Adopt For an hour, adopt a beggar, preferably a woman (they are the ones most in need of protection), take her to the market and let her buy the groceries she needs. You may have arrived on the scene just in time. In any event, make sure the person is a beggar.
Advice You are advised to enter and leave North American towns when the respectable people are at the office and bad folks are already sitting down to a beer.
Architecture For their churches, Protestants, Baptists and Lutherans favour the Gothic style, whereas Catholics love contemporary.
Ballet Coming to Russia and not seeing a ballet performance is like going to Madrid and refusing to watch a bullfight. Regardless of whether the pirouettes of that dancer in Don Quixote seem closer to the spinning moves of a Cossack than the graceful turns of an Andalusian gypsy, be indulgent: remember, you’re in Novosibirsk, not Seville.
Better After months of carrying your computer around the world, don’t think that even the most powerful antivirus program – launched several times – will be enough to get rid of what has deviously concealed itself inside the keyboard. It may be necessary to call some ghost buster. Indeed, the best thing to do would be to turn to an exorcist.
Blockage Bering blockage – see “Easy”.
Bread Bread sellers at Ulan Bator – under Gulag, see “porters”.
Camper The invention dates back to about the year 1000 and can be attributed to the women of the nomadic tribes of Mongolia. Tired of mounting and dismantling the heavy sheepskin tents, they convinced their restless husbands to build a wooden platform with large wheels along the sides, pulled by oxen on which they could mount the tent once and for all.
Children Children on the train: troublesome and restless by day, whiny by night. A child never travels alone, and always brings along a swarm of mothers, aunts, big sisters and grandmothers who noisily vie for the privilege of stuffing the child like a Strasbourg duck or of chasing after him/her in tireless races up and down the aisle. Photographing the species is quite simple, as they come in all sizes.
Chinese They have lost their soul, but to their great satisfaction they have found another one, which takes the shape of a wallet for some and of a piggybank for others. Among the less fortunate, it resembles a mobile phone.
Church Church at Petropavlovsk. There’s one near the airport, almost as if it had landed just yesterday but already had its return booked on the first flight tomorrow morning.
Coins When you’re in Seoul, you might think that the locals tend to lose coins from their pockets, but it’s actually a widespread local form of greeting. Don’t let it go to your head.
Contraband See “Siberian duty-free”.
Courtesy You will learn the full meaning of this word, which has not fallen by the wayside, only if, at 11 p.m. in Novosibirsk (outside temperature: –18), your room key falls down the hotel lift shaft. Divine Providence – materialising in the form of a little man in shirtsleeves – will descend beneath the lift several times until he finally returns to you what you lost, without wanting a tip and simply settling for a “thank you” and your somewhat silly smile.
Curiosity If anyone should ask you “Where are you from?”, you don’t need to launch into a detailed description of your life, complete with pictures of family and friends. A simple geographical indication will satisfy your questioner’s curiosity.
Desert The Gobi Desert: the way deserts used to be!
Dialogue If a drunkard with a split second of lucidity asks you what on earth you’re doing in Missoula, don’t fall into the trap of asking him the same thing. He’ll just smile and answer, “That’s why I get drunk in the first place.”
Differences It’s easy to distinguish a manager from a clerk in the United States. If you have a problem the manager will not leave you alone until he has sold you the answer plus something else, while the clerk will only give you vague indications. Choose the clerk if you don’t want to end up with a lifetime subscription to eccentric and expensive magazines that you’ll never read and receive a ridiculous and unwieldy fishing net.
Drunks Numerous but not always troublesome. Indeed, most are reasonable.
Easy It is easier for a herd of camels to pass through the eye of a needle, going four by four, than it is to cross the Bering Sea.
English Insidious language full of traps. Therefore, don’t think you have mastered it simply because you can get through a restaurant menu. Avoid using certain innocuous words like “leaf, chicken, beach, steel” if you don’t know exactly how they’re pronounced.
