Russian Business Etiquette

Posted by Lindsay Geoffroy


Dobro pozhalovat’ v Rossiyu! (‘‘Welcome to Russia!“ in Russian)

Thinking of Russia, the world’s largest nation, may evoke images of frigid wintry tundras; or, it may evoke images of the beautifully unique architecture, including the Kremlin and Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Russia is a vast land (larger in size than Pluto!) known for vodka, Siberia , and perhaps some political stances which may differ vastly than those in other parts of the world. It is a beautiful land, but if you are traveling there on business, it is best to brush up on your etiquette before departing. Let’s learn about the do’s anddon’ts of Russian business etiquette.

The Lowdown

  • Russia is the largest country in the world (by land mass), covering almost one-eighth of the Earth’s land area. Russia spans nine time zones and has a population of about 144 million people.
  • Russia has the fifteenth largest economy in the world as ranked by GDP, and is one of the leading producers of oil and natural gas.
  • Since 1992, Russia has been formally known as the Russian Federation and is categorized as a semi-presidential constitutional republic.
  • The official language of Russia is Russian; however, over 100 languages are spoken in Russia, including Tatar and Ukrainian. Most Russians do speak English and can conduct business in English.
  • A large portion of the Russian population is Christian (Russian Orthodoxy), but Islam is the second largest religion in the country.

Dressing Sharp

  • Men should wear dark, clean, tailored suits and dress shoes.
  • Women should wear dark, clean, tailored suits (with a skirt rather than pants), and avoid flashy or tacky apparel.
  • If a woman is entering a Russian Orthodox Church, she must cover her head.
  • Russian businesspeople will judge you based on your professional appearance.

Make or Break Meetings

  • Russians are very punctual, and meetings can take up a good portion of a day. It is wise to plan for a meeting to take up more time than originally expected.
  • Flexibility in scheduling is required, however, as Russians like to test the patience of foreign business parties by showing up late or making changes to scheduled plans.
  • Russians prefer direct contact (in person or by phone) rather than by email or by letter. The Russian postal service is notoriously unreliable.
  • Exchanging business cards at the first meeting is expected. It is good etiquette to have one side printed in English and the other in Russian, out of respect for the Russian party.
  • In conversation, Russians enjoy speaking about their economy and current affairs (if they are going well).

Dining Decorum

  • If dining out in a business setting, wear what you would wear to the office.
  • Sample some of all dishes offered (if you do not, it may be considered rude).
  • Be receptive to drinking with the Russian party (especially vodka) – Russians are known for their drinking and often like to use this to their advantage.
  • Dinner may be the time to seal the deal or finish negotiations, not socialize.
  • Whoever does the inviting does the paying and the tipping.

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Russians enjoy giving and getting gifts and it is an acceptable part of the business world.
  • If invited to a dinner at the house of a Russian business associate, it is appropriate to bring flowers or candy for the host(ess) and/or toys for the children of the house.
  • Other acceptable gifts include: wine, whiskey, vodka, coffee, tea, cake, or fruit.
  • Russians will not readily accept or open gifts, as this is not considered polite, so you may have to convince them to accept the item.

Down to Business

  • Russian business is extremely hierarchal – bosses request their employees to complete tasks and expect they will follow orders. In turn, the boss will exercise his power when the time is right and will make the big business decisions.
  • A “final offer” may not actually be that – you may be able to negotiate with the Russian party. Russians value strong negotiating skills and you may benefit if you can hold off on finalizing a deal.
  • Seal the final deal in writing with the Russian party, if possible.

Now that you’re well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to Russia, don’t forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb! Poka! (“Goodbye!” in Russian)