Russia Advises Travelers: Don't Criticize Israelis, Don't Use Yiddish and Arabic Swear Words

Issuing warnings for countries all over the globe, Russian Foreign Ministry asks tourists not to compare Kenyans to monkeys and not to offend gays.

Russian tourists at the beach in Antalya, Turkey, June 24, 2010.
David Bachar

Being friendly and considerate to locals when traveling is always good advice, but the Russian Foreign Ministry seems to think much more specific instructions are needed for its citizens traveling the globe to "avoid undesirable incidents."

Advice such as not to overindulge on alcohol is one thing, but the ministry's consular department felt it necessary to issue a document telling Russians not to compare Kenyans to monkeys, not to use offensive language or expressions (such as extending your middle finger to people) found in Hollywood movies, act overly familiarly with strange women and not to call Israelis "zhids."

The advice, provided by the ministry as a public service before the summer vacation season, also includes such good advice as when in countries with a sizable black population avoid using the "N-word" and its derivatives.  But the advice (in the original Russian) often seems to say more about what the Russian Foreign Ministry thinks about its own citizens than the countries they visit.

Alongside such advice as do not touch or stroke the head of a Thai or use the two-fingered "V" sign in Turkey (where it does not mean victory but is a sign of support for Kurdish independence), ordering meals in French without knowing the language and correct pronunciation can lead to "conflicts." Instead ask for a menu in Russian or English. It is also advisable in France "not to respond to members of the LGBT community and not to insult them" with words or gestures.

The ministry gives specific advice for Russian visitors to over 25 countries, including Israel, though for some reason, the ministry does not have specific advice for visiting the United States.

The level of linguistic tolerance in Israel is relatively low and visitors can often hear Russian curse words "brought by Jewish immigrants to Palestine in the early Twentieth Century." But tourists are still advised not to use Yiddish and Arabic swear words, including "schmuck" and putz," along with Arabic obscenities such as "sharmuta."

Using the word "zhid" in Israel, which in Russia is considered to be derogatory though not in other languages such as Polish or Czech, is "completely unacceptable" in Israel for any Jew, "even if they do not understand Russian."

In an attempt to explain the differences between Russian and Western customs and values, Russian tourists in Denmark are encouraged to keep their distance and avoid questions of a personal nature such as about income, employment and religion.  "Also, do not touch on the topics of racial and ethnic origin and sexual orientation."

As for Canada, the authors of the document were even more direct: Canadians have a "serious obsession" with gender equality, so avoid telling sexist jokes or making fun of those with "nontraditional" sexual orientation.

In Finland, Russians should avoid swearing because many Finns know the vocabulary, and try to remain calm when hearing common Finnish names that sound like filthy Russian expressions.

A final recommendation for visitors to Israel is to "take into account the heightened sensitivity of the Israelis to almost all kinds of criticism of both the State of Israel and any aspects of the life there."