Business in Russia: The Top 5 Etiquette Tips

Russia, a country still relatively new to capitalism, has changed immensely in the past three decades.  A constantly evolving economy combined with Moscow’s explosive consumerism has drawn attention from Western investors and companies seeking to expand abroad.

However, Russia is still a very conservative country in which tradition and etiquette play an important role on both the social and professional levels. Regardless of which beautiful Russian city you find yourself in, you’ll be expected to be knowledgeable about the country’s culture and language.

Should you find yourself doing business in Russia, here are a few key tips for making a good impression on both your hosts and your work colleagues.

1. Greetings

First impressions are key in any situation, although in Russia people will generally be very cold and stern when they first meet you.  Don’t be put off by their initial icy demeanour—your Russian colleague will smile at you once you’ve earned it.  A firm, commanding handshake is always a good way to introduce yourself, and you may find colleagues of both genders moving in to kiss you on the cheek when you’re introduced.  Women will often have their hands kissed as well.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

2. Appearance

Fashion sense in Russia is incredibly important, as drab clothes tend to hearken back to the era of Soviet uniformity.  There is a greater degree of conservatism in the office world, so it’s safest to stick to dark-coloured suits and ties, or dresses and pantsuits for women.  Some makeup and jewellery are appropriate, but nothing gaudy or attention-grabbing. Should you be invited to a colleague’s home, casual attire of slacks and a button-down shirt without a tie are fine.

3. Dining

Beef Stroganoff, a typical Russian dish. Photo by Celeste Lindell via Flickr.

