Understanding Russian Cultures and Customs

Image of Moscow Red Square

Red Square – St. Basile

The Russian Federation has a thousand years of history. Its growth and expansion over the centuries has resulted in a country rich in diversity—in culture, customs, language, religion, politics, art and more.

As we highlighted in our last blog, Russia’s vast expanse across two continents—Europe and Asia—makes it uniquely attractive to business seekers and leisure travelers. In fact, its footing at the crossroads of diverse cultures and people gives it a combination of western and Asian influences that naturally make it a prominent player on the world stage.

As part of our ongoing blog series, this week we’re taking a closer look at Russian cultures and customs and what you should know if you plan future travels there.

  • Russia has an estimated population of 143 million people. More than 80 percent of the country speaks Russian as their first and only language. There are more than 100 minority languages spoken across the country, but none to a large degree. These include Tartar, Ukrainian, Chuvash, Bashir, Mordvin, Circassian and Chechen. Most speakers of a minority language are also bilingual speakers of Russian. For marketing materials or other business-related documents, make sure you provide them in the Russian language.
  • Russians are very family oriented and value the family unit. In fact, it is not unusual for several generations of families to live together, often in small residences. Showing a Russian a picture of your family can be a great ice breaker.
  • Russian people are also very proud of their history and cultural heritage. They are eager to express their national pride to visitors and the outside world.
  • A long history of a communal lifestyle remains a basic ingredient of Russian society. The group dynamic and collective spirit will spur many Russians to join a table of strangers rather than eat alone in a restaurant.
  • In greetings, men should maintain direct eye contact and deliver very strong handshakes—the stronger the better between men, although gentler with women. Female acquaintances greet each by alternating three kisses on the check, starting with the left one.
  • Gift giving among friends and new acquaintances is common for social interactions, like an invitation to a home-cooked meal. The hosts may protest at first, but if you explain it is just a small token of your appreciation, they generally accept.
  • If invited to someone’s home, dress in general office attire and be punctual. You are typically expected to remove your shoes, although you may be provided with slippers to wear instead.
  • For business meetings, appointments must be made far in advance. It can take several weeks to arrange a meeting with government officials. Confirm any meeting a day or two in advance.  Schedules are very hectic so meetings are subject to change. The first meeting is typically a vetting process to determine the credibility of your business proposal. Expect to engage in informal, social conversation beforehand as a get-to-know-you ice breaker. Any presentation should be detailed and thorough to provide a full overview of your proposal.  Print any materials in both Russian and English.
  • Business negotiations can be slow. Compromise can be viewed as a weakness, so negotiations can drag on in an attempt to obtain concessions. Don’t be surprised by various tactics designed to sway your position, including officials angrily walking out of meetings or threatening to discontinue talks. Trying to use a high-pressure sales approach is likely to backfire on you. No contract or agreement is final until it is signed, and last minute changes are not uncommon. Hierarchy is important, with Russians giving great respect to age, rank and position. Executives expect to meet with counterparts of the same rank.
  • Business dress is formal and conservative. Suits and ties are the norm for men, and women should wear subdued business suits or skirts that cover the knees.
  • And not surprisingly, vodka is indeed a popular drink in both business and social settings, and you will be expected to partake. Just remember to toast the host every time and down it in one mouthful.

Russia is a large and diverse nation. If you are serious about visiting the country or doing business with Russian companies, contact us for advice on how best to proceed. Depending on where you go or what you hope to achieve, your approach will be different. We’re happy to assist in whatever way we can.


For more than 30 years, ASIST Translation Services, Inc. has worked with business, government, educational and non-profit clients around the world. We improve foreign language communications through a full menu of translation and interpreting services, including content localization, studio voice recording & audio-visual production, transcreation, proofreading, website content, page layout & design, cultural training, and other specialized language support. To learn more about how we can assist you, visit our LinkedInTwitter or Facebook pages or our Website!

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