Russia cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
Safe topics when first meeting Russians would be: sports, literature and weather, which are neutral topics in most countries.
Topics to avoid
Religion, politics, history, current socio-economic situation in Russia (versus better off Western countries)
Humour/jokes— especially neutral ones are great and welcomed by Russians.
Russians are not as used to the openness & instant rapport practised by many other cultures. They prefer to slowly get to know someone & many of their personal & business relationships are built up over a lifetime of association. Hence the visitor should move slowly and be guided somewhat by the Russian party.
Russians, when they are hosting, are usually anxious to be hospitable and offer tea, coffee &, in some instances vodka, regardless of the time of day. Business is not the first topic they wish to discuss & do require some personal time to assess the newcomer.
Assessing the age, educational background and international exposure of the Russian party is important (as in any other culture) to determine the topics likely to interest the subject.
Initially, neutral topics are best and could include: ice hockey & other winter sports (e.g. cross-country skiing, alpine is not so popular) that will interest Russian males. But beware, although Russian males are well informed about the NHL, ice hockey does not have the fanatical following as in Canada!!
Other sports & topics; soccer & tennis; pets (many Russians are dog, cat & horse lovers); technical & commercial subjects; comments of respect & admiration for the achievements of Russia (should be genuine & well researched); cultural aspects (especially showing knowledge of Russian artists, composers, etc) are always very good. Dachas (similar to many Canadian "cottagers", lots of Russians, who live in the big cities have cottages or village homes) and; hunting and fishing.
Russians have a fine sense of humour and love anecdotes, especially those poking fun at politicians & others in the public eye.
The less neutral topics are religion, politics, history, etc and should be avoided until the other party is better known. Also to be avoided are derogatory comparisons between Russia and other countries. Russians are not are oblivious to the many shortcoming of the current situation but are still very justifiably proud of their many world-respected achievements. Similarly, flaunting wealth or possessions by visitors to Russia is not appreciated, except by the "New Russians"—the growing socio-economic upper class.
Family is a possible topic as most Russians are doting parents, including the many single mothers. However, there are males that, having left their families, have no ongoing contact with their children.
The giving of gifts to Russians can be considered as "marks of respect". The gifts can range from high-end gifts such as those used for trade promotion (as opposed to tacky souvenirs), to alcohol (Canadian Whiskey or wines are novelties) or chocolates (mainly for women).
Eye contact, handshakes, physical distance are about same as is acceptable in North America. Other touching is initially limited. Gestures/expressions/tone can be sociable and friendly.
Russians are formal with all new contacts and especially so with foreigners where the Russian has had limited international travel/contacts. If, as many foreigners must do, communication is through an interpreter, this becomes even more strained & difficult for both parties to express themselves effectively.
A firm handshake is the common form of greeting & parting, even between people that see each other every day. This, combined with a friendly & open greeting with good eye contact, and about the same spatial relationship as is normal in Canadian social settings, is acceptable.
Avoid shaking hands across a doorway threshold as it is considered very bad luck. When visiting someone’s house or office you must either go all the way in, or wait until s/he has come all the way out, before greeting each other.
Touching (apart from handshake) is limited and usually happens only in closer relationships. In such close relationships, the greetings & partings are hugs and kissing on cheeks (three kisses). This is somewhat limited between men but normal between opposite sexes and sometimes between women.
Display of emotion
Public displays of emotion are acceptable— the range of emotional display in Russian society would roughly compare to that in Latin/Mediterranean countries (i.e.: a wider range).
Public displays of affection, anger or other emotions are both acceptable and common. Affection, especially so in social occasions where there is alcohol, can be expected once the newcomer is accepted. Affection can take the form of hugging, or be verbal with extreme complimentary, sometimes bordering on maudlin, toasts and speeches, about the chosen person(s).
Anger is not quite so common to see in public but does occasionally happen, including in the work place. There are some Russians that use a dictatorial style of management that can include the public upbraiding of staff. Similarly in negotiations, things can get somewhat heated & noisy. While Russians can sometimes appear gruff & unsmiling, the foreign visitor should stay calm & smiling but reinforce points in strong voice, when appropriate. Russians respect strength.
Dress, punctuality & formality
For both men and women, the dress should be same as conservative/formal office attire in North America.
