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Russians are very proud of their heritage, their country and their culture. There is a strong collective spirit in Russia, which comes from their past history of being an agricultural community, as well as their political history. Although life in Russia is often difficult, the average Russian citizen seems to accept this as just a simple fact of life. In fact, they often pride themselves on their ability to thrive in under difficult conditions. 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 visit.
The Importance of Family
The family unit is very important in Russia. Every member of the family is expected to contribute, and in fact, the success of the family depends on each member. This no doubt started back when daily life centered on an agricultural way of life, but it continues to this day. 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 generation live together. Russians have a general affinity for groups, so if you are invited to somebody's home, it is likely that you will be made to feel quite welcome and part of the collective family unit. In fact, this behavior is even noticed in restaurants between people who don't know each other. You might be used to sitting at your own table when dining alone at a restaurant. However, the average Russian citizen would be much more likely to sit at a table with strangers, rather than eat at a table by themselves.
Social and Meeting Etiquette
A firm handshake is the typical greeting when meeting somebody in Russia. Men in particular will greet somebody they are being introduced to with a strong handshake, direct eye contact, and the appropriate verbal greeting. Men will also shake the hands of women when they are introduced, but it will usually be a bit less firm. Women who are 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. You'll also see male friends hug and pat each other's back.
If you are planning a business meeting, make an appointment in advance. If you are meeting somebody for the purpose of a business transaction, you should take your social cues from them. Although it is generally advisable to maintain a formal demeanor, Russians have a definite respect for sincerity and trust. Hierarchy and rank are also important, which generally means that the most senior person in a business group will make the final decisions. Transactions and business dealings tend to take a bit longer in Russia, as there will be a "getting to know you" conversation first before delving into business matters. The concept of negotiation and compromise is also not generally part of the Russian way, as these are both viewed as signs of weakness. If you are invited to somebody's home, arrive on time and dress in business clothing, as this will demonstrate that you have respect for your hosts.