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  • Writer's pictureStephan Busch

Differences riding a train in Russian, Germany and China

In hotel business we travel almost as much as our guest which teaches us a lot about people and countries.

Some cultural habits I miss and some I could really do without. That’s why I wrote a little summary of forty years experience. If I would have wrote this during the soviet times it would be about trains being on time in Germany, wood heated trains in Russia where suffocating was always an options, empty roads as only few had a car and no speeding as the holes in the road where bigger than the trucks. Bicycles in China that didn’t follow any rules. But times have changed. To the better and the worse.

Trains? Really?

Trains are on time in Germany? Forget it! The rule in Germany nowadays is that you are lucky when the train is on time. Thousands of delays – some times per day – make it a lottery and especially for foreigners its difficult. Announcements are bilingual until a train is delayed. Then the panic blocks the English speaking brain zone.

Last year in October they had an announcement at a train station that the train was delayed because of leaves on the rails. You don’t want to translate that one anyway. But you almost always get your connecting train - because that one – believe me - is also late.

They charge for the experience

They charge a lot for tickets because it takes a toll on services provided that thousands of people have to stay much longer in the station than they were supposed to. Buying a ticket you can go to the counter and wait as long as they want or you use the ticket machines or go online. For the machines you need a higher education and be fluent in German.

Russian trains are mostly on time! A train from St. Petersburg to Moscow ( 800 km) supposed to arrive at 11:34 am will arrive at exactly that time. I am always amazed. In more than 10 years I had hundreds of train rides and only one delay. Here apologize where given all the time, vouchers and discount for the next ride. Of course sometimes trains get cancelled or delayed but this is the biggest country in the world and the Germans would blush. Hospitality is great especially on longer trips when you meet the people you travel with and share vodka, pickles and everything everybody ads to the table.

Smells a little at the end of the trip but is a great experience. Tickets you get online or at the counter which also results in waiting as this is the place where the babushkas (older ladies) buy their tickets. You don’t want to get in their way. Machines are easy to handle and after the World cup also bilingual.

You might get lost

In China trains come on time or not. Hard to say and it differs from Province to Province and depends a lot on earthquakes, landslides and taifuns. But Chinese train stations are for sure entertaining places. Speed and weather do not allow the Indian way of sitting on the train roofs so the inside is normally totally packed and more. Don’t try a train during Chinese New Year. You wouldn’t find the train in the crowd, you wouldn’t find a seat and most properly your relatives will never find you again. Buying tickets is easy for Chinese. I have no clue how that works! I always ask a friend to deal with that.

Author: Stephan Busch, Academic Director at the State University for the Humanities Moscow RGGU, Faculty of Tourism & Hospitality earned his Master Certificate in Hospitality Management from Cornell University, USA. He has a diverse experience in launching operations, business development and service training- for hotel and cruise companies in Asia, Europe, Canada and,

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