and figure out where you are. Likewise, using an English map of the metro is useless since there aren't any signs in the metro that are in English. It only takes a few hours to learn it... practice a few hours about a week before leaving and then practice again on the flight and you'll probably be ok.
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