How to Do Business in Russia
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So you want to do business in Russia? Consider this...
- When managing Russian employees, maintain clear, concise communication.
Do not make suggestions, but be authoritative. They respect leadership.
- Russians are innovators, capable of finding creative solutions to
problems when there is a shortage in funds or equipment.
- Connections and influence are very important in Russia; little is
done without using “blat.” Blat is an exchange of favors; when you do
something for someone, they will be expected to do something for you
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia languished through several
years of chaos and unrest. It has now emerged as an economic and political
powerhouse, a powerhouse full of opportunity for foreign investors and
However, do not attempt to do business in Russia unprepared. Socially,
culturally, and economically, there are many crucial differences between
the U.S. and Russia. If you ignore them, you do so at your peril...
- Date and Time
- Dates are displayed as Date/Month/Year: 4.12.11 is December 4, 2011.
- Russians use military time: When suggesting a 6:00 p.m. meeting,
you should say “at eighteen o’clock” rather than “at six o’clock.”
- Moscow is eight hours ahead of U.S. EST. Russia spans eleven time
- Russians show their affection in public only when greeting one another.
Friends and family embrace and kiss on the cheeks; strangers shake hands
and exchange names.
- Russian middle names are derived from the father’s first name: Fyodor
Nikolaievich Medvedev’s first name is Fyodor and his middle name means
“son of Nikolai.”
- Women add “a” to the end of their last name: Mr. Medvedev’s wife is Mrs.
- Some gestures that are positive in an American context can be considered
rude in Russia: The American sign for “okay” is derogatory in Russia;
whistling during a concert means you do not like the performance.
- Use credit and debit cards cautiously in Russia; there are many underemployed
computer experts, some of whom engage in criminal activity such as capturing
credit card numbers.
- When meeting with prospective clients in Russia, expect to be on
time, but expect them to run fifteen to thirty minutes late. Patience
is more highly considered than punctuality.
- Meetings often last longer than originally scheduled, so be flexible.
- Getting an appointment is challenging, so don’t cancel.
- Avoid the first week of May when setting up business meetings, as
many public holidays fall then.
- Russians respect hierarchy: a senior level executive will negotiate
on a company’s behalf and will expect to conduct negotiations with an
equally senior level executive from the company they are doing business
- Russians view compromise as a weakness and might expect more concessions
from the other side.
- Before conducting a negotiation, team members should be in agreement
on all processes and deals that will be offered. Unity is highly valued
when conducting business with Russians.
- Russians will not renegotiate once a formal agreement has been signed.
- Russians may request that funds be paid in cash directly to them
or to their foreign bank account; you can suggest different options.
- When conducting a meeting with Russians, be sure to have an abundant
supply of sodas, tea, coffee, and snacks at the table. You will find
the same at their table if they are the hosts.
- Russians are confident in their ability to drink heavily and still
make clear decisions; they may prefer to conduct business while you
- It is considered poor manners to wear your heavy coat and boots into
a public building such as a theater. Make sure to check them at the
- If you loiter with your hands in your pockets in a public building,
people will perceive you to be uncultured.
For your business document translation needs in Russia, contact McElroy
Translation. Visit our website to learn more about how we can help you
and your company become successful in your international business ventures.
Morrison, Terri, and Wayne A. Conaway (2006). Kiss, Bow, or Shake
Hands, 2nd edition. Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation.
Published - March 2012
Russia has had a long history of totalitarianism, which
has resulted in a rather fatalistic approach to living. The desire to
work individually under personal initiative was suppressed by the Czarist
and Communist states. With the advent of perestroika (restructuring),
the Soviet/Communist value system has been scrapped, but the pace of reform
has been slow and many are finding it very difficult to adapt to the Western
values of individualism and profit maximization. Older Russians are generally
quite pessimistic and don’t have much faith in a better life in
the future. Younger urban Russians have adopted a more Western outlook
Meeting and Greeting
- Initial greetings may come across as cool. Do not expect
- A handshake is always appropriate (but not obligatory)
when greeting or leaving, regardless of the relationship. Remove your
gloves before shaking hands. Don’t shake hands over a threshold
(Russian folk belief holds that this action will lead to an argument).
- Russians are a very demonstrative people, and public
physical contact is common. Hugs, backslapping, kisses on the cheeks
and other expansive gestures are common among friends or acquaintances
and between members of the same sex.
- Russians stand close when talking.
- Putting your thumb through your index and middle fingers
or making the "OK" sign are considered very rude gestures in Russia.
- Russians appreciate punctuality. Business meetings
generally begin on time.
