Doing Business in Russia
The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world, with a population of over 150 million people. After the break up of the old Soviet Union in 1991, fifteen new independent states have emerged. This number, however, is ever changing as boundaries are continually being modified. Russia is a country of vast natural resources and rich cultural identity, and therefore provides an excellent environment for successful business. However, when doing business in Russia, don’t play Russian Roulette with your company’s chances! Remember: understanding of Russian mentality, culture and etiquette is key to your business success in Russia.
The Russian language
About 81% of the population speak the official Russian language, however all the speakers of minority languages are also bilingual speakers of Russian. The Russian language is based on a Cyrillic alphabet and is considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world. Although many Russian businessmen speak English, it is strongly advisable to get an interpreter to help you to get around easily in the country or prepare various written business documents.
It is usually advisable to learn a couple of simple Russian phrases to put your new business colleagues at ease. This shows that you are genuinely interested in their country and appreciate their culture and language. Some such phrases are zdrastvuite’ (hello), ‘do svidania’ (good-bye), ‘spasibo’ (thank you), ‘ochen horosho’ (very well).
Meeting and greeting people
The typical greeting in Russia is a very firm handshake between men (and less firm between women) with the appropriate greeting for the time of day – ‘dobraye utra’ (good morning), ‘dobryy den’ (good afternoon) or ‘dobryy vecher’ (good evening). Friends usually kiss each other on the cheek three times, or pat each other on the back and hug. Do not forget to take off your gloves when you shake hands, as it is considered rude not to.
Russians have three names: first name (the person’s given name), middle name (or patronymic name, which is a version of father’s first name ending with ‘vich/ovich’ for men and ‘a/ova’ for women), and last name (the person’s surname). When you address your Russian business partner, you can call your counterpart by either “gaspodin” (a courtesy title similar to “Mr.”) or “gaspazhah” (similar to “Mrs.” or “Miss”) plus his/her surname. You can introduce yourself using only your surname. If the business goes well however, it is very likely that you will be using only first names when communicating with your Russian business partners.
If you are doing business in Russia, it is important to have a business card, stating your position in the company, your title, degree and qualifications. It is essential to have all this information translated into Russian on one side of the card
At first sight Russians come across as very reserved and moody people, but in reality they have big hearts, though it takes some time for them to open up completely. So if you really want to make good friends with Russians, be patient and it will pay off. Russian friends have a life-time guarantee!
Most of the important business decisions are made at dinners, therefore if your business partner invites you for a dinner, consider it as an excellent business opportunity and make sure you attend. Usually such dinners are accompanied by lots of alcohol. Refusing to drink is considered rude, and only reasons of poor health or religion can help you in such situations. However, even when drinking, know your own limit!
If you are invited to a home dinner, do not forget to take a small gift. It can be a bottle of wine or champagne, flowers (if the woman is going to be welcoming you in the house) or a box of nice chocolates. Dress in clothes that you would wear to the office, as it shows respect to the hosts. If you are invited to a restaurant for a business dinner, wear a dark suit with good shoes. In Russia a businessman’s wardrobe demonstrates the individual’s image as a professional. The more expensive your shoes, the more successful you are as a businessmen.
When you enter a house, do not forget to take off your shoes. Be open to having a drink and offering a toast as refusing to do so is a serious breach of etiquette. You can toast to the health of the host/hostess and their family, a successful year, a successful business, etc. Russians are highly literate and cultural and good topics of table conversation include current economical and political situations, matters of war and peace, literature and theatre. At the end of the evening, offering to help the hostess to clear up is considered to be polite, although it will most probably be turned down.
Successful business in Russia is usually based on mutual liking and emotions, therefore do not expect Russians to take quick decisions. Patience is an extremely important virtue among Russians; punctuality is not. You are however expected to be on time for the business meetings even though your partner might be late. Do not try to impress Russians with flashy Power Point presentations. Your pitch should be simple and straightforward demonstrating your knowledge, professionalism and expertise.
Negotiations can be very long and tiring as Russians view compromise as a sign of weakness. Russians are very emotional therefore do not be surprised by temper tantrums, theatrical threats and walkouts during such meetings. It is all part of the business game! Usually all Russian business meetings are accompanied by the production of a huge amount of paperwork. In general, Russians have very little faith in unsigned documents.
Don’t forget to shake hands firmly when leaving your Russian partners and to make direct eye contact.
Beliefs and superstitions
Shaking hands or kissing over the threshold of the doorstep is considered bad luck
If taking flowers as a gift, only take an odd number. Never bring yellow flowers.
If you leave something behind in Russia it means you're coming back.
Don’t take gifts for a baby that is not yet born
If you want to do successful business in Russia, try to follow this old Russian proverb: ‘Don’t hurry to reply, but hurry to listen’.
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If you would like to know more about Russia, please visit our country profile page.
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