An Introduction to Russia

Category: International Business

Anya Cherico serves as a resource coordinator at Acclaro, working with the resource development team to search for and qualify translation resources. Originally from Russia, she holds a BA in linguistics and has a passion for languages.

Russia is the largest country on the planet, sharing borders with over a dozen countries and in the top fastest developing economies (by GDP) in the world. If you haven’t already been there, chances are you might, and soon. And if you are headed there, especially on a business trip, learning about Russian culture is an important part of doing business with your foreign partners. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Expect to be invited out…and come hungry. Business is not always taken care of in the office, but sometimes in the informal atmosphere of a restaurant or someone’s home. Establishing personal contacts is the key to a successful business partnership in Russia. Be prepared for a sit-down dinner at a table full of food and drinks, and be aware that refusing to eat or drink is considered offensive to your hosts, so don’t be shy. Traditional zakuski (appetizers) like pickled cucumbers and tomatoes, caviar, sel’d pod shuboy (dressed herring), and kolbasa (cuts of different cold sausages) will be followed by pelmeni (dumplings), golubzi (stuffed cabbage), kotlety (cutlets), and much, much more.  Of course, there will be a lot of toasts accompanied by the clinking of glasses. And if you are invited into someone’s home, do remember to take off your shoes.
  • Be open-minded. Not every business meeting takes place in a conference room or a restaurant, with all parties dressed in appropriate business attire. “Attire” may not be required at all, in fact, if your business partners invite you to a banya, a traditional Russian sauna. This is yet another opportunity to meet, relax and make friends. In the banya, you will whip yourself with birch tree branches full of leaves in the sweltering heat.  After the cool down in a large pool full of ice water, enjoy a cup of freshly brewed chai (tea). It may be the most unique “meet and greet” you’ll ever have.
  • Be aware of some Russian superstitions. For example, whistling inside someone’s home is thought to bring poverty upon the homeowners. If you spill salt, make sure that you spit over your left shoulder three times, to avoid the ensuing argument. Finally, if you decide to bring flowers for your hostess (you should always bring a little something when going to someone’s house), make sure a bouquet has an odd number of flowers.  An even amount would be appropriate only for a funeral!
  • Express interest in Russian culture. Russians are very enthusiastic about sharing their traditions with foreigners. A lack of interest will surely disenchant your Russian partners. Russians love to talk about their families, problems, work, politics, etc. They will also be curious to hear about your country and company, and what you think about Russia. Remember, while you may hear Russians complain about their own country, don’t join in…leave it to the experts.

Meeting new people, learning new things, and making friends should make your business trip to Russia a lot of fun. Go with the flow, have a good time while expanding your business network, and enjoy a culture like no other!

Photo attribution: Tales-of-the-Big-City