Mother Russia / Social Customs and Traditions in Modern Day Russia

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Social Customs

When greeting, Russians shake firmly, friends may kiss on the cheek, and say, Zdravstvuyte or privet ("hello"). Kak dela ("how are you") is taken literally, and may require a lengthy answer. English is widely spoken by most citizens under the age of 35, but efforts to speak Russian are appreciated.

Russians have three names: Their first name, patronymic (father's first name), and last name. At a formal first meeting, use the first name and patronymic (e.g., Dmitri Pavlovich--"son of Pavel").

Formal meetings require prior appointments and punctuality. Arrangements for visa, meetings, contracts and the like must be negotiated through level of bureaucracy and may take weeks or months. Business cards should include mention of the university degree, be printed in Cyrillic, and handed out to everyone in the meeting (so not to overlook someone important).

Informal visiting is a favorite pastime and conversational topics might include sports, travel, music, fashion, books, and current events in the Russian Republic.

Topics to avoid include negative aspects of history (e.g., Stalinism), personal and family problems, and the alcohol problem. Political views and contemporary problems used to be suppressed, but recently are common topics. Gifts might include flowers, liquor, artwork, book, quality pens, blue jeans, cigarettes, baseball caps, printed t-shirts, and country and western tapes. Though appreciated, thanks will be subdued.

In formal occasions, postures and expressions may appear stiff and unexpressive, but privately this may shift to warmth and hospitality. A very close personal space is preferred, and backing away may be interpreted as rejection. Dinners are long, elaborate, and include many toasts during and after the meal--sometimes requiring considerable alcohol tolerance.

As negotiators, Russians expect to deal with well prepared, high level executives, who provide availability and continuity in contact. Good personal relationships and regular business contacts are viewed as...