Error If a cashier, a police officer or anyone else should ask you for “ay-dee”, don’t think they’re asking you about the latest adventures of the nimble Tyrolean lass.
Error (historical) It seems that “We’ve already bought enough ice for this year” was the response of shortsighted Washington bureaucrats to the greedy officials from St Petersburg who insisted that the Americans purchase not only Alaska but also the Kamchatka Peninsula.
Error 2 If many people ask you “ay-doo”, don’t be confused: they are not asking about the Congolese half-brother of “ay-dee
Figure of speech I am going through a difficult period financially.
“I don’t have enough money to take my dog out to dinner.”
Food (in New York) Supply – obese – runs breathlessly, chased by voracious and insatiable consumption.
Gearshift Expecting a North American car rental company to give you a manual car is like going to the pharmacy and asking if, perchance, they still have a little mould and a few cobwebs to disinfect a cut.
Glass Wine glass – in the United States, wine has become a status symbol. As a result, so has its container, which was humdrum until just yesterday. In any event there are various ways to hold a wine glass, but the most important are as follows.
Faux absent-minded (defined by some as “the nonchalance of the affluent”): the glass is set on the arm of a lounge chair in one of the many VIP waiting areas of JFK Airport in New York (other airports don’t count), waiting for a flight to Europe (other destinations don’t count). The glass is held by the bottom of the stem and, every so often, is swirled counter-clockwise before being brought to the drinker’s lips. One’s eyes stare off into space, with the look of one whose thoughts are too important to be recounted, or one pleasantly chats on the phone about golf games and polo matches.
What a dull party: one strolls through the room (to which one begged on bended knee for an invitation), with the politely bored air of one who “really didn’t want to come”. The glass must be held with three fingers (thumb, index and middle finger), while the other two are relaxed, almost as if they didn’t exist. Every so often, one must pause for a quick exchange of opinions, but only with those who are gossiping about the host’s wife. The wine? Drinking it isn’t necessary, but discussing it is mandatory.
Greenland Anyone who is interested in visiting should hurry. In a few years there will be an enormous mass of beer cans in the shape of an iceberg, floating to the nearest dump. Even the bears are starting to have bad breath.
Gulag Not all those who were sent there were stubborn dissidents or sophisticated intellectuals. There were also cutthroats and street scoundrels. Therefore, if there is any truth to the saying “blood will tell”, then the porters at Siberian stations are their proud descendents. A few specimens can also be found in Beijing.
Hunters It seems that, in his lifetime, each hunter has been a paragon of virtue; when he dies, he is sent to Mongolia. Instead, if he behaves badly he will still be sent to Mongolia, but will be transformed into a wolf, boar, marten, etc.
Ice See “snow”. Generally devious, as it tends to disguise itself as soft snow.
Ice pick Part of the equipment supplied to Trans-Siberian personnel and skilfully used along the coldest sections to clear the ice from the doors and allow frozen passengers to board.
If - If you’re indulgent
with that driver who, returning from a party for the Chinese New Year, was a little too cheerful when he took you to Beijing airport at 2 a.m.
- If you don’t let anger get the best of you
when you’re forced to pay an exorbitant price to the KrasAir ground crew for your excess baggage
- If you don’t pointlessly ask yourself “why?”
when you notice that six gigantic plasma televisions (wooden packaging included) are lighter than your two suitcases
- If you manage to conceal your surprise
when the security officer, after having you clamber onto a platform as he runs the metal detector up and down your body, roughly and unexpectedly “searches” you … right there
- If you manage to keep your cool
even when, on the plane of the aforesaid airline company, the fat lady who wedged herself into the miniscule seat next to you spills her tea on your trousers
- If you are thankful to the Almighty and to the flight school of the former USSR
when the pilot manages to land your plane on the runway of Irkutsk airport, which is identical to rinks you see in Holiday on Ice
- If you are lucky enough
to fill out – correctly – an immigration card written exclusively in the Cyrillic alphabet, the Mongolian alphabet and Chinese ideograms
- If you’re patient with cab drivers
tolerant with waiters
indulgent with the laundry staff
decisive with porters
kind to the needy
firm with children
- If you are all of this and much more, then – and only then – you will be a man, my son.
