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Etiquette at the Bolshoi


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I'm reading David Caule's book, The Dancer Defects, very slowly, but I did get far enough to see a reference that wearing an overcoat in a theater was considered "nyekulturskii." I've also been told that there are very stern and bossy coat check ladies who will take one's coat forcefully, but I'm not sure if my friend was just trying to scare me:) I have a bunch of questions about etiquette, and I'm asking for even more generosity than you've shown in answering my ticket questions. :thanks:

Is there a protocol for giving up one's coat? Is it hard to do as a non-Russian speaker? Is there a standard fee, or is a tip expected? If so, what is the expected amount? Is it given up front, or when picking up one's coat?

Are ushers tipped? If so, is there a standard amount?

Is queuing at the end to retrieve one's coat the custom, or is it more of a free-for-all?

In the Dorling Kindersley book on Moscow, there is a useful phrases section. In it, the word for Please/You're Welcome is transliterated as "Pozhaluysta," but the pronunciation guide says, "pazhalsta," which seems to squish the "uysta." Is that standard pronunciation? The book also lists the word for "Excuse Me" as "Izvinite," with pronunciation as "eezveeneet-ye." Is this used for "Pardon me" when passing someone to get to one's seat? Is it also used for "I'm sorry I'm such a clod and bumped into you or stepped on your foot?" Or is it used to get someone's attention?

I'm trying to get the useful phrases down pat before I leave, and I'll need at least two weeks of practice :wub:

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My experience was that the coat check exists in most all public buildings in the Russian cities. Usually there will be a nearby full length mirror to check your appearance after doffing your coat or the tilt of your hat on the way out. At the Bolshoi I do not remember paying a fee or a tip but the checkers will look to see if there is a loop sewn into your coat so that it may be hung on a coat hook. It will not be the end of the world if you don't have the loop but do be prepared for stern looks of disapproval if they do not find one.

Free-for-all may be a bit strong, but expect a forceful crowd at the coat check following the performance. You could easily find your toes stepped on.

At last years Mariinsky Festival the temperatures were in the 30s and we attended the performances with just a wrap that didn't need to be checked avoiding the whole process.

No tip for the ushers but expect to pay a small fee for the English Language program

We never succeeded with Russian language skills but were able to get along quite well with English. Visiting Moscow or St. Petersburg is a wonderful experience, not only for the ballet, but also for the chance to be exposed to all of the Russian culture that many of us of a certain age did not learn about in our youth.

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Visiting Moscow or St. Petersburg is a wonderful experience, not only for the ballet, but also for the chance to be exposed to all of the Russian culture that many of us of a certain age did not learn about in our youth.

Many thanks for your very helpful reply. I had forgotten to ask if programs were available in English, and I'm glad to know that they are.

As a Cold War baby, it's taken many years to undo the doctrination, despite being a figure skating fan and loving the great Russian pairs and ice dancers. I think it was the image of Oleg Protopopov lifting Peggy Fleming at the end of the 1968 Olympics that opened the door to open-mindedness just a crack. I still have a lot of catching up to do, and this trip is the beginning.

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One piece of advice for the Bolshoi is to keep your seat ticket ready to show the usherette when you return to your seat in the interval as ticket checks are not unusual to ensure that people don't sneak into better seats.

When you check your coat in (just hand it over and smile) you will probably be asked "beenokle?" meaning do you want to hire a pair of opera glasses. Just say Da or Nyet accordingly. If there is a bit of a scrum to collect coats at the end, just hang back until the crush has subsided.

How much Russian you need depends on whether you are travelling independently or in a group. As an independent traveller I don't know how I would have survived without some basic Russian, but in answer to your query, "pazhalsta" is correct for please and "eezveeneetye" works for both excuse me and sorry. "Spaseeba" for thank you comes in handy too.

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More about coat checks: they are _everywhere_, including at IKEA in Russia.

The ushers at the Bolshoi/Kirov know only a few words of English, but "coats" is one of them. :-)

If there is a fee, it will be clearly indicated and won't be much--maybe 5 or 10 rubles. Last time I was there it seemed that there was a fee but the coat check lady handed my money back (?).

