1. “Going back to his place” means you’re headed to either a decrepit dormitory, or his parents’ house.
Since most Russian students do not have the financial resources to live on their own, many opt to live in their university’s ramshackle, isolated dormitories. Think one hour outside of the city center by metro, followed by a 20-minute bus ride.
Inside the barely standing building, a gruff security guard will seize your passport before you climb five flights of stairs to your boyfriend’s lair. There, you will find no less than five other students residing in a three-person room. At least one of these cohabitants will be shirtless, and will join you and your guy for a cup of tea before “going to the store.”
Overnight guests are strictly forbidden by security, but don’t worry — that’s nothing a bottle of whiskey can’t fix.
If your man has already graduated and has a good job, chances are he still lives with his parents — and possibly grandparents. So after that romantic dinner, get ready to say “Good evening!” to granny, who will force-feed you sausages until you awkwardly retreat to your boyfriend’s childhood bedroom.
2. After a month of dating, you already know his mother and grandmother.
Even if he left his family back in Siberia, these overprotective matrons will find an excuse to visit Moscow as soon as you enter the picture. While your boyfriend is in the bathroom, they will explode with praise for their perfect progeny:
Ivanushka scored all A’s in his university exams!
His arms are strong like tree trunks!
He doesn’t drink!
- (That’s a lie.)
Oh, how wonderful it would be for Ivanushka to settle down with a beautiful wife like you!
But you never really figure out what Ivanushka thinks about the whole situation.
3. You’re either the love of his life, or you’re nobody.
While Russians may appear cold and harsh to outsiders, beneath the frozen shell of every Slav lies a true romantic. Once a Russian man has fallen in love, he may never get back up. Many still treasure the notion of finding their “one true love” and settling down as soon as possible. If you are a foreigner who is only visiting Russia for a limited period of time, your boyfriend may either implore you to stay (and marry him), or, conversely, cut you off completely because he “can’t withstand the pain.” Someone’s been reading a little too much Dostoevsky.
4. While you’re walking, he prefers you to latch onto his arm instead of holding hands.
It’s -15C, the icy sidewalks haven’t been cleaned since the Brezhnev era, and you are both wearing thick insulated gloves. Holding hands just doesn’t work; a better way to stabilize yourself against a potential slip is to hold onto the trunk-like arm of you gallant russkiy.
5. He will always pay for everything in its entirety, even if you have more money than him.
In Russia, being female supersedes one’s status of being a foreigner wealthy enough to travel abroad. So what if he had to beg his single mother for 1,000 rubles to woo you at a fancy coffee house? Chances are, the lady was so thrilled to see her son go on a date that she was more than willing to sacrifice her last rubles for the promise of grandchildren.
6. Valentine’s Day will come and go; International Women’s Day and Defender of the Fatherland Day are where it’s at.
Although Valentine’s Day has gained momentum in Russia as a commercial holiday, the real dates of importance for citizens throughout the post-Soviet space are March 8th, and February 23rd. On March 8th, International Women’s Day, workers and students enjoy the day off, get to watch television specials, and your beloved will shower you with overpriced roses and chocolates.
In return, on February 23rd, Defender of the Fatherland Day, you are expected to treat him to something nice. Although the holiday was originally created to honor members of the Russian Armed Forces, it is now accepted as a day to celebrate all men.
7. When you’re getting drunk, he will buy you special “girl” drinks.
For all of its alcohol-centric culture, there remains a surprising taboo surrounding women’s drinking habits. Some believe that “cultured” women do not drink vodka (outside of celebrations), or even ordinary beer. Thus, do not be surprised if your Stoli-chugging beau offers to buy you champagne, Redd’s (a sweet cider-like ale), or perhaps a 40 oz. can of “Sex on the Beach.” You know, classy stuff.
8. You are forbidden from swearing in Russian.
Admittedly, the system of Russian cursing (mat) is far more vulgar and complex than its English counterpart, involving curious grammatical adaptations and a heavy dose of prison jargon. As such, many “cultured” or “educated” men prefer that their women do not curse, even if their own mouths are dirtier than a dormitory’s toilets. That said, they are probably doing you a favor, since learning mat is akin to assimilating a completely new dialect of Russian.
9. The government’s military draft is an omnipresent threat to your relationship, and to your boyfriend’s life in general.
All healthy men in Russia between the ages of 18 and 27 who are not enrolled in higher education and who are not caring for children or relatives are required to complete one year of military service (a reduction from the previous term of 18 months). Men will go to great lengths to avoid this miserly fate, often bribing doctors for medical exemptions. If your boyfriend seems especially concerned about his university exams, it is probably because he knows that if he flunks out of school, he will be sent straight to the barracks.
10. He will go ridiculously out of his way to see you home to your doorstep.
Even if he lives on the other side of the city and it’s 11:59pm in the middle of a blizzard, rest assured that your Russian boyfriend will escort you to your doorstep after a boozy evening out. Afterwards, he will sprint to catch the last metro train of the night, where he will sit silently among the tired faces and forgotten bouquets. Say what you will about Russia, but in a land where so many people struggle to live normally, it is a miracle that chivalry is not dead.