Russia has had a long history of totalitarianism, which has
resulted in a rather fatalistic approach to living. The desire to
work individually under personal initiative was suppressed by the
Czarist and Communist states. With the advent of perestroika
(restructuring), the Soviet/Communist value system has been
scrapped, but the pace of reform has been slow and many are finding
it very difficult to adapt to the Western values of individualism
and profit maximization. Older Russians are generally quite
pessimistic and don't have much faith in a better life in the
future. Younger urban Russians have adopted a more Western outlook
Meeting and Greeting
- Initial greetings may come across as cool. Do not expect
- A handshake is always appropriate (but not obligatory) when
greeting or leaving, regardless of the relationship. Remove your
gloves before shaking hands. Don't shake hands over a threshold
(Russian folk belief holds that this action will lead to an
- Russians are a very demonstrative people, and public physical
contact is common. Hugs, backslapping, kisses on the cheeks and
other expansive gestures are common among friends or acquaintances
and between members of the same sex.
- Russians stand close when talking.
- Putting your thumb through your index and middle fingers or
making the "OK" sign are considered very rude gestures in Russia.
- Russians appreciate punctuality. Business meetings generally
begin on time.
- Under Communism there were no incentives for bureaucrats to
perform well or to even be pleasant toward clients; this meant
that the usual answer to any question was "No." This practice is
still found in Russian society today, but "No" is usually not the
final word on an issue. One has to bargain and be persistent to
get what he or she wants.
- Business cards are handed out liberally in Russia and are
always exchanged at business meetings. The ceremony of presenting
and receiving business cards is important. Don't treat it lightly.
- Representatives of the Russian company or government body are
usually seated on one side of a table at meetings with guests on
the other side.
- Your company should be represented by a specialized team of
experts. Presentations should be thoroughly prepared, detailed,
factual and short on "salesmanship."
- Russians usually negotiate technical issues very competently,
directly and clearly but, being newcomers to capitalism, often do
not fully understand Western business practices and objectives.
You may have to explain the reasoning behind some of your demands.
- Russians find it difficult to admit mistakes, especially
publicly. They also find it difficult to risk offending someone by
making requests or assertions.
- Trying to do business in Russia over the telephone is
generally ineffective. The Russian telecommunications system is
inadequate, but improving quickly. The telex is widely used.
- Personal relationships play a crucial role in Russian
- Business negotiations in Russia are lengthy and may test your
patience. Plan to be in for the long haul.
- No agreement is final until a contract has been signed.
Dining and Entertainment
- When dining in a restaurant, arrive on time.
- Russians are great hosts and love entertaining guests in their
homes. They will often put more food on the table than can be
eaten to indicate there is an abundance of food (whether there is
or not). Guests who leave food on their plates honor their host.
It means they have eaten well.
- If you're invited for dinner, don't make other plans for later
in the evening. You are expected to spend time socializing after
- An invitation to a Russian dacha (country home) is a great
- Do not turn down offers of food or drink. Given Russian
hospitality, this can be difficult, but to decline such offers is
- At formal functions, guests do not usually start eating until
the host has begun. At such functions, no one should leave until
the guest of honor has left. If you are the guest of honor, do not
stay too late.
- Know your limits when drinking alcohol in Russia. Drinking is
often an all-or-nothing affair -- moderation is not understood.
- Toasts, which are sometimes lengthy and occasionally humorous,
are common. The host starts and the guests reply. Do not drink
until the first toast has been offered.
- After a toast, most Russians like to clink their glasses
together. Do not do so if you are drinking something
- A "serious" businessperson is expected to look formal and
conservative. Wearing very light or bright colors might make you
appear lazy or unreliable to a Russian.
- Men should wear suits and ties. Women should wear suits and
dresses or pantsuits.
- A small business gift is always appropriate, but its value
should correspond to the rank of the Russian businessperson with
whom you are meeting.
- As a general rule, do not give items that are now easily
obtainable in Russia.
- Bring a gift for the hostess when visiting a Russian home. A
small gift for a Russian child is always appropriate (and
- Russians are very proud of their culture and enjoy
opportunities to talk about their music, art, literature and
dance. Knowledge about art, music and some Russian history is
- Learn Russian! Learning the language is of incalculable value,
and is the best way to win friends for yourself, your company and
your country. If that simply isn't possible, try to learn at least
a few phrases in Russian. It doesn't have to be perfect; Russians
greatly appreciate any attempt by foreigners to speak their
- Never refer to a Russian as "Comrade."
- Do not expect to find smoke-free areas anywhere. A standard
joke among foreign businesspeople in Russia is that Russian
buildings have two sections: "smoking" and "chain-smoking."
Especially for Women
- Women are initially regarded with skepticism and may have to
prove themselves. Before you visit, have a mutually respected
colleague send a letter introducing you. Your business cards
should clearly state your title and academic degree. If you
establish your position and ability immediately, you will
encounter far fewer problems.
- Be feminine. Allow men to open doors, light cigarettes, etc.
Even if you think such customs are antiquated or silly, respect
the cultural background of your Russian colleagues.
- Foreign businesswomen can use their femininity to their
advantage. For fear of not appearing a gentleman, many Russian
businessmen may allow foreign businesswomen to get away with some
things (requests for meetings, favors, etc.) that foreign
businessmen aren't allowed.
- A woman can invite a Russian businessman to lunch and pay the
bill, although it might be interpreted by some men as an
invitation to flirt.