The typical approach is to address colleagues/superiors by using the "patronymic" name. This name is based on the first name of the father. So, for instance, Ravil Abdulbyar-ovich’s first name would be Ravil and Abdulbyar, his father’s name. For women it is the same but "OVNA" or "EVNA" is added to the patronymic name instead of "OVICH" for men. Thus Ravil’s daughter would be Polina Ravil-evna. Another form of address is; Gospadin (Mr.) or Gospazha (Mrs).
Between family, good friends and colleagues, and sometime subordinates, the Christian name is modified to a "pet" name, e.g. Alexander = Sasha; Ludmila = Mila, Vladimir = Vova, Evgueniy = Geniya.
The Russian language also has a difference for "you" denoting respect. In formal situations, "vy" is used, "ty" is used between friends, etc.
Time keeping and productivity were not strong points for Russians. We are improving now.
Russia is still a country of formality—for men a shirt, tie, jacket, etc in darker, conservative tones is still the required uniform for offices and at formal occasions. Russian women, especially younger ones, dress very fashionably, although in some instances somewhat more provocatively than women do in Canada. Female visitors should dress in conservative, but fashionable clothes.
Foreigners should be aware that using the Christian name to address Russians, with whom one is not close, is not considered polite. The respectful form of address has two options:
- A distinctive feature of Russian names is that the middle name traditionally is "patronymic" i.e. a name derived from the given name (first name) of a person’s father. For example, in the name Ivan Ivanovich Nikitin, the first name (given name) is Ivan; the surname (last name) is Nikitin; and the middle name, Ivanovich, the "otchestvo" (father’s first name) and in this case means son of Ivan. Usually, a polite form of addressing a Russian male is by using the first & patronymic name, as in the example; Ivan Ivanovich; if it is a female, then it becomes Anna Ivanova.
- Gospadin (male) & gospadina (female) are the closest to Mr & Mrs and can be also used, especially in the plural form for a collective address, or “friends”. However, for a respectful address between individuals the strongest preference is for the (a) approach.
A very familiar form of address, normally reserved for close friends, colleagues & subordinates, or unless the individual introduces him/herself as such, is using the diminutive of the persons’ Christian name. For example, Nikolai’s mother may call him Kolya or Kolenka; Alexander—Alik or Sasha; Dmitri - Mitka, Mitya. For females, Yekatarina—Katya; Alexandra—Sasha; Ludmila—Mila or Lucie.
Like many European languages, Russian gives the speaker a choice to address others as; "ty" (thou or familiar) and vy (you—more formal). It is likely that foreigners who have learned Russian have explored this when they learned the language; thus it will not be discussed in detail here. In the event a foreigner learns just a few Russian phrases, a great icebreaker and complement when dealing with Russians, s/he should use "vy" if in doubt.
Time keeping, punctuality and work ethic are key areas of change in Russia. Previously there was a more relaxed attitude to all, especially for men, and may still be experienced. One has to remember the Russian saying; "It takes us a long time to saddle up, but then we go very fast"!!! However, the Russian work ethic and attention to time is closing fast on that seen in Western countries, especially among the younger employees.
For the visitor, it is always best to be on time and attentive to work commitments. It will be respected.
Preferred managerial qualities
The same qualities of leadership are admired in both local & expat managers/supervisors— experience/knowledge, confidence, good communication skills, assertiveness, interpersonal relations.
A full picture of how your staff views you may be difficult to get. There is a preference for giving only good news & compliments— even if not completely true. Trust will open up the communication to allow for feedback.
Strong leadership skills, expertise & experience, balanced with a genuine concern for the subordinate, are all well respected. For the Expat, similar skills are needed; especially when the objective of the Expat is to train Russian staff to take a future, larger role in the Russian or international operations.
Russians adapt well to working with Expats and are open & anxious to learn, even though in most cases there are large differences of expertise & income. For the Expat to get feedback about his/her personal performance takes effort. Russians are not always comfortable with giving such feedback, especially if negative. There is a tendency to give the listener what s/he wants to hear. However, a sure sign of acceptance are invitations to the expat to share social occasions with Russian staff.
Hierarchy and decision-making
Although Russian businesses are becoming more like those in West, decision making still reflects old style: top down. New styles of delegation are gradually being introduced. Ideas arise at any level; getting feedback from supervisor is acceptable.
The decision making process in Russian organisations is one of the major areas of change. Foreign owned entities and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) did not exist until 1991-2 onwards. Prior to this, all Russian organisations, regardless of size, were a part of the larger "entity" of the central government. Reporting was through a number of levels forming the "bureaucracy" and as such resulted in infinite numbers of rules & regulations (codes, standards, practices & forms).
