French Girl On 10 Things In Belarus That Will Catch You Off Guard

Ingrid Ponsy is a French volunteer with excellent powers of observation who has been living in Minsk for pretty much time and has a lot to share. Starting with marshrutka rituals to funny local habits, be ready to see Belarus and its people anew.

Square chips

I have literally never ever seen that in my life. What a waste of time, 24 years on this planet without knowing about the GIANT square chips.

belarus french student habits

Photo: koko.by

Here, they are called Megachips and believe me, they deserve their name. Can also be found in Ukraine!

Pedestrian ways on the highway

It’s funny because, everywhere in the city center of Minsk, pedestrians are kindly asked to go underground to cross most of the roads.

This can easily become a nightmare when you’re at a crossroads and have no idea which stairs you should take to go up on the right side of the street.

But on the Magistral, local highway with a badass name, there’s no underground, just normal crossing with white lines painted on the ground. Luckily, not so many people are around, but still, be careful when driving!

TV in the bus

You know, when you have to take the bus for a very long time to go to work. It’s Monday, it’s early, it’s cold, and you really feel depressed. Happens all the time, right?

FAQs: How To Use Minsk Public Transport Network

What if I told you that in almost all of Minsk buses you can find a small TV broadcasting cute cat videos, yummy cooking recipes, beautiful video of different travel destinations…

It helps to cheer up. So much more entertaining than showing the actual bus line and next stops coming. Good luck if you’re reading this while on the bus and being lost.

Chocolate boxes as decoration

You know when you receive chocolate and you feel bad throwing away the box after eating what’s inside because the packaging looks so pretty? No, never experienced that feeling?

Well, I do. And, apparently, other Belarusians also do, and they found the solution – recycling chocolate boxes as decorations! I found out about this practice while taking the stairs in my building, and I thought it was so smart I would do the same in my office.

14 days without hot water

Every year, in Belarus, hot water is being shut down in summer, neighborhood per neighborhood. We knew about the situation from day one, but still, it was a surprise for me when I tried to take a quick hot shower one morning in May.

It was not summer yet, and despite a few degrees we gained recently, it was still a challenge to get used to this new situation… and of course, I ended up being late to my appointment.

Now, everything is okay, we got the technique in our flat: the bucket, the kettle, the super-super-quick “shower” as it gets cold very quickly. And, you know, actually, a shower once every two days became alright.

Queuing without line

Genius! There is no other word. Who is the silly person who said you have to be in line to queue? In Belarus, people aren’t waiting in line (well not everywhere at least), and it works.

It looks like chaos, of course, especially for a foreigner.

A bit like the marshrutka experience. But it works, you just need to find a person who knows whose turn is next (there is always someone who knows). Call dip’s on your turn. And wait anywhere you want.

This car

Well, I guess it’s not that strange, but still a bit unexpected. I can say without being MINSkaten mistaken that it is for sure the most famous car of Minsk.

belarus french student habits

Photo: giuliana_k

Everybody has seen it several times parked here and there in different corners of the city. If you get closer, you will notice small cardboard pending by the window with a small box attached.

Guess what? It’s a donation box, to help for reparation, because even though the car is super cool, it’s also super old. So next time you see it, feel free to support! Old stuff is the best stuff!

Academic hour

Before arriving in Belarus, I didn’t know much about the world: I thought there was only one kind of hour, the one that lasts for sixty minutes. Well, guess what?

Everything you believed in, especially the time, is actually wrong. Here, they have Academic hours, and they last 45 minutes. For example, a class at the university last one academic hour.

The 2nd European Games

If you live in Minsk, it is absolutely impossible not to know about the 2nd European Games happening right now in the city (It’s officially over since 30 June – BelarusFeed note). If you live abroad, well, you probably have no idea.

The European Games are kind of a regional Olympic competition. Right now it’s the second edition, and it will happen every four years, with some disciplines that may qualify for the 2020’s Olympic Games.

It’s a big event with delegations from 50 different countries, more than 800 athletes and 4000 volunteers (including me). Which for Belarus is incredible.

I remember with nostalgia the time when people used to stop me on the street because I was speaking a foreign language. Now Minsk is “crowded” with international tourists.

Ok, not really crowded but still a lot of people compared to the good old days when Belarus was still a secret treasure. Oh well, M is the place to be, I told you so, and very soon everybody will know about it!

Limited time for sports

In France, when you go to the swimming pool, you may pay for an entrance and stay there as long as you want. Same with ice-skating resorts. It’s really nice, but it also means it can be very crowded every now and then.

In Minsk, I discovered there are different shifts to doing sports. When you buy a ticket, you may enter the pool at 2 pm, and you have to be out of the water by 2. 45 pm (Academic hour!), which leaves you 15 minutes more or less to get changed and leave the place.

If you miss the shift, well too bad, wait for the next one (an hour later) to have a swim with newcomers. (Actually, local swimming pools offer different options, one can buy an unlimited pass or time-bound one – BelarusFeed note).

Bonus, Alexander Hleb

I guess you can’t meet him everywhere, but we were lucky enough to find him in Borisov, during the match Borisov against Slutske, where our football player friend Moukam invited us.

Yes, in Belarus you can be friend with a professional football player. I mean pretty much everything is possible in Belarus actually. Except crossing the street when it’s a red light. That is a no.

Text by Ingrid Ponsy.