Home Living in Russia Cultural Integration Russian etiquette and cultural values
Last update on October 23, 2020

Do you know how to greet a Russian? How vodka should be served? Here’s our brief introduction to Russian etiquette.

If you’re living in Russian, knowing a few Russian etiquette traits can help you integrate into your life in the country. 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 should 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 receive an invite to someone’s home, it’s likely that you will feel welcome and part of their collective family unit.

Russian etiquette: greetings

A firm, almost bone crushing, handshake is typical Russian greeting etiquette when meeting someone. (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, good etiquette is shaking hands firmly while retaining eye contact. Looking away is rude and shows indifference. 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 and etiquette

Russians are wary of anyone who appears insincere. Smile when you mean it and are genuinely happy to meet someone. Also, sitting with the bottom of your feet showing is 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, Russian etiquette typically discourages displays of affection in public.

Meeting

Russians are great hosts and love entertaining guests in their homes. Common Russian etiquette dictates that they 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. Russian etiquette means that 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.