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Russian Etiquette: 7 Do’s and Don’ts in Russia

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Did you know that it’s considered good etiquette in Russia to bring something к чаю (k chayu) or “for the tea?” That means something sweet: cake, chocolate, candies, or a sweet pastry. There are many interesting and exciting Russian customs which may not seem obvious, but definitely are to native Russians. Knowing even basic Russian etiquette for tourists can go a long way during your visit to the country!

Let’s start this exciting journey. Learn Russian etiquette with RussianPod101.com’s Russian tourist etiquette guide!

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Table of Contents

  1. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #1: Basic Russian Etiquette
  2. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #2: Russian Dining Etiquette
  3. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #3: Russian Drinking Etiquette
  4. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #4: What to Expect from a Date with a Russian Girl or Russian Guy
  5. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #5: So, You’re Going to Visit a Russian House
  6. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #6: How Russians Behave in a Public Transport
  7. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #7: Russian Business Etiquette Tips
  8. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #8: Russian Gift Giving Etiquette
  9. Conclusion: How RussianPod101 Can Help You Learn Russian Better

1. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #1: Basic Russian Etiquette

1- Russian Greeting Etiquette

Someone Putting Their Hand Out to Shake

1. Cheek kiss.

There’s a well-known Russian greeting tradition: the triple cheek-kiss. It’s usually common between close relatives. Sometimes, it’s shortened to two kisses.

One cheek kiss is often used by girls to greet friends, or even close female coworkers.

2. Russian handshake etiquette.

This is a usual greeting between men—regardless of how close they are—who are meeting for the first time, or for the 100th time.

Important advice! If you’re wearing gloves, make sure to take them off before a handshake. If you don’t take them off when another person has prepared to give you a handshake with his bare hands, he might think that you’re disrespecting him.

Another piece of important advice! Don’t give a handshake across a doorway. Walk inside the apartment or wait for someone to come outside, but don’t stick your hand across a threshold immediately after you see a person. This is considered very bad luck in Russia, and a lot of people will refuse to shake your hand in this situation.

For girls, a handshake works in business settings where this American tradition has become popular. But still, most girls prefer just to smile and nod instead of shaking hands.

When you leave a place where you’ve spent some time—a party, a house, or an office—make sure to shake hands as a goodbye with everyone you previously greeted with a handshake. If you leave without saying goodbye, people call this Уходить по-английски (Ukhodit’ po-angliysky) meaning “To leave as Englishmen do.” In England, people can leave without saying goodbye; but in Russia, it would be considered rude to do so. Always be mindful of this Russian meeting etiquette rule.

3. Smile and nod.

This is a basic solution for all other situations. If you feel awkward with other greetings, just stick with this one and you’ll be fine.

4. Hug.

This greeting is often used when greeting close friends, family members, or family members of close friends.

To learn greeting words and phrases, check out our article on how to say “Hello” in Russian.

2- Asking for Forgiveness

There are no specific Russian traditions or gestures for a formal apology. Just use formal Russian apology expressions and you’ll be fine.

If the situation isn’t formal or serious, look into the other person’s eyes. Note that, in Russian culture, looking down during the apology will make it look more sincere.

Learn how to say “I’m sorry” in Russian in our relevant article.

3- Gratitude

Thanks

Спасибо (spasibo) means “thank you” in Russian. You can use it in any situation, both formal and informal.

In informal situations, you can add a hug if you’re feeling extremely grateful. Men are most likely to add a handshake (yes, pretty much the same one they use in greeting).

For additional information on this topic, listen to our audio lesson on how to say “You are welcome” in Russian. By listening to this audio lesson, you can also practice using etiquette interjections.

4- Forms of Address for Different People

When you talk with an elder person or a person you don’t know, don’t use an informal way of speaking. It will be considered extremely rude. Well, of course, not if you’re addressing your own granny who happens to be Russian.

You can use an informal way of speaking only with kids or school children.

2. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #2: Russian Dining Etiquette

Hygiene

1- Paying for Food

First on our list of Russian etiquette at restaurants: paying.

If you’re visiting Russian friends for a short period of time, they’ll most likely pay for your food to show hospitality.

But normally, if you go to a restaurant with your Russian friends, you’ll notice that when it comes to payment, everyone takes a look at the bill and pays for their own food.

Splitting the bill is an option if Russians buy some food to be shared, like pizza or Japanese rolls.

2- When Should You Start Eating?

Don’t start eating your food before everyone gets to the table. According to Russian meal etiquette, this is considered rude.

Before eating, people usually wish Приятного аппетита (Priyatnogo appetita) which means “Enjoy your meal,” in Russian. This phrase is used both in formal and informal situations.

3- Going to the Toilet

It’s perfectly fine Russian table etiquette to leave the table to go to the toilet in Russia. Just say Извините, сейчас вернусь (Izvinite, seychas vernus’) which means “I’m sorry, I’ll be back soon,” and go. However, if you go more than once, it may be considered rude (or cause people to question your digestion). :-)

To learn even more about table manners in Russia, listen to our audio lesson about basic table etiquette.

3. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #3: Russian Drinking Etiquette

Friends Drinking at Lunch

1- Making a Toast

In Russia, no one should drink at the table without making a toast. It’s a famous Russian tradition that shows that they’re aware of the people around them and want to share the moment.

Usually, after making a toast, people clink glasses. Then, everyone drinks.

2- Pouring

There’s a tradition that a man should pour alcohol for the women sitting next to him. This is especially relevant during big occasions such as weddings or funerals, so that women won’t spoil their pretty dresses with a clumsy glass refill.

3- Don’t Put Empty Bottles on the Table

Russia is full of traditions and superstitions, especially about alcohol. One of the famous ones is that keeping empty bottles on the table is considered bad luck, and is thought to make you poor. That’s why, as soon as the bottle gets empty, it should be passed to the waiter, removed to the trash bin, or at least put under the table to be thrown away later.

4. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #4: What to Expect from a Date with a Russian Girl or Russian Guy

Couple at Dinner

In this section, we’ll go over the basic Russian social etiquette that’s expected when dating a Russian. Let’s get started.

1- Dating a Russian Woman Etiquette

1. Bringing Flowers

Bringing flowers on a date with a girl—even on a first date—has become popular in Russian etiquette and customs for dates. It shows that the guy has romantic feelings toward the girl. If you follow this dating tradition, you’ll score a couple of points already, at the beginning of the date.

But make sure that:

  • You don’t bring an even number of flowers. This is REALLY important. Russians bring an even number of flowers only to funerals or when they visit a tomb.
  • Gifting carnations is also associated with funerals—Soviet ones. If you happen to be in Russia on a Victory Day (9th of May) you’ll see a lot of carnations that commemorate war heroes.
  • Don’t gift yellow roses. According to Russian superstition, yellow roses will bring a couple apart.

2. Russian Girls on the Date

Russian girls are famous for being really girly. They put on makeup and dress up even when going out to the supermarket or to throw away the garbage. One of the things that makes them more “girly” are high heels.

Sometimes it’s inconvenient to wear high heels all the time. So they just bring them along to wear when they arrive at the place (the cinema, theatre, or party, for instance).

3. Being a Gentleman

If you go out on a date with a Russian girl, behave like a gentleman. Open the doors for her, let her sit on public transport if there’s only one free seat left, and pay for her food in a restaurant.

Russian girls believe that they spend a lot of money and time to stay pretty—makeup, nails, eyelashes, eyebrows, clothes, etc., so it’s only natural that the guys pay for them on the date.

2- Dating a Russian Man Etiquette

If you want to date a Russian guy, then you should be aware of things that Russian men expect from their dates:

1. Act Like a Lady

While Russian guys, since childhood, are expected to act like gentlemen around girls, Russian girls are expected to accept that. Don’t fight for your life if a guy wants to pay for you on a date. You can take out your purse to show that you’re ready to pay, and if a guy offers to pay for you, just accept that; put your purse back in your pouch and warmly thank him.

2. Be Ready for High Expectations

While women and men in Russia have equal rights, relationships are still built with a specific division of responsibilities.

In a dating phase, women are expected to show good knowledge of doing simple house chores. Girls should clean a messy place of her beloved one and cook some food. In exchange, men will be paying for her when going out.

Of course, this isn’t set in stone, and you can always negotiate your responsibilities. But just know that your boyfriend’s mother is probably very traditional, and she’ll accept you only if you show that you’re good at performing household duties.

5. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #5: So, You’re Going to Visit a Russian House

Bad Phrases

Now, for some Russian guest etiquette so that you can be a great visitor in a friend’s home.

1- Take Your Shoes Off

Once you enter a Russian house, take your shoes off unless you’re told not to. Many Russian houses are decorated with big rugs that are difficult to clean. You may be offered to wear slippers instead.

2- Don’t Show up Empty-handed

It’s considered rude not to bring something along when you come as a guest to a Russian house. A perfect gift is something sweet like a cake, candies, chocolate, pastry, etc., that can be eaten during a tea-time. There’s even a special expression—Что-нибудь к чаю (Chto-nibud’ k chayu) meaning “something for tea”—that you’ll probably hear as an answer if you ask Что купить? (Chto kupit’?) or “What should I buy?”

3- Don’t Whistle Indoors

Russians are very superstitious. Whistling indoors means that you’ll become poor. So, as in many European countries, whistling indoors is considered unacceptable.

4- Offer to Help Clean Dishes After the Meal

This is a really nice thing to do to get extra points for being a good guest in Russia, as it is in many other countries. A Russian hostess would probably refuse your help, but she will for sure remember how considerate you were and will gladly invite you the next time.

It’s especially beneficial if you’re visiting your future parents-in-law. ;-)

5- Russian Food Etiquette

Russian people are extremely hospitable. They’ll feed and feed you until you feel like you’ll blow up from inside from food. It’s considered rude to refuse food when the hostess offers you something.

