Peak Translations

Crossing the Russian border

Welcome/Добро пожаловать! (Dobro požalovat’!) to Russia, the largest country by area in the world with 11 million more females than males, a country with nine different time zones, where you can enjoy the longest train journey in the world on the Trans-Siberian Railway. This diverse place with its complex history and fascinating people is what makes it an intriguing business venture. However, crossing Russia’s cultural border is quite a tricky process. It can be a little like navigating your way through rough seas, therefore it is highly recommended to become acquainted as much as possible with Russian business customs and formalities. Put yourself in their shoes; this will put you in much better standing and you will be more likely to succeed in your business endeavour.

Festive day of November in the Moscow Kremlin in the early autumn morning

Here are a few cultural pointers to help you overcome the challenges of doing business in Russia: –

  1. The art of patience is key to breaking through those icy negotiation barriers. Russians are very patient people and expect nothing less from their international business counterparts. However, be prepared for your patience to be tested. Although they may impress punctuality to a meeting on you, their late arrival without so much as an apology should not be received with annoyance. Furthermore, don’t expect negotiations to happen quickly. They are a sceptical race (much due to Russia’s complicated history) and therefore building trust and solid relationships with Russians is a little like waiting for a tree to grow. Nevertheless, once it takes root, it will remain entrenched for a long time.
  2. A country rich in culture, music and arts of which Russians are immensely proud, means that good conversation icebreakers might include insightful remarks about the works of Tolstoy or Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Impressing them with a few words in Russian might also help seal the deal; pleased to meet you/Очень приятно (Očen’ prijatno).
  3. Handshakes are a given between males, but make sure not to offend by offering a gloved hand, or evoke their superstition with a handshake over a threshold, believed to be a bad omen where an argument might likely ensue.
  4. Entertaining business associates long into the night is ingrained in Russian culture, so be willing to have your stamina tested and make sure you bring your good drinking shoes for those numerous and important vodka toasts. It could be the difference between strengthening or weakening your relationship. Cheers!/За здоровье! (za zda-ró-vye).
  5. Familiarise yourself with the proper etiquette of gift giving as this plays an important part of everyday life in Russia. Understanding the do’s and don’ts could be the deal breaker in business, such as making sure a bunch of flowers doesn’t have even numbers, as it is thought to be unlucky and associated with funerals.
  6. Body language also plays a key role and making sure you don’t offend is integral to good business relations. Never show the soles of your feet, they are considered dirty, maintain eye contact and do not take offence to their lack of personal space. Like Latin Americans, Russians stand very close to each other when talking.
  7. Play your business cards right by making sure you have them translated (one side in English, the other with a Russian translation); this shows respect and integrity. You also can’t have enough when doing business in Russia, so it is advisable to take plenty.

It goes to show that being culturally aware could be the key to opening a treasure trove of long-standing business ventures with Russia.

Matroshka. traditional colorful Russian wooden nesting dolls

By Madeline Prusmann (Project Manager), July 2016





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