Inuit They came from Siberia and represent the majority of the population of Greenland. Long Arctic nights and poor television reception have saved them from extinction.
Ipod Effective antidote against “children on train”. Recommended listening: Gianna Nannini, Loredana Bertè and Renzo Arbore’s Orchestra Italiana. Undesirable side effects: extended use can cause headaches.
Journalists Democrats wear bowties whereas Republicans prefer conventional neckties. Then there are those who can afford to be both, so they wear braces (which they call suspenders in the US) in order to be recognised.
Korea (North) If you have a slight but niggling sense of uneasiness when the plane is flying off its coast, don’t worry because it’s normal.
Every hour spent at Kulusuk is worth it.
Limit … and on the eighth day he created scrambled eggs and bacon, and then with apple pie he achieved perfection. But when he went to Oregon and wanted to make wine, he realised he wasn’t omnipotent.
Mistake If a cashier or police officer should ask you for “ay-dee”, don’t think they’re asking you about the latest adventures of the nimble Tyrolean lass.
Mobile phones The world talks, but has lost its taste for narrating.
Moscow It is losing its soul but doesn’t have a spare one ready.
Mystery In America, where a wall cannot stay clean overnight and ends up with multicoloured graffiti the next morning, the bathrooms on highways are mysteriously cleaner than the operating room of a Swiss clinic specialising in infective diseases.
Therefore, don’t look for those familiar glorifications of Latin virility that have left you doubts and questions, or those telephone numbers promising erotic adventures that you have been tempted to jot down, or those fanatic football comments that have left you as indifferent as generic political denigrations.
Near Siberian synonym for “far”.
Pane Venditrici di pane di Ulan Bator - alla voce Gulag vedi portabagli.
Panettone In the United States, Italians who miss panettone can try “fruit bread”, which is not only delicious but has the advantage of having fewer calories. Warning: fewer calories does not mean dietetic.
Pantofole Se ne trovano dovunque di ogni colore, tipo e foggia. Compratene un paio non ve ne pentirete.
To a certain extent, reminiscent of the staff of Italy’s domestic air carrier.

Efficient, courteous, cheerful and always helpful.

Petropavlosk The old stubbornly holds out more tenaciously than elsewhere. The new advances with the annoying pace of those who know they will win. Miniskirts reign supreme, men’s shoulder bags still make a timid appearance, and the look of low-slung jeans with piercing and bare abdomens face strong obstacles due to the icy temperature.
Potala The Dalai Lama’s winter palace, known around the world thanks to Brad Pitt.
The Tibetan monks who currently overrun it have been badly cast in their bit parts.
Pretending nothing’s wrong When you put on those mercilessly body-hugging tights and the mirror tells that the passage of time has left its mark on you, get over your initial horror and subsequent despair ... and pretend nothing’s wrong. When you’re safe from frostbite on Whittier’s Pier at 7 p.m., you’ll feel a little less vain and a whole lot wiser.
Proverbs 1 “The true Siberian is not the one who can withstand the cold but the one who can protect himself from it.”
Proverbs 2 “Life is a journey and travelling means living twice.”
Queue On 19 January in Ekaterinburg, if you see a long line of men and women holding a plastic can and waiting to enter a church, don’t think that the city water pipes have suddenly burst and don’t say “Poor Russians, yesterday queuing for bread, today queuing for water!
Don’t be superficial: investigate!
Restaurant car Everything that has been written and said about this is so optimistic with respect to reality that it crosses into the grey area of fabrication.
Rivers Quick shortcuts traditionally used by speeding cars in winter.
The Anatoly, the Misha and the Andrei, who have been missing since the evening they went out saying, “I’m heading into town with the car to buy a pack of cigarettes”, resurface in the springtime.
Their families had feared the worst!
