Whether visiting Russia for pleasure or business you’ll have to learn about the ways of the land if you want to fit in, even temporarily. If you have business in Russia it may be extremely difficult to get an appointment. Don’t give up, your persistence will eventually pay. Avoid scheduling meetings for the end of July through August when most people take vacations. Appointments should be kept, and on time, but don’t be surprised if your associates postpone your meeting. Business hours are similar to those in the U.S.
Although in most business settings dark suits with white shirts are appropriate, in Russia, these colors are reserved for special occasions. Select light colored suits such as gray or brown instead. Women should wear conservative dresses with long sleeves and hemlines below the knee.
Touching the arm of an associate during a business meeting is a sign of confidence and trust. Still, it’s best to leave these displays for the Russians rather than touch an associate and make the wrong impression, particularly if you do not know each other well. Although topics of politics are taboo in some other countries, Russians may actually appreciate your participation in the discussion, whether you agree with them or not. Avoid personal topics like the associate’s family or income, even though they may ask you personal questions. Compliments should be given rarely.
Always use a title and surname. Titles are very important in Russia and only very close friends use first names. Women take husband’s names but change the last letter to an “a”. Common names abound and Russians sometimes use birth dates as a means to determine which person is which. Refer to men with the word “gaspodin” and his surname and women with “gaspazhah” and surname. Names are somewhat technical so study on the correct way to address your associates well before the actual meeting.
Gift-giving is a normal routine so be prepared to give many. Bring a gift any time you are invited to one’s home. Desserts or chocolates are a good choice. Flowers are another good choice, but only in odd numbers. Even numbers of flowers are for funerals. Avoid white and yellow flowers and choose peach or blue instead. Red flowers are for romance so decide against this color when simply visiting someone. Do not give a pregnant woman a gift for the baby as this is considered bad luck. In some countries, gifts of perfume and cologne are considered too personal but these are perfectly acceptable in this culture.
Any time you are doing business in another country it’s a good idea to have printed materials and business cards done in your own language and that of the foreign country. Do not expect to make copies while visiting as photocopiers and such are more readily available in the U.S. than in Russia.
Always knock and wait for a response when entering any closed door and ensure that the door is closed when you exit. It’s not uncommon for Russian associates to assure you that they comprehend what you’re saying even if they don’t. Do not be pushy or repeat yourself again and again. State your presentation clearly and accurately the first time. Use translators if necessary to assure that your message is not misunderstood.
Whenever possible, do not back down or compromise your position. This is often seen as a weakness even if the Russian associates push your towards that end, all the while. Offer to have a drink with your associates which is seen as a way of establishing good will between each other. Expect decisions to take a long time and don’t be surprised if modifications are made to contracts and other agreements – without your knowledge.
Women should not dine alone. When dining do not start until the host or someone else has made a toast. Utensils are held differently than in other parts of the world. Hold forks in left hand with handle straight up and knives in right hand always. Be sure that your hand stay above the table rim at all times during dining. Turning down a drink is very rude unless you can give a reasonable health or religious reason. Don’t allow yourself to get drunk and taken advantage of during a business deal.
Handshakes are done each and every time you meet, not just on first meetings. It is important to make eye contact during introductions and while someone is addressing you. Thumbs-up signs are rude and even vulgar in many cultures but are acceptable in Russia. Do not, however, form the “okay” sign with thumb to forefinger, which is vulgar in this country.
When entering an establishment which has a cloak room, use it to store your boots and coat. Wearing them is rude and unacceptable. Do not speak or laugh loudly in public places. Do not whistle indoors, even at a concert. Avoid sitting with one ankle on the other knee or with legs spread apart. Do not use your index finger to call someone over to where you are. Place palm downwards and curl all fingers inwardly instead.
You can find more information which will be useful during your visit by checking out books from your local library or going online to read more. Prepare yourself as well as possible to make the best impression.