On you shall not smile.

It’s often the little things that really get to people when they are living abroad. Take, for example, the issue of handing money to the cashier in shops. Think carefully now. Where does that money usually go. Into the woman’s hand?

Not in Russia*. You have no idea why particularly. It may be something to do with the inconvenience of trying to juggle the fiddly change straight back into a purse with hands encased in heavy-duty gloves; it may have deep political or philosophical significance; maybe Russian people don’t like to touch; or perhaps it is simply a long-standing habit. But in Russia wherever money will be passed from person to person, there will be a little dish somewhere next to the till and that’s where the notes and coins go.

And you remember distinctly how disoriented the lack of such convenient plastic money plates made you when you returned to the UK. It meant that every transaction, no matter how trivial, suddenly required conscious effort as your exchanging money subroutines had to be manually overridden every single time.

It’s less upsetting in Russia because, of course, you automatically just hold yours out for your kopecks, and your imperious attitude means that people usually knuckle under and comply. It’s only five seconds later that your brain catches up and thinks ‘bollocks, did it again’ but by that time you are on your way out of the shop and away.

Of course, in the UK you also used to get dirty looks when your subconscious had found a convenient surface and dumped the cash on that. You got the impression people were offended that you seemingly didn’t want to touch them. The other good thing about Russia, then, is that everybody maintains a rather forbiddingly straight face at all times when in public. It’s very hard, therefore, to tell when you are getting an evil.

*Where you aren’t. At the moment. But you were when you wrote this. See What I did on my Holidays Part 1.

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