It’s not a dithyramb on my country. It’s the way I perceive it now when I come there as a visitor. Of course, a lot more can be said or written, and probably I should have focused on positive stuff but, well, I didn’t. So that’s what I feel like sharing right now.
I don’t claim every Belarusian fits the scheme you will find below (hell no!). That’s just the general spirit I’ve tried to describe.
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1. Poor knowledge of English
Older people are most likely to make big eyes and get speechless if you address them in a foreign language, as they grew up in the Soviet Union where English was not a part of their curriculum. All younger and middle-aged people, on the contrary, had English at school but lots of them either regarded it as an unnecessary lesson or just simply forgot what they’ve learnt, so the simplest phrases said with quite a strong Russian accent and a huge surprise in their eyes (“a foreigner here??”) is what you should prepare yourself for.
2. Morose people
You’ve heard that Belarusian people are nice, friendly and hospitable? Well, they definitely are but before you can experience these merits you will encounter hundreds of people wearing frowning, unsatisfied faces. A lot of them might seem arrogant to you. On the faces of some women you might read the following: “I am gorgeous. Don’t you near me, peasant!” So, my advice to you: don’t be afraid and talk to people even if it doesn’t seem like a reasonable decision. Once they see you are a stranger who has interest in their country/culture, they will take off their gloomy masks and show their genuine hospitality. Maybe, they will even smile at you.
3. Bad service
Again, don’t expect any smiles. In some stores the shop assistants got some training and know a bit of what a good customer service means, so they will (try to) be nice to you. Sometimes they are genuinely kind and are ready to share their joyfulness with you. Most of the shop assistants, however, don’t really care. So stop caring too.
You broke through a cold, unsmiley cover and evoke the interest of a Belarusian? Well, prepare to get drunk! Belarusian people don’t waste time and money on beer or wine. Although, beer might appear on the table but mostly as a drink which is to be consumed after every vodka shot. So be prepared and don’t try to keep up with locals, even if they start telling you something about respect. If, however, you miscalculate and get wasted, don’t worry: your new Belarusian friends will most probably deliver you home.
5. Cleanliness and newly built houses
Belarus is extremely clean and has lots of greenery in summer. Its big cities give you a feeling of space and freedom, whereas smaller cities have a noticeable rustic hint. The country was destroyed tremendously during the WW2, so there are very few historical buildings left, but some of the remained ones date back to as far as 12th century and are worth seeing.
6. Beautiful girls
If you’ve heard that there a lot of beautiful girls in Belarus, this is true. Moreover, most of them try to emphasize their femininity by wearing high heels (which they manage extremely well, even if there is 30cm snow outside!), make-up and miniskirts. Sometimes they overdo, however.
7. Gazes from men (relevant if you are a woman)
Expect attention. Belarusian men appreciate beauty and can’t let a pretty woman walk by without grasping as much of her beauty as possible. So be prepared to be looked at, smiled at or even hear the words “Девушка, Вытакаякрасивая!”(Eng: Miss, you are so pretty!). Don’t see it as a form of harassment, though. They mean it good. Just allow yourself to feel like a queen and enjoy „wink“-Emoticon
Tattoos? Very seldom. Pricing? Well, here and there but never much of it. Gay people? Shhh, this is a taboo topic! Most Belarusians still strongly believe that homo- and transsexuality is a personal choice, and for sure a very stupid and disgusting one.The national attitude was very precisely expressed by the President: “It’s beyond my understanding!”
9. Billboards saying “I love Belarus”
Have you ever been to a country where its people need to be reminded of how beautiful their native land is and what it has to offer? No? Go to Belarus and see it with you own eyes! Flowers, forests, lakes and storks – all this is to be found on the billboards with an inscription “I love my country”. I personally like these billboards, because they demonstrate the beauty of the country. However, I always feel kind of sad looking at them as I believe this has not been a random government’s decision. Belarusian people complain non-stop about the conditions they are forced to live under, so they do need to be reminded to look around and to re-discover the beauty and richness of their home country.
10. No Belarusian language
You’ve definitely read that there two official languages in Belarus: Russian and Belarusian. Probably, you are excited to hear some of the latter. Lower your expectations, please. To find a person who speaks decent Belarusian is a hard and tiring job. People have decided for Russian and most of the younger generation don’t even see a point in learning Belarusian. Incredibly sad story, I know, but I’ll not be surprised if in a few decades there will be no such language as Belarusian. What you are more likely to hear, though, especially in the suburban, is trasyanka – a horrible mixture of Russian and Belorussian, where Russian words are pronounced with a Belarusian accent and from time to time genuine Belarusian words are dropped in. By the way, you don’t have to go too far in your search for trasyanka. Just listen to the President’s speeches.
11. Controversial president
Right, you’ve heard the story: Europe’s last dictator (His view: “It’s better to be a dictator than a gay”). People’s opinions about him are very divisive: some adore him, others hate him. I personally blame him for doing nothing to support Belarusian language, which in the course of his 21-year ruling brought the country to the aforementioned results. However, he can definitely make you laugh! Just listen to his truly hilarious (=embarrassing) speeches.
12. Low cost of living
If you come from a wealthy country, you’ll feel like a king. A bus ticket will cost you a few cents, a pack of cigarettes – only 1 Euro. Maybe you want to cut your hair? You can definitely do it for about 10 Euros or even less (if you don’t go to a fancy hair salon in Minsk). Moreover, when you exchange currency, you’ll get hands full of notes (no coins) and will feel really reach (1 Euro = 19.000 Belarusian rouble). A good friend of mine always makes a joke that we, Belarusians, are all millionaires. In a way, he is damn right