Study plans for Russia? Learn the Etiquette!

3 Feb

What comes into your mind when we talk about Russia? The beautiful women, the vodka, ballet and culture? Russia offers a few programmes in English for students headed out there even just for short study stints – so let’s talk a bit about what kind of etiquette you need to know for your trip!


Fashion in Urban Russia follow European styles, remain groomed well dressed for evening out with your Russian counterpart. Russians judge foreigners by the clothing they wear, so classy well tailored clothes will mean you are well received.  Flashy styles should be avoided. If you’re there on business, it is preferred that women wear skirts rather than pant-suits  in the evening.

Informal greetings

Russian men friends powerfully hug one another and pat one another on the back. Women friends tend to embrace while exchanging three kisses, that start on the left cheek and alternate sides. Russians only display affection in public during greetings. They can be noisy during greetings with close family and friends.

Making keen eye contact is considered respectful. At an informal gathering the host will introduce everyone, starting with ladies. Russians usually greet strangers by shaking hands and stating their name rather than saying, “Hello” or  asking “How are you?”

Business cards are normally exchanged without special rituals. A card should have the highest educational degree to date, which is considered very valuable in business.

When eating people keep their hands above the table, much like the French.  When entertaining most Russians put more food than they can eat on the table and may leave some on the plate to indicate that there is abundance in the house.  Guests can indicate they have eaten well by leaving a small amount of food on the plate. Russians like eating out.

Russian like to visit and entertain guests, sitting and talking for hours is a favourite pastime. One usually remove shoes while entering the home.

Giving gifts is a strong tradition. The object is given less importance than the friendship expressed by the act.  Flowers are given in odd numbers for happy occasions.

Business Connections

In business, the goal of negotiations in Russia is primarily to build a strong and lasting relationship of trust between business partners. Contracts are viewed more as declaration of intent than as binding agreements. Russian are disinclined to do business with anyone they have not met with numerous times. Emails and phone calls are acceptable as forms of communication, but you should not ignore the need for face to face meetings, which typically include long session of small talk and post meeting drinks.

Patience is important – do not try to rush the initial stage of establishing a relationship as this will create distrust. If you sense that your Russian counterpart wants to enter into a contract quickly, without first developing a relationship with you, there is reason to suspect they are intending to take unfair advantage of you. At the beginning of negotiations, Russian business people may request their foreign business guests sign an informal protocol. Refuse politely, these agreements usually bind you to sign a more detailed agreement later down the track.

What the world can learn from Russia is endurance. Russians have tremendous patience. Like all developing countries, as Russia opens up to globalization, it is absorbing new points of view. So don’t forget to pack your patience with you, Russians have a tendency to sit through negotiations like they have all the time in the world.  But once Russians are your friends, they will stand up for you.

Devika Das is an expert in international etiquette and Protocol – and holds a diploma in the subject from Institute Villa Peirrefue in Montreux, Switzerland, she is also licensed from the Protocol School of Washington.  She is the founder of Raclette International which specialises in global executive presence and image for industry leaders, and is currently based in China.


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