Sacred In the New World, you don’t joke about Fourth of July fireworks, Halloween pumpkins, turkey stuffing on Thanksgiving, Santa Claus or apple pie. They are all things that are sacred, to say the least, just as it is sacrosanct (and advisable) to stay in the same lane on the highway once you’ve made your choice. For how many miles? It’s irrelevant.
Saint Since they didn’t have the chance to be torn apart by lions, roasted over a spit, pierced through like pin cushions or even participate in the Crusades, the people of the United States have no saints. Thus, for obvious reasons tied to an old grudge from the past they choose the least English one available on the market: St Patrick. Since the saint is also tied to a common religious belief, in a country where religions are homemade products for which each one has a different recipe and they are as numerous as the fleas on your neighbour’s dog, the decision was made to link the saint with a beer that is “religiously correct” and that unites everyone in the liturgy of parades, ecumenical drunkenness, brawls as a pastime and rueing one’s headache the following day.
Scale Don’t trust the indulgent and “friendly scale” you find in the bathroom of your hotel room, wasting precious time in complicated “pound-kilogram” conversions. Rely instead on the inflexibility of your belt, which has never lied to you over the years.
Siberian duty-free Don’t ask yourselves why at least half of the restaurant car is filled with cases of beer, scotch and various foodstuffs.
Don’t ask yourselves who is sitting quietly alongside these cases, absorbed in jotting down numbers and locations.
Don’t ask yourselves why someone boards at every stop and, after handing a wad of rubles to the mysterious passenger, then heads off with one or more cases.
Trust your imagination!
Slippers They can be found everywhere, in every colour, style and type. Buy a pair and you won’t regret it.
Snow Basically everywhere.
Spitefulness Only mutual spitefulness can justify the twelve-hour wait to leave Russia and enter Mongolia.
Spoon For some mysterious reason, this utensil is not very fashionable in either the United States or Canada. Especially for coffee, a type of plastic straw in various sizes and colours is used in its stead. Therefore, you are advised to pour your coffee based on the “straw length/cup depth” ratio if you want to avoid scalding your fingertips in a rash attempt to save your straw from sinking.
Taiwan China is far away – extremely far: the United States is just around the corner.
Tasiilaq (Greenland) The very worst thing that could happen to anyone is to have a sled driver who has a conflictual relationship with his pack of dogs, which are already edgy because of a sudden mass attack of dysentery.
Taste The taste and smell of food didn’t manage to board the ships of the Alaska Marine Lines. As a result, only shape and colour will allow you to distinguish a hamburger from the fried fish platter and ubiquitous pizza.
Teeth Optional east of the Caucasus Mountains.
Teeth, gold East of the Caucasus, widespread and always fashionable.
Thieves Virtually nonexistent.
Maybe because Siberia is so close?
Tourists None arrived.
Tourist (Italian in New York) The only species classified to date that is capable of consuming an entire Easter brunch with one hand, while the other hand never lets go of its reassuring mobile phone for an instant. The acrobats of the Moscow Circus are clumsy dilettantes in comparison.
Traffic Don’t complain about the traffic of Rome, London, Paris or New York if you haven’t seen what it’s like on the icy roads of Vladivostok.
Trans-Mongolian The disquieting logo of the Trans-Mongolian is a lynx fleeing with a marten (I presume) clenched between in its teeth.
Trans-Siberian When you get off you’ll be sorry to leave what was your home for so many days and hours.
United States of America United States? Hollywood is something else.
Vancouver Your first impression is that you’ve arrived at Tokyo’s European branch, but when you see the number of homeless, the plein-air drug dealing, the troubling ad campaign “against suicide”, the wild games of the hockey championship broadcast from opening to closing time of any self-respecting pub, then you realise that you’re in Vancouver.
Wine In Irkurtsk, if you’re mad enough to order wine and the waiter should suggest a bottle of the Bulgarian house wine, which then tastes corked, don’t insist. Russia has some excellent beers.
Wipes, disinfectant Essential.