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When in Russia

By Josian Phillips, 

Research takes time, so here in brief are 25 vital things about Russian business etiquette that you will find useful. Indeed, some of this information may just swing it for you. 

  1. Dress very well. The Russians tend to look exceptionally smart and well turned out.
  2. Always give a very firm handshake, very firm.
  3. Maintain strong eye contact.
  4. Be open, honest and transactional. You do not need good guanxi as you do in China, but blat, the building of networks, is a term you should familiarise yourself with.
  5. Meetings may start off cool and reserved, but the Russians do like to openly express feelings and emotions.
  6. Have long-term plans.
  7. The Russian’s are spiritual (check out sobornost), community conscious and sociable.
  8. Be aware if offered vodka, you may have to help finish the bottle. It is not impolite to turn down vodka especially for health or religious reasons.
  9. Avoid giving yellow or an even number flowers, but do gift when visiting homes – which will be a welcoming and lengthy ritual.
  10. Value politeness; keep your hands out of your pockets.
  11. Make no jokes at the beginning of a meeting.
  12. Drop the smile. The Russians have a saying along the lines of “He who always smiles is probably stupid” so seriously, be serious and drop the smile.
  13. Expect to be kept waiting.
  14. Tempers can flair in meetings, don’t worry about it.
  15. Meetings can be interrupted and remain informal, egalitarianism is crucial.
  16. Constant re-establishment of trust is required throughout the business relationship.
  17. Gift high quality brand name products/foods. Wedgewood for example would be good. Avoid cheap products as they will have a negative effect on the relationship.
  18. Russia has the highest educational standards in the world, and therefore Russians rate education. If you have a qualification, put it on your business card.
  19. The position of “manager” is not highly regarded in Russia, change it to “director” which is.
  20. Russian business people think, speak and act.
  21. Russians may over promise with good intention.
  22. Continuous management of staff, partners/distributors is necessary.
  23. When visiting Moscow, use the stunning metro, it is much quicker than cars, but do not take much luggage as there are very few escalators. Get the app Moscow Metro by Zuti, it will serve you well.
  24. Never assume the Russian business person does not speak English even if they do not appear to.
  25. The Russians are incredibly bureaucratic, ensure documentation is in order and estimated valuations, contents of packages, loads, and anything in between and around is exact and correct. It is not uncommon for products to be “arrested”, and long delays can ensue.

If you have more time read about:

Sobornost and blat.
Dostoyavesky and Khomyakov.

And remember: In Russia, he who always smiles is probably stupid!


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