Much of the Russian industry & commerce is now fully or partly privatised (or in the process). SMEs are emerging and foreign organisations are rapidly entering the market. All this, & changes in other sectors of the economy, is resulting in upheavals in the work place. However, there is still more top down decision making in Russia than experienced in most Western countries.
In the terms of idea creation and downward feedback from supervisors, there is little difference from that experienced in Canadian organisations. Ideas are generated both close to the "action" and from above. For those ideas from the working level, they are developed (approved) through levels of supervision, depending on the scope. For business related topics, regular feedback is the norm. However, feedback on personal performance is only sporadically practised.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Generally, women are not regarded or treated as equals to men and most hold lower level jobs compared to men.
Class levels in Communist times were not consistent with the earlier Russia ideologies. There were privileges that came from status within the ruling party. Now the "New Russians" seek such privileges.
The Russian Orthodox Church is becoming once again, after many years, the religion of Russia. However, most Russians are not actively involved. Most other faiths (Jewish, Islamic, Buddhists, etc) are ignored or shunned.
Many Russians are xenophobic and racism is more common than in the West.
Racial & other prejudices exist in Russia; there is still some way to go for full acceptance of overall equality.
Russian women are often described as "The neck of Russia". Supporting the head and brains (men) but determine where the head looks!! Older women, especially "babushkas" have an almost revered status and are willingly obeyed by all. However, while the USSR was long held to be the model for female emancipation (many female professionals, long before so in the West & female combat fighters in WWII), the reality is that women are not generally treated as equals.
Same sex relationships are not fully accepted and still can attract some negative reaction.
The Russian Orthodox Church is the "national religion" of Russia, with the orthodox calendar governing the religious holidays. Orthodox Easter & Christmas (not public holidays) and other Christian celebrations are some two weeks later than in the West.
Other religions with significant followings in Russia are; Judaism, Islam & Catholic. Openly practising religion, long dissuaded during Communist times, is still a somewhat personal topic for most Russians.
In recent years, the Orthodox Church has become more prominent and, while long the domain of older Russian women, it is now attracting younger participants. There have been instances where the Orthodox Church has been openly hostile to some of the newer religions being introduced to Russia from the West.
Class for Russians used to equal power (level within the governing hierarchy). It is quickly being overtaken by money (New Russians).
Within the USSR, the dominant culture was Slavic, and there were, and still are, prejudices against those from what is now the "southern republics" e.g. Kazakhstan, Georgia, etc. Dark skinned people from other countries also suffer discrimination. There are isolated anti Jewish incidents & to some degree, religious discrimination will parallel ethnic biases.
It is important to make personal relationship before proceeding to business in Russia. Developing trust and understanding that mutual favours/efforts will be exchanged enhances the business relationship in the difficult current business environment in Russia.
The forming of good personal relationships can be made by attending social events, office parties, dinners, etc. Small gifts can be helpful especially when attending celebrations of birthday, jubilees, etc.
For most Russians the personal relationship comes first & then the business relationship. Establishing these relationships can be expedited by social interactions. This would include participating in office celebrations for birthdays, jubilees (work anniversaries), etc., where staff sits around and talk, drink & toast. Also, Russians like to entertain at home. If invited, this would be an ideal opportunity to build a relationship. The guest should take a small gift of flowers, food or alcohol.
Flowers are very popular gifts for men & women—large bouquets are presented for all kinds of celebrations, including birthdays, jubilees, name days for women (Vera, Luba, Nadia, etc). The count of flowers is important—an even number is unlucky (for funerals); odd numbers of flowers should be given for all other occasions.
For clients, restaurant dining, usually in the evening, is a good icebreaker. It is not usual among older Russians to include spouse in such entertaining.
Privileges and favouritism
Yes, such an expectation might take place. Western business culture and business ethics just started being applied in Russia. One example: recruiting agencies appeared in Russia only about 10 years ago and still are available only in big cities. In the old Soviet system, personnel would be hired using personal databases / networks (friends, relatives, personal contacts) or through advertisements. Salaries were fixed and never reflected performance. Now things are changing rapidly. Some companies / individuals are far more advanced in this process than the others.
Personal relationships are very important to Russians and operate on a basis of reciprocity. However, favouritism, especially where not in the best interest of the organisation should be avoided at all costs. Poor choices, resulting from favouritism can undermine respect from Russian staff.