But there’s a small secret about how to avoid being overfed. When you feel that you’re almost full, leave a small portion of food on your plate to show the hostess that you’re full. It shouldn’t be too much, or the hostess will think that you didn’t like the food, but it shouldn’t be extremely small, or you’ll be offered some more food. About 1/8 of a plateful is fine.

And don’t forget that drinking tea with a cake or sweets is a must after the main course. Leave some free room in your stomach for that.

6. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #6: How Russians Behave in a Public Transport

1- Offering a Seat

There’s an etiquette rule that Russians teach their kids from childhood. You should offer your seat to elder people, pregnant women, women with a child up to seven years old, and disabled people.

There’s a nuance in offering a seat to older people. Do it only when you see that they’re bringing really heavy bags or when it’s hard for them to walk (e.g. they’re really old or bring along a crutch). If you offer a seat to a perfectly normal woman, she might think that she looks too old and even get angry. :-)

If you’re a guy, offer your seat to a girl. This is considered to be a gentlemanly behavior.

2- Pushing in a Crowd and Public Lines

If you get to the Moscow underground, you’ll see that there are no lines to enter a train. People will push to get inside and catch a better spot for a ride.

If you feel uncomfortable around crowds, wait until people get onto the train before getting on the train yourself.

Also, try to avoid rush hour. Usually, people go to work at 8-9 a.m. and go back at 6-7 p.m.

3- Staring at Women

In Russia, it’s rude to stare at people you don’t know. In some countries it’s considered normal to stare at women who walk by themselves, but in Russia, a girl who’s being stared at will feel offended and disrespected.

Of course, quick looks are okay, so don’t walk around trying not to meet some girl’s eyes by accident. :-)

7. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #7: Russian Business Etiquette Tips

People Shaking Hands in a Meeting Room

1- Business and Alcohol

Business

Russian business etiquette is closely connected with alcohol traditions. Russians tend to have greater trust in those with whom they’ve gotten drunk. In a drunken condition, people loosen up and say what they really think. And Russians use this.

Another tradition is to celebrate a sealed business deal with alcohol. Very often, Russians go to баня (banya) or a “banya; Russian sauna” for that. This may look weird to foreigners, but it’s one of the famous Russian etiquette business traditions that you should just accept.

2- Don’t Keep Your Hands in Your Pockets

This is another etiquette point that Russians teach their kids: not keeping hands in pockets during official events. Doing so shows disrespect to the person you’re speaking with.

This is due to psychological logic that comes from old times. When people show their empty hands, it’s considered a gesture of peace; when you keep your hands in your pockets, it indicates that you might be ready to use a weapon.

3- Don’t Spread Your Legs Wide Apart

This is an important Russian office etiquette rule. This posture is popular among men as it allows them to occupy more space and thus show their dominance. But in Russia, it’s also considered a sign of a man with bad etiquette. Showing dominance that way is considered vulgar.

Instead, keep your legs together, or at a natural distance.

If you’re interested in finding a job in Russia, here’s our useful article for you on that very topic.

8. Do’s and Don’ts in Russia #8: Russian Gift Giving Etiquette

1- Gift Superstitions

There are famous superstitions that have naturally converted into Russian gift etiquette:

1. Don’t gift an empty wallet. In Russia, giving an empty wallet as a present is like wishing financial hardships to that person. Just put some cash inside to make it a great gift.

2. Don’t give a knife as a gift. Giving a knife as a present is believed to cause the breakup of a relationship. Just give them money to buy a knife with to avoid that.

3. Pay for a pet. When Russians receive a cat or a dog, they need to pay some money even though the pet is a present. Russians believe that if they do, the animal will grow up happy and healthy.

2- First Refusing the Gift and Then Accepting it

Russians tend to refuse any gift that you try to give them. They can say Что ты, это слишком дорого (Chto ty, eto slishkom dorogo) meaning “No-no, it’s too expensive,” or Нет, спасибо, тебе не стоило (Net, spasibo, tebe ne stoilo) meaning “No, thank you, you didn’t need to.”

Just insist on giving them the gift. You’ll get a gush of gratitude.

3- Gifts to Women

If you want to give a gift to a woman on her birthday or another important date, bring along a flower or a flower bouquet. It’s an etiquette tradition that’s followed both in the business world and in personal life.

Some women may not even like flowers that much, but they still gladly accept them as it’s a tradition.

9. Conclusion: How RussianPod101 Can Help You Learn Russian Better

So, now you know the most common Russian traditions and etiquette. Of course, if you don’t follow them, people will understand. But you’ll be much more welcomed and appreciated if you’re aware of Russian etiquette and follow it as much as you can.

Did you learn anything new in our Russian etiquette guide? Are there similar etiquette rules in your own country? Or is etiquette very different? Let us know in the comments!

Once you’ve learned Russian etiquette, it would be a great help to learn basic Russian vocabulary to be polite around Russians. Our teachers will gladly help you with that. Check out our MyTeacher program for Russian-learners. Our teachers are all native speakers with an impressive teaching background. They’ll make sure that you start talking in Russian very soon. ;-)

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