Hints and tips for Novosibirsk
First, remember these quick dial numbers:
Getting through customs
Usually you don't encounter problems here. Last time we checked the limit on alcohol was 2 litres and on tobacco - 400 pieces. But it is always better to ask a customs officer for advice (that's their job!). Customs information can also be obtained from the Russian Federation embassy where you apply for your visa.
The Dollar is worth about 32 Roubles. Euros are also popular and easy to exchange. Exchanging other currencies can be a problem.
Officially, you are not allowed to exchange foreign currency anywhere except at exchange offices. However, some people make their living from providing better rates than banks. They will probably offer you their services when you enter an exchange office. Please be aware that this is illegal. Also, you may run across some smart-asses that will change your dollars and then try to get as much from you as possible by threatening to call the police. Or they might claim that they are themselves the tourist police or something similar. We understand that sometimes you might have to change your money unofficially (e.g. late at night). The best way of doing this is to ask somebody you know very well. In case you get caught the best tactic is to play dumb - just claim that you were not aware that it was illegal. Our policemen are not really willing to put you into the Gulag or whatever the place is called now, so you will probably get away by paying a fine.
ATMs are also available, and many large shops will accept international cards, typically Visa and MasterCard (other cards can be a problem). But just in case it is better to have some Roubles on you.
Spending money smart
The fact that Novosibirsk is commercial and business capital of Siberia has affected the way many people behave. ‘It is all about money’ for them, and nothing else they care about. So, some people who might seem friendly and welcoming at the first glance might have an intention to rip you off financially by providing overpriced taxi services (especially when picked up at the hotel – just walk couple of blocks from there and you’ll see the difference), translations or whatever.
Be sure to know market rates, which are generally like that: taxi from airport to the city is 20 bucks, taxi within the city – 5 dollars short distance, 10 dollars from one part of the city to another, average fast-food lunch – 5 dollars, average restaurant lunch – 20 dollars but can be much more, average hotel room per night – starting from 50 dollars but again can be much more depending on the hotel and its location, CD when buying on streets (pirated, and remember it is illegal) – 2-3 dollars, legal ones will make about 10 dollars, DVD when buying on streets (pirated) 4-5 dollars, legal ones about 10-20, office rental in the centre of the city – 30 dollars per square meter per month (the farther from the city centre, the lower). As for buying anything else - the competition here is huge, so it is not very wise to buy whatever you liked immediately, you may get the same twice cheaper 'around the corner' or in some other place, so explore the options first.
Also some advice on international calls. Doing it from the hotel, or using typical long distance services will cost you fortune. Take advantage of technology trend and either Skype from some wi-fi location for free or at least purchase ip-telephony prepaid card for this – it will save you at least two times from typical international calls rate. Available at virtually any mobile phones shop and in many retail outlets.
Socialism is over, so now people have to pay for medical service (or get stuck with State Medical Insurance which is usually provided by employers and will cover only very basic medical needs not to mention quality of the service).
Unless you're officially employed by a Russian entity, you won't get State Medical Insurance, and you are better off not counting on it anyway. The good side is that high quality medical service in Russia is still very cheap compared to the West. You might also want to get a medical insurance valid in Russia via your travel agent.
If you feel the need to get to a doctor, the best way is to ask somebody who can translate to go with you, not many doctors here understand English (or other languages).
If seriously injured (broken bones, concussion, etc), best thing to do is to call an Ambulance (dial 03) or actually ask somebody Russian-speaking to do it.
Local Fashion / What to wear
While men here usually wear normal casual stuff (with preference for darker colors) or business suits, ladies are known for their ability (and desire) to dress sparklingly everyday. We're aware that Europe and the States are going in a sort of simplistic/feministic way where ladies don't seem to care much about their appearance, but that's certainly not the Russian way - when you're on a street in Novosibirsk on a sunny June day you might feel as though you were in the middle of a celebrity parade in Cannes. That 'just-got-out-of-bed' image will not serve you well in this part of the world!
Now talking about the seasons - summer (June, July and early August) is warm, and sometimes really hot. Normal summer clothing should do just fine. Our springs and autumns are much colder than those of Europe, so your usual winter wear (up to heavy coats as winter approaches) should cope with that, while raincoats and umbrellas will help when closer to summer.
Winter (mid-November to mid-March) is a killer here. With balls-freezing temperatures of -18 C on average and reaching sometimes -45 C you'd better have some heavy polar stuff with you. The other good thing is that people here wear a lot of furs in winter, and they're available at cheap prices (something like 200 dollars for a very warm full-fur fluffy hat). There is a good reason for this - when it is -45 C on the streets - Greenpeace sucks. So if you like to wear furs and you enjoy the 'King (or Queen) of the Wilderness' feeling - visit Novosibirsk in winter.
If you go in winter, two tips about boots and layering. If you enter somebody's home or business it is of course warm! After all, this is civilised place. This means you should dress in multiple layers so you can remove several of them when you get indoors for long - say shopping in a mall.
About boots: if at all possible, get zippered boots, because you may be removing them often if visiting people in their homes. It is obligatory tradition here to remove footwear on entering homes which is caused by simple fact that average street in Novosibirsk is much more dusty or dirty that the average street say in London, so keeping your shoes on at home will make home dirty. So you're expected to remove your shoes after entering someone's place unless the owner allows you to keep them on, and this is not expected to be done to normal guests.
Some cultural things
Generally people in Russia and in Novosibirsk are friendly to foreigners, so in most cases you won't have any problems, instead, most people are glad to assist you. Take proper advantage of this and don't hesitate to ask for help or advice.
Unfortunately, the recent twist in the world politics started with George Bullsh have caused the general decrease of public friendliness towards specifically US/UK citizens (during the Serbia War some bars even were banning off US/UK customers). So, of course it is not a crime to be from US, but please don’t overexpose yourself and try not to argue on sensitive matters such as Chechnya, Serbia/Kosovo, Iraq, Yeltsin, politics etc.
The years of Big Brother watching us still influence how people behave and interact. You will find that some people (especially older) are not open and friendly to 'strangers.'
People also have a tendency to behave in a 'stronger' way - you'll hear 'thank you' or 'sorry' much less often than in the West. Also smiles are not very common on the streets. Don't be surprised if you get a stony look from a supermarket cashier.
And the last bit on volume of voice. You will notice that local people try to speak less loudly in public places comparing to the West. This is sort of habit of respecting the others who is not interested in your conversation and general preference to quietness than to noise. General rule - the closer is the distance between people, the lower the volume should be. So don't talk with full volume on while in a bus, metro, eating place etc.
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