After our short time in St. Petersburg we walked away with some unique cultural observations that helped shape our understanding of the country.
Although Russia is typically referenced as part of Europe, unlike most other European cities, very few people in St. Petersburg spoke English. In fact, we also found most people kept to themselves and even those working at restaurants or shops didn’t go out of their way to greet us or accommodate us even as paying customers. This is certainly a generalization and not true of everyone we encountered — we loved our tour guide, Dmitry — but culturally, these were interesting characteristics we came across.
Dmitry also fascinated us by adding color to the massive shifts that the region has seen over the last 80 years, in particular due to changing political regimes. When asked about what it was like living in the Soviet Union, his main point to share was that “it really wasn’t as bad as a lot of people probably think.” But, he also brought up time and again throughout the trip there were many things people ought not to share their thoughts on — particularly religion and politics — in order to stay out of trouble. When the Soviet Union became Russia, it felt to him like it arose in the middle of the night and all of the sudden everyone lived in a new country, which some liked better than others. Getting to hear these stories and ask many questions shed light on what it might have been like to live through those times.
One of the reasons we chose to travel this year was to gain a better understanding of our world and the people in it. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to learn about so many people and places — and to see how history, culture, religion, economics, politics, and more have shaped these societies.