Try and learn a few words of Russian--although you will get along ok without it, trust me, even bad Russian is appreciated since so few bother even with that.

Oh, and ticket pickup: if you order online, as of last summer part of the Bolshoi was under repair and the pickup was in an adjacent building, which was a little confusing even though I spoke Russian.

Here's my best description:

Stand in the square facing the front of the theater. Look to your left and you will see a Metro entrance on the corner (possibly a bit behind you). Beside the metro is a ticket office.

Or maybe ask at your hotel--they should know what the current setup is.

Shopping tip: there is a little shop behind the Bolshoi (stand as before, facing theater; walk to the right side of the theater and walk along the side of the theater to the next street or possibly the one after that. The shop is on the corner. It's theatrical supply shop.


PS About tickets for locals: nobody would arrest you. The worst they'd do is inform you that you need to pay extra. But in any case the Bolshoi seems to have moved away from the two-tier foreigner/local pricing.

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As a Cold War baby, it's taken many years to undo the doctrination.....
I was born in 1947 and grew up during the Cold War, hearing the occupation stories my parents told (my mother fled Estonia at 19, my father's father, working in America, knew to bring his large family over sooner). I probably share the feelings you have given our upbringing. That my daughter has been dancing in Estonia for almost 2 years still bewilders me sometimes. My daughter's friend went to study at the Bolshoi at the age of 14 and spent 2 years there, graduating from the Academy at the age of 16. Her mother made the comment back when she went that our children are now running to the countries we ran from!

I state the above as a preface to my bit of advice on etiquette at the Bolshoi, and other matters of concern about communicating and dealing with Russians in these post-Communist times. We don't have to be afraid anymore! They won't detain us for questioning if we don't know the "rules". Travel to Russia, Estonia, and other formerly captive nations is the same as travel to any foreign country. There are always people willing to help you navigate the morés.

My daughter had her share of mishaps and misunderstandings as she began her first year overseas at the tender age of 17. She faced surly store clerks who refused to help her figure out the coins in her hand as they moved to the next customer in line. She paid for tickets to the ballet before she found out that as a company member she could see all the ballets she wanted for free (and from backstage if she wished). But for every clerk who treated her badly, there were 5 who were overly generous with their help, and for every theatre staffer who didn't explain things to her, there were five who went out of their way to make sure she understood what to do in every situation.

People are basically the same everywhere, and in Russia they are no longer recording your conversations in hotel rooms nor are there soldiers posted at the theatres to apprehend you if you keep your coat (but watch out for those babushkas!).

Have a wonderful time and tell us all about it when you return!

Edited after reading Natalia's warning below about the grandmotherly-types watching your coat behaviour!

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I believe that most of hockeyfan's qq's have been answered. I'll just add that, in Russia, checking-in of coats is mandatory &, hence, there is no fee. If you try to sneak your coat into the auditorium, you will be chastised & sent back to the coat-check by a babushka! They're usually polite & say it softly but I've witnessed Westerners being 'barked' at for insisting on holding on to their precious mink coats!!! It's simply not done in European theaters. What's more, there is little leg room at your seat, in the old-style opera houses...so your big bulky coat (or shopping packages or whatever) are going to hinder your neighbor's enjoyment of the program.

Remember: You're an unofficial 'ambassador' of your country, when you're a guest in a foreign opera house. Misunderstandings of 'arrogance' arise when folks try to go around the local etiquette.

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Mashinka, koshka, Marga, and Natalia,

Thank you so much for all of your advice and help. It will help me a lot to try to act appropriately and not put someone in the position to have to try to explain something to me in English. It's hard enough being in a public-facing position without having to worry about speaking another language in one's own country.

I will definitely look at my winter coat to see if it has a loop in the collar!

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Ostrich, as Natalia wrote,

What's more, there is little leg room at your seat, in the old-style opera houses...so your big bulky coat (or shopping packages or whatever) are going to hinder your neighbor's enjoyment of the program.

There is a coat check (vestiaire) at the Paris Opera, but it's not mandatory (and it's free, and tips are forbidden). When one is in a "loge", there is enough room to put the coats in the back of the loge, but when one is in the orchestra seats or the amphitheater, it's really useful because there isn't much room around the seats.

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