- Under Communism there were no incentives for bureaucrats
to perform well or to even be pleasant toward clients; this meant that
the usual answer to any question was "No." This practice is still found
in Russian society today, but "No" is usually not the final word on
an issue. One has to bargain and be persistent to get what he or she
- Business cards are handed out liberally in Russia and
are always exchanged at business meetings. The ceremony of presenting
and receiving business cards is important. Don’t treat it lightly.
- Representatives of the Russian company or government
body are usually seated on one side of a table at meetings with guests
on the other side.
- Your company should be represented by a specialized
team of experts. Presentations should be thoroughly prepared, detailed,
factual and short on "salesmanship."
- Russians usually negotiate technical issues very competently,
directly and clearly but, being newcomers to capitalism, often do not
fully understand Western business practices and objectives. You may
have to explain the reasoning behind some of your demands.
- Russians find it difficult to admit mistakes, especially
publicly. They also find it difficult to risk offending someone by making
requests or assertions.
- Trying to do business in Russia over the telephone
is generally ineffective. The Russian telecommunications system is inadequate,
but improving quickly. The telex is widely used.
- Personal relationships play a crucial role in Russian
- Business negotiations in Russia are lengthy and may
test your patience. Plan to be in for the long haul.
- No agreement is final until a contract has been signed.
Dining and Entertainment
- When dining in a restaurant, arrive on time.
- Russians are great hosts and love entertaining guests
in their homes. They will often put more food on the table than can
be eaten to indicate there is an abundance of food (whether there is
or not). Guests who leave food on their plates honor their host. It
means they have eaten well.
- If you’re invited for dinner, don’t make
other plans for later in the evening. You are expected to spend time
socializing after the meal.
- An invitation to a Russian dacha (country home) is
a great honor.
- Do not turn down offers of food or drink. Given Russian
hospitality, this can be difficult, but to decline such offers is considered
- At formal functions, guests do not usually start eating
until the host has begun. At such functions, no one should leave until
the guest of honor has left. If you are the guest of honor, do not stay
- Know your limits when drinking alcohol in Russia. Drinking
is often an all-or-nothing affair -- moderation is not understood.
- Toasts, which are sometimes lengthy and occasionally
humorous, are common. The host starts and the guests reply. Do not drink
until the first toast has been offered.
- After a toast, most Russians like to clink their glasses
together. Do not do so if you are drinking something non-alcoholic.
- A "serious" businessperson is expected to look formal
and conservative. Wearing very light or bright colors might make you
appear lazy or unreliable to a Russian.
- Men should wear suits and ties. Women should wear suits
and dresses or pantsuits.
- A small business gift is always appropriate, but its
value should correspond to the rank of the Russian businessperson with
whom you are meeting.
- As a general rule, do not give items that are now easily
obtainable in Russia.
- Bring a gift for the hostess when visiting a Russian
home. A small gift for a Russian child is always appropriate (and appreciated).
- Russians are very proud of their culture and enjoy
opportunities to talk about their music, art, literature and dance.
Knowledge about art, music and some Russian history is appreciated.
- Learn Russian! Learning the language is of incalculable
value, and is the best way to win friends for yourself, your company
and your country. If that simply isn’t possible, try to learn
at least a few phrases in Russian. It doesn’t have to be perfect;
Russians greatly appreciate any attempt by foreigners to speak their
- Never refer to a Russian as "Comrade."
- Do not expect to find smoke-free areas anywhere. A
standard joke among foreign businesspeople in Russia is that Russian
buildings have two sections: "smoking" and "chain-smoking."
Especially for Women
- Women are initially regarded with skepticism and may
have to prove themselves. Before you visit, have a mutually respected
colleague send a letter introducing you. Your business cards should
clearly state your title and academic degree. If you establish your
position and ability immediately, you will encounter far fewer problems.
- Be feminine. Allow men to open doors, light cigarettes,
etc. Even if you think such customs are antiquated or silly, respect
the cultural background of your Russian colleagues.
- Foreign businesswomen can use their femininity to their
advantage. For fear of not appearing a gentleman, many Russian businessmen
may allow foreign businesswomen to get away with some things (requests
for meetings, favors, etc.) that foreign businessmen aren’t allowed.
- A woman can invite a Russian businessman to lunch and
pay the bill, although it might be interpreted by some men as an invitation
-- Excerpted from the "Put Your Best Foot Forward"
series by Mary Murray Bosrock. These publications are available for
the U.S., Asia, Mexico/Canada, Russia, Europe and South America.
International Education Systems
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St. Paul, MN 55116
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