The hiring of staff or using suppliers, etc based on personal referral by trusted & competent Russian staff, can be an effective way to get work done. However, the performance criteria should in no way be reduced or modified.
Conflicts in the workplace
As in North America, the best approach in this situation would be to deal with it privately & directly. Getting others (supervisors) involved should only happen if the two parties cannot resolve the issue.
It is not always easy to know if colleague is offended. Develop a trust/good relationship and then ask. Otherwise, it is unlikely that something will be said and the relationship will likely be spoiled.
While in many instances, criticism in public occurs in Russia, it is always better to address such issues in private, directly with the individual and as quickly as the issues arise.
Prior to the recent political changes, being outspoken was not encouraged. Consequently, directness is still not always something that can be counted on. Again, the greater the level of personal & trusting relationship, the more open any interaction will be.
Motivating local colleagues
Many of the same factors that motivate workers in North America apply for Russian workers. However, expectations as to working conditions and pay are low, especially among older workers.
Under the former economic system, good job performance was not especially well rewarded. This still has an impact on the motivation & ambitions of many still in the workplace.
Job satisfaction, commitment, money, loyalty, good working conditions, fear of failure, etc are all important motivators. The degree that each aspect motivates will vary, as in Canada, from person to person, determined largely by age. Money & opportunities for learning and advancement (especially international assignments) motivates younger Russians. Older Russians, while still motivated by money, are also very loyal, look for job satisfaction & professional respect.
It should be borne in mind that, while the salary levels for many young Russian professionals are at, or above, international standards, the salaries of most Russians are less than $US 500/mth.
Recommended books, films & foods
James Billington, The Face of Russia; Valentin Pikulj, Evil Power (about Grigory Rasputin and his time— early XX century); Valentin Pikulj, Favorite (Russia at the rule of Catherine the Great— mid XVIII century); Boris Akunin, Turkish Gambit (Russian-Turkish wars in mid XIX century); Mikhail Bulgakov, White Guard (Russian civil war 1917-1922); and Tynianov Kukhlya (revolution of December 1825).
"Siberian Barber"— Director N.Mikhalkov (Russia in the end of XIX century); "East-West"— Director Regis Wargnier (USSR in 1947); "Autumn Marathon"— Director G.Danelia (comedy, USSR in 1980-ies); and "Love and Pigeons"— Director V.Menjshov (comedy, USSR in 1980-ies).
Tchaikovsky— Piano Concerto No.1; Tchaikovsky— "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker" ballets; Tchaikovsky— "Eugeniy Oneguin" opera; Tchaikovsky— Symphony No.6; Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos No.2 and 3; Glinka— "Ivan Susanin" opera; Prokofiev’s— "Romeo and Juliet" and "Cinderella" ballets; Borodin— "Kniaz Igor" opera and Rimsky-Korsakov "Shachirizada" Symphony.
Folk Band "Ivan Kupala"; Boys Choir— Director Popov; and Dance Ensemble of Igor Moisseyev.
Bands - A-Studio, Time Machine, Gorky Park and DDT; singers - Konstantin Nikolsky,Valery Meladze and Alsu.
for news, weather, business, sports - www.rbc.ru (English version is available) - and www.gazeta.ru (English version is available).
There are hundreds more books, restaurants, etc and the visitor to Russia will have great pleasure in exploring and finding their personal choices. These are my personal favourites.
Russian language teachers and interpreters are great "cultural interpreters". Russians are very proud of their country, especially its cultural achievements. Most are very willing to share their knowledge on this subject with foreigners.
The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Russians by Vladimir Zhelvis (July/01); The Routledge Atlas of Russian History—from 800 BC to the present day (Routledge, 3rd Ed Nov/02); And Quiet Flows the Vodka, When Pushkin Comes to Shove or The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Russian Literature & Culture With the Devil’s Dictionary of Received Ideas (Andrew Sobesednikov); The Heart of a Dog (Mikhali Bulgakov, 1968); The Twelve Chairs by Ilf & Petrov, 1928 (Vintage Russian Library); and The Penguin Book of Russian Short Stories (Editor David Richards, 1981) is a collection of stories by the most famous and renowned 19th & 20th Century Russian writers, including; Gorky, Chekov, Gogol, Pushkin.
Any music by the classical Russian composers—personal favourites; Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto; Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto, Mussorgsky’s "Pictures at an Exhibition".
