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Государственный Эрмитаж, Санкт-Петербург, Россия / The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia


Russian Society and Culture

The People

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 on life.

Etiquette and Customs

Meeting Etiquette

  • Shake hands upon meeting someone but do not shake hands when greeting over a threshold enter the room first.
  • Know the less formal greetings in Russia for close friends. Women cheek kiss three times, starting with the left cheek. Men hug and pat each others’ back.
  • Don’t smile unless you mean it.
  • Don’t point with your finger. Instead, point with your entire hand.
  • Don’t stand around with your hands in your pocket

Gift-Giving Etiquette

  • Don’t give even numbers or yellow flowers.
  • Expect them to protest if you give them a gift. Just offer until they accept.
  • Give gifts such as wine, dessert or flowers.

Dining Etiquette

  • Don’t start eating until your host tells you to start.
  • Keep your hands above the table and don’t put your elbows on the table.
  • Use bread to soak up sauce and gravy.
  • Leave some food on your plate to show you are full.
  • Don’t turn down an offer of vodka or other alcoholic beverages.
  • Take bites of food between sipping vodka.
  • Wait to leave the table until invited to.

Quick Facts

Climate: Ranges from steppes in the south through humid continental in much of European Russia to subarctic in Siberia to tundra climate in the polar north. Winters vary from cool along the Black Sea coast to frigid in Siberia. Summers vary from warm in the steppes to cool along the Arctic coast.

Population: 142,905,208 (2010 census)

Ethnic Make-up: Russian, 81.5 percent; Tatar, 3.8 percent; Ukrainian, 3 percent; Chuvash, 1.2 percent; Bashkir, 0.9 percent; Belarusian, 0.8 percent; Moldavian, 0.7 percent; other 8.1 percent (1989).

Religions: Russian Orthodox, Muslim, other.

Government: Federation

Languages: Of Russia’s estimated 150 million people, it’s estimated that 81 percent speak the official language of Russian as their first and only language. Most speakers of a minority language are also bilingual speakers of Russian. There are more than 100 minority languages spoken in Russia today; the most popular is Tartar, spoken by more than 3 percent of the country’s population. Other minority languages include Ukrainian, Chuvash, Bashir, Mordvin and Chechen. Although few of these groups make up even 1 percent of the Russian population, these languages are prominent in key regional areas.