Do I need to know Russian or Belarusian for traveling in Belarus? Should I be able to read the Cyrillic alphabet? How well and widely spoken is English?
These are just some of the questions that bother a foreigner who plans to spend some time in Belarus.
BelarusFeed compiled a list of tips to help you get around the country and feel at home.
Let’s say, you arrived in Belarus via Minsk airport, everything is fine and clear, the signs are in English and the staff speaks some basic. Most likely you will be able to order a cup of coffee or call a taxi there.
But once you leave the small and cozy airport, you have to confront a reality where outside the tourist hotspots everything will be either in Russian or Belarusian.
So how does one survive when trying to navigate Cyrillic?
1. Not so Russian after all
First of all, you would be glad to know that the airport is not the only place where you will see or hear English. It is also used in public transport, particularly in the metro.
The signs here are a mixture of English and Belarusian, as well as the names of the stations, while the announcements are both in Belarusian and English.
The situation is a bit different in buses, trams, and trolleys though. So it might be useful to synchronize your maps and count the stops.
If public transport is not your type of getting around the city, use some taxi apps. Mind that not so many drivers speak English, on the other hand, you need a taxi to get you to your destination, not for some chatter, right?
As to tourists-aware places like hotels, center-based cafes and restaurants, staff there usually know English well enough to satisfy your needs. Most places offer menus in English, so no need to worry, you won’t starve to death.
The same applies to museums, exhibitions, and major tourist sites. They either have audio guides in various languages or descriptions and explanations in English.
2. Download apps
To feel comfortable in Belarus, it’s good to add a bunch of useful apps with the English version to your phone.
There are a variety of them that will guide you around the city, recommend a cafe or provide info about museums, shops, and hotels.
Belarus guide by Triposo: an offline map with walking routes and landmarks, hotels, nightclubs, and tips about public transport.
HelloMinsk is your personal guide around the Belarusian capital – 50 sights and up to two hours of audio excursions altogether.
Or you can go on a sightseeing tour with tell-and-show KrokApp. It works not only Minsk but in several other Belarusian cities.
In case you are planning to explore the city’s hidden gems – get your Google translate app ready. To read the signs, the labels or the menu use the instant photo translation option.
Don’t forget to check out 10 local websites that will explain how to get to Belarus (visa rules included), where to go, what to do and where to stay.
3. Learn basic phrases
Russian Privet or Belarusian pryvitanne will do just fine!
The Belarusian language is believed to be one of the most melodic and romantic languages in the world.
That’s why apart from being obviously useful in different situations, your knowledge of basic words and phrases will help you break the ice.
Besides, Belarusians love explaining their both languages to the foreigners, so don’t hesitate to ask them to teach you a few words during a cup of tea.
4. Talk to locals
Feel like missing some human interaction? Go to the city’s hip streets, young and progressive Belarusians usually hang out there.
Note that smiling out of politeness is not common in Belarus. Locals may look dead serious when talking to you but they don’t mean to be rude.
They smile, let alone laugh when there is some real emotion involved. So first break the ice with a couple of hilarious jokes before going deep in a conversation.
Another tip, be sure you speak slowly and concisely. Even if your acquaintance speak more or less decent English, it’s highly unlikely he uses it in everyday life.
Older people rarely speak English but they would still try to help you as long as you ask for it.
Anyway, there’s always a universal way of communication, just smile and point and you should be fine.