I found the Russian and Georgian dishes like mushrooms & sour cream, haricot beans & walnut/eggplant dishes delicious. The more traditional Russian fish (caviar, sturgeon) and meat (chicken, etc) dishes are other family favourites.
Here are some news and current affair programs that I can recommend: "ORT" channel issues program "Vremya" (Time) at 9:00 p.m. daily (Moscow time); "RTR" channel issues news program "Vesti" (News)— main issue at 11 p.m.; and "NTV" channel’s news— "Segodnya" (Today) is issued at 10 p.m. daily.
Typical Cold starters / appetisers: Russian pickles (cucumbers, cabbage, mushrooms, tomato); Smoked sturgeon / Smoked salmon; Herring with potato; Meat salad (so called "Olivier" or "Stolichniy"); Satsivi (Georgian cuisine: chicken with nuts in spices & sauce); and Lobio (Georgian cuisine : beans in spices & sauce). Hot starters: Pancakes with caviar (with red caviar and / or with black caviar). Soups: Borch (beet soup); Solianka (Russian meat Gumbo, with chicken, bacon, pork, beef and sausage) etc. Also typical are Pelmeni (Russian dumplings - may be stuffed with beef, pork, lamb or with salmon or mushroom); Sturgeon (Beef, Pork, Lamb) kabob and Stew in a Pot. For dessert: ice-cream; various cakes (apple, cherry, strawberry, black currant) and bakhlava (Azerbaydjan or Uzbek cuisine).
Moscow - "Café Pushkin"— best service, best food— Russian cuisine; "Shenok"— Ukrainian cuisine; "Ermak"— Russian cuisine; "U Pirosmani"— Georgian cuisine; and "White Sun of Desert"— Uzbek cuisine.
Places of interest
In Moscow - Kremlin; Armury Chamber (Kremlin); Diamond Fund (Kremlin); Bolshoy Theatre; Tretyakov Art gallery; Pushkin Museum (art gallery); Borodino panorama; Souvenirs market in Izmaylovo; Gorky Park Zoo and various Sport events (soccer, ice hockey, basket, volley, figure skating, swimming etc., etc). In St.Petersburg - Hermitage; Mariinsky Theatre (opera, ballet); Winter Palace; Pavlovsk village; Pushkin village; Peterhoff; Kunstkamera and the Russian Museum.
Places to visit
The Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg have an overabundance of cultural and historical locations, including art galleries, theatres, monuments, museums, parks, etc. Even smaller cities are culturally well served (e.g. Yuzno-Sakhalinsk in Far Eastern Russia has the Chekov Theatre—Chekov spent some time there!). To try to list all these places here would be impossible, so a brief summary of my favourites only, are listed here.
Hermitage; Winter Palace; Russian Museum; St. Isaac’s Cathedral; Fortress of Peter & Paul; water taxi on the Neva river and the canals; Peterhof; Pushkin village; food markets (reenoks), etc.
Puskin & Tretyakov art galleries; Kremlin; Bolyshoi, Mali & Satiricon theatres. Concert Halls: Tchaikovsky & Conservatory. Novodeivichi cemetery (burial place of many of the Russian greats); Cathedral of Christ the King; food and other markets (reenoks).
Yasnaya Polyana—Tolstoy’s estate; Klin—Tchaikovsky’s estate.
It is always dangerous to give out recommendations for restaurants unless you went there yesterday! Quality can deteriorate so quickly, especially in fast changing Russia. Two of my hopefully unchanging favourites are: U Pirosmani (Georgian cuisine)—Moscow; Grand Hotel Europe (Russian & International cuisine)—St. Petersburg. Now, throughout much of Russia, are North American and West European fast food outlets including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and others.
Newspapers/magazines/websites (english versions)
Moscow Times—(Daily). On line version; http://www.themoscowtimes.com; The St. Petersburg Times (Daily). On line version; http://www.sptimesrussia.com; Vladivostok News (Weekly): http://vn.vladnews.ru; Russian Life Magazine (bi-monthly): http//www.rispubs.com/ine; Russia To-day (website): http://www.einnews.com/russia/ and The Canada—Russia Business Forum: http://www.canada-russia.com/
Burnt by the Sun (1994)—director and lead actor is Nikita Mikhalkov; Battleship Potemkin (1925) directed by Sergei Eisenstein (a classic!!)
