For many around the world, there’s just something about all things Russian that holds them fascinated. If you’re shopping for someone who’s fallen in love with this complex culture, here are some gifts that will bring Russia a little closer to them.
The contemplative style typical of Russian films has won a small, but dedicated following abroad. Film buffs interested in history and social problems will appreciate films like Come and See by Elem Klimov or Brother by Alexei Balabanov. Films by Sergei Eisenstein, Sergei Soloviev, or Alexander Sokurov are also good choices for serious topics. Comedy lovers will enjoy Leonid Gaidai’s movies, like the Shurik series. Imported Russian DVD packages may run to $50, but videos can be found for around $10.
For a folk music enthusiast, pick up a CD from the Washington Balalaika Society. While music by famous composers, like Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov, may not be purely Russian in style, it does make an easy-to-find gift. For those partial to religious music, choose a few albums of liturgical songs performed by Russian Orthodox choirs. If the recipient isn’t much for traditional or classical, though, look for music from Russian rock or pop groups like Lyuba and Umaturman or singers like Alla Pugachova or Zemfira.
Most people interested in Russian culture will have read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky already, but may have a harder time finding translated or Russian-language editions of works by more modern authors like Vladimir Mayakovsky, Sergei Dovlatov, or Victor Pelevin. For lighter reading, try some best sellers like Boris Akunin’s detective novels, Aleksandra Marinina’s crime novels or Sergei Lukyanenko’s science fiction.
4) Language learning aids
Gift certificates for language classes are great, but if there’s no language school nearby, quality textbooks are a must. Beginners can benefit from solid basic course books and recordings, like Teach Yourself Beginner’s Russian by Rachel Farmer. For intermediate students, Roots of the Russian Language by George Patrick should go over well. Fluent speakers will enjoy books on the connection between language and culture, such as The Russian’s World: Life and Language by Genevra Gerhart.
5) Traditional foods
For a unique gift, hunt down some favorite Russian foods that are hard to find in the recipient’s locality. Some ideas are fish (salmon, chubs, or shad), hearty Russian bread (Orlovsky is a good brand), preserves (gooseberry, current, lingonberry or quince), and pastries (tea cakes or honey cakes). A bag of Russian hard caramels or chocolates, which have a unique flavor, makes a good small gift.
6) Tea service supplies
Russians love their tea, so anything tea-related is a good bet. Simple electric samovars can be found for $150, with designer models priced at $400 or more. For a truly high-end gift, consider an antique coal-heated samovar. If your tea-lover already has a samovar, pick them up a Russian-style tea cozy shaped like a doll. The metal tea glass holders used in Russia are hard to find outside the country, so if you can track some down, they make surprising and useful gifts. An authentic painted lacquer Zhostovo tray is another great gift for tea drinkers. While many people keep these as decor, they do stand up to gentle use.
7) A chess set
A chess set with Russian style pieces is sure to please anyone who enjoys one of Russia’s most popular pastimes. Quality wooden chess sets are usually hand-carved from rosewood, maple, and/or boxwood and can run from $30 to several hundred dollars. For a decorative display, look for one of the elaborate (and pricier) sets with pieces representing soldiers in historic Russian battles.
8) Home decor
Gzhel or Lomonosov porcelain is an elegant addition to any Russian art-lover’s home. While these two producers are better known for tableware, they also make figurines, clocks and chess sets. Lacquer boxes are a famous Russian art form and while they are fairly common, they’re also useful, so most people are happy to have more than one. If you’re buying for a Christian, a Russian Orthodox icon or cross makes an especially thoughtful gift.
Women who like feminine styles will love delicate Orenburg shawls or richly colored Pavlovo Posad shawls, which are usually priced from $30 to $150. For men, shirts of fine Russian linen are attractive and practical gifts. A boxy “Lenin style” cap also makes a unique gift for a man, provided he has no political objections, of course. The Astrakhan, another popular type of hat, does keep your head warm, but tends to stick out among western fashions.
10) Wearable accessories
Hair clips are the ideal small gift for women with long hair. Hand-painted and lacquered or carved birch clips can be bought for under $15. For men, consider a pair cufflinks made with Russian amber. Amber jewelry is tasteful gift for women, too, but if you decide to give any amber item, buy it from a reliable source that won’t sell you plastic.
Whatever gift you choose, the Russian culture fan in your life will be glad you helped them get closer their to the object of their fascination.