Russian border guards told to be more ‘smiley’

In response to criticism Russian border guards have been told to be more courteous to travellers in future.

The orders were issued by Colonel General Vladimir Pronichev, head of the border guard service, after “recent complaints about the tactless treatment of people by border guards crossing the Russian state frontier”.

“Some people have objected that our border guards are not very smiley,” Mr Shibayev said. “But now we hope that they will be more friendly.”

I’d love to put in some sarcastic comments here – perhaps involving some lyrics from REM’s ‘Shiny Happy People’ – but I thought it would be more helpful to relate one of my own experiences with a Russian border guard…

Over the years, I’ve heard more stories than I can count about border guards extracting bribes from passengers, especially at land border crossings. The Russian-Mongolian border, for example, is reputed to be one of the worst places, with Russian border guards on the train allegedly ‘confiscating’ any dollars that poor unsuspecting travellers have on them. You see, people come into Russia, declare however many dollars they happen to have on them, then go off and enjoy their holiday on the Trans-Siberian railroad. But, just before leaving Russia for the barren wasteland that is Mongolia, they pop into a bank, and take some dollars out of the ATM so they have some spending money in Ulan Batar. Which, of course, usually means they leave the country with more dollars than they brought in. This, in Russia, is a ‘very bad thing.’

In Russia, there are lots of ‘very bad things.’

So, when I left the sanctuary of Irkutsk for a two week vacation in Mongolia, I was especially careful to hide my dollars away in a super-secret place, and sat smugly when a border guard entered my compartment. My feeling of satifaction didn’t last long. It took him mere moments to discover my achilles heel. Taking just a brief look at my registration papers he told me they were out of order, and asked me to follow him to his office. The government had just changed the registration system in Russia and, absent minded fool that I was, I hadn’t gotten around to updating mine. And, in Russia, having your registration papers out of order is another ‘very bad thing.’

At this point, it is fair to say that I was feeling a little nervous.

So, you want to know what horrible fate befell me at the hands of a charmless Russian border guard? Click on continue to find out…

He helped me fill out a form, issued me with the correct registration documents, then sent me back to the train.

Real life is just so boring sometimes.

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