All programming is in Russian, including foreign language films, etc., the majority of which are dubbed. There are a number of news and current affair programs that are a useful way to keep up to date. Depending on the region, the following two series may still be showing, including reruns: (for a great insight to cops & robbers, Russian style) "The Streets of Broken Lamps," (about the St. Petersburg police) and "National Security Service Agent," (KGB operative).
- Peter the Great— very strong individual and a real leader who boosted Russian economic and cultural development, conducted successful internal and external policies, established St.Petersburg, reorganized Russian army and built Russian navy
- Marshall Kutuzov— repelled Napoleon’s army invasion in 1812
- Marshall Zhukov— most famous military commander of World War II
- Yuri Gagarin— the first man in space (1961).
- Mikhail Gorbachev— turned the Soviet period of Russian history towards democracy and "Perestroyka".
Lev Yashin (soccer), Irina Rodnina (figure skating), Valery Kharlamov, Pavel Bure (ice hockey), Valery Brummel (jump), Valery Borzov (sprint), Evgeny Kafelnikov (tennis), Garry Kasparov (chess).
Vladimir Potanin (Norilsky Nickel & Interros group).
Dmitry Sakharov— a scientist and dissident who was exiled for 7 years in 1980-ies for his opposition to the USSR’s nuclear program.
Major accomplishments of these heroes permitted Russia to develop politically, socially and economically. The country not only became stronger at that specific historical moment, but also acquired a certain impulse and discovered new potential for further growth. They opened to Russia new horizons. Thanks to their work "Their Russia" became more popular and more respected in the world. Their legacies keep feeding our patriotism and unite the nation.
Russia, a world leader in so many areas of human endeavour, has no end of historical and current national heroes (and to lesser degree heroines). As would be expected, many reflect the Russians’ love of culture and strength. However, the specific heroes (and heroines) of each Russian is very dependent on their age, but are likely to include some of the following:
currently Putin is very popular and perceived as a strong and unifying leader; Stalin (even despite his well known "excesses") revered for leadership and victory in the Second World War; Lenin—the father of Communism.
Artists (poets, writers, musicians, performers, painters, etc.)
Especially of the Romantic period, although some of the 20th century & contemporary artistic are revered, including; Pushkin, Mayakovsky, Akmatova (Anna), Chekov, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, Pasternak, Tchaikovsky, Mussorsky, Oistrakh, Richter, Repin, the list is endless, such is the richness of the culture.
Second World War Heroes (Marshall Georgi Zhukov), Explorers (Gargarin), Scientists (Mendeleyev)... and on.
Younger Russians will also favour, contemporary businessmen, artists, including many Western groups, etc, sportsmen/women, etc.
Shared historical events with Canada
I cannot recall of any significant shared events in the history of our two countries that might impact business relations or personal relations. However, ice hockey is a common passion between our two countries. The most recent match was played in Salt Lake City within 2002 Olympic Games. Russia lost to Canada in a semi-final, Canada proceeded into the final where it scored 5:2 against the US and won Olympic Gold! Russian-Canadian competition in figure skating is also full of spirit and passion, offering surprises every now and then.
The limited shared historical links between Canada & Russia are noted below. None of these would negatively impact work or social relations but are useful as conversation topics or possibly to educate Russians about Canada.
- The probably best-known connection between the two countries is the NHL and the number of Russia hockey stars that now play for Canadian teams. Also, the international games between Russia and Canada are remembered, especially, the Canadian win in 1972.
- Since 1991 many Russians have emigrated to Canada, settling in the major cities and bring their excellent skills (and cultural backgrounds) to the benefit of Canada.
- Earlier Russian migrants to Canada (at end of the 19th century) were the religious sect of Dukhabors (meaning in Russian "Spirit Wrestlers"), whose emigration costs were paid by Leo Tolstoy. The descendants of these early settlers continue to live in Western Canada.
- At the 2002 Winter Olympics Russian pairs skaters were awarded the gold medal and Canada the silver. The controversial decision was later re-adjusted and Canada also awarded the gold.
- Glenn Gould’s piano recital at the Moscow Conservatory in 1957 where Russian critics acclaimed "his perfect technique".
- Many Canadian—Russian business & educational ventures, including SNC—Lavelin (oil & gas construction), CANstroy (prefabricated houses)... and many more including co-operations likely to grow from "Team Canada’s" visit to Russia in 2002.
There are a number of issues about Russia that worry most countries and cultures:
though "Russian Mafia" became known within the last 10-12 years all over the world, it is important to see that the social portrait of a typical Russian will have nothing to do with aggression and violence. The country has undergone a major social transformation during the last 10 years. Many people lost jobs, houses, faced hunger and cold. The former distribution system collapsed and left people alone to adjust to the new realities. Not everybody could stand this challenge. Some of those regarded crime as the only way to survive. But things are changing for better. The Russian legal system is learning and growing. The state budget collects more taxes, that way militsya (Russian police) gets better financing, people seeking for social assistance will get some help now.
War in Chechnya— is going on since 1994— for long 8 years already! The majority of Russians do not support Kremlin in its policy in Caucuses.
As a conclusion: Russians are hospitable, open and friendly. The country, people and its cultural heritage provide hundreds of opportunities to enjoy your stay in Russia.
Not many Russians speak foreign language. I don’t have accurate statistics, but would guess only 3-5% Russians speak foreign language (mainly English). So, would you be interested— learn the language. It’ll help you to better understand the country and to easier adapt to the new culture.
The first reaction of many Canadians to the Russian environment can be one of shock at the high levels of poverty and decay (especially of the infrastructure). Money is the only missing ingredient—the education levels, creativity and ingenuity are very high.
Canadians often see Russians as loud and rough. While Russians are somewhat louder than Canadians and enjoy large and noisy gatherings, their manners and consideration of others are legendary.
Alcohol plays a more important part in business and social relations for males than it does now in Canada. There are some that believe for Russian males to really get to know each other, they need to get drunk together. However, younger Russians are much more aware of how such behaviour is both unhealthy and anti social, especially as many Westerners drink only in moderation or not at all. Russians, once aware of your preferences, are still hospitable and accommodating.
There is also a perception that there is little respect for law and order in Russia. There is some element of truth to this statement, although not as bad as press reports would have us believe. Bribery is more prevalent. The Russian legal system is still developing and is not so predictable and objective as in other countries.
Crime, including contract killing, kidnap and intimidation is a factor but usually is focussed on those in positions of major power & influence and in some cases, those involved with criminal enterprises & with the "Russian Mafia".
Personal & property crimes are a factor. Most cities of Russia are very large (e.g. Moscow has a population of about 11 million), therefore there will be more of everything. Care should be taken, as in any big city, regarding where is safe to walk and not wearing on the street expensive jewellery, etc.
Many Canadians are very weary of trusting Russian businessmen. Some of this attitude could be a leftover from the Cold War era but more likely, in recent times, from the news coverage of the lawlessness, etc. in Russia (see above).
Assuming that the visitor is engaging in legitimate business with Russians, the average Russian is as trustworthy as the average Canadian.
The normal expert advice, due diligence, risk assessment, formal documentation and personal respect should define the business relationship. Start small, and as trust grows, so can the business relationships!!
Care should be taken, expressly when dealings are through interpreters, that misunderstandings in translation do not lead to impressions of untrustworthiness.
Russians are considered very nationalistic. Very true—patriotism, along with the indescribable Russian "soul" are major parts of the national character. Much of this is bred by the history and climate of Russia; struggles, collectivism, tragedies and hardships. For me such characteristics are what makes Russia a fascinating place to visit or live & Russians such good friends. Enjoy!!!
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born and grew up in Moscow, Russia. He has only one sibling. He studied languages (English, Persian & French) & International Economic relations at Moscow State University and graduated in 1987. He worked for a number of Russian organisations before working with an Italian metal trading company, which he currently represents in Moscow. He subsequently joined ABB (Swiss/Swedish organisation) in 1995 and since then has worked for them in Russia, in The Netherlands and the US in a number of projects related to commercial aspects of major plant construction. He is currently living with his wife and two children in Houston, Texas from where he travels to Sakhalin Island & Moscow as the Procurement Co-ordinator for a multi billion project being constructed by ExxonMobil.
Your cultural interpreter was born & raised in London, England, the younger of two children. His work sent him abroad, to live in Italy, for the first time in 1967. He then immigrated to Canada where he studied Commerce in 1974-78 at the Universities of York & Carleton. Based in a number of Canadian major cities, your cultural interpreter travelled extensively internationally, including short work assignments in Europe, US, Asia, Africa. He spent seven years in Russia and subsequently lived in Europe and the US. For the past 12 months he & his family have been living in Ottawa, Canada. From Ottawa, he works as a Business & Training Consultant for International trade, marketing, supply management & business processes, with regular visits to Russia and other countries.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
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