Culture and social etiquette in Russia

Culture and social etiquette in Moscow

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Last update on December 11, 2018

Do you know how to greet a Russian? How vodka should be served? Here’s our brief introduction guide to Russian culture and social etiquette in Russia.

If you’re living in Moscow, knowing a few Russian cultural traits can help you integrate into your life in Moscow. Whether you are living in Russia or just visiting for the first time, understanding the rich family customs and social etiquette in this beautiful country can help you get the most out of your time here.

There is a strong, collective spirit in Russia coming from their history of being an agricultural community, and their political history. Thus, Russians are very proud of their cultural heritage and their country.

Family in Russia

The family unit is very important, and every member of the family is supposed to contribute in some way. You’ll often find that families are small in Russia because most women also have jobs outside of the home.

Apartments are usually small, but you’ll frequently find that more than one family generation lives together. Russians have a general affinity for groups, so if you are invited to someone’s home, it’s likely that you will feel welcome and part of their collective family unit.

Russian greetings

A firm, almost bone crushing, handshake is typical greeting when meeting someone in Russia. (Although the handshake between women and men is less firm.) Russians also maintain direct eye contact while giving the appropriate greeting for the time of day.

Female friends usually kiss each other on the cheek three times when they meet, first on the left cheek, then on the right, and then a final time on the left. Close male friends hug and pat each other’s back.

In short, when meeting a Russian for the first time, male or female, shake hands firmly while retaining eye contact. Looking away can be considered rude and indifferent. Men should wait for a woman to offer her hand first. (Tip: Do not shake hands over a threshold; enter the room first, then shake hands.)

Russians commonly introduce each other through a third person rather than directly introducing themselves. As a non-native, do not assume familiarity; wait for your Russian acquaintances to take the lead.

Russian body language

Russians are wary of anyone who appears insincere. Smile when you mean it and are genuinely pleased to meet someone. Also, sitting with the bottom of your feet showing is considered rude. Whistling indoors is frowned upon as it is superstitiously thought to herald poor financial performance.

When pointing, do not use a single finger but gesture with your whole hand. Bad posture and standing with your hands in your pockets are considered signs of laziness. Lastly, Russians rarely display affection in public.

Meeting

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. If you are invited to a Russian home for a meal, arrive on time and bring a small gift (men are expected to bring flowers).

In formal situations, people use all three names when referring to other. In contrast, friends and close acquaintances may refer to each other by their first name and patronymic, while close friends and family members call each other by their first name only.

Russian food, drink and celebrations

Special occasions, such as birthdays, weddings and holidays are always accompanied by feasting. It’s common to sit down for a large meal with many courses to celebrate for hours.

The most elaborate rituals are drinking vodka (which is always drunk straight and chilled), accompanied by a pickled food. Toasts are often long and elaborate, and can be light-hearted or serious, depending on the nature of the occasion

Older Russians have quite a pessimistic view about future. However, younger urban Russians have obtained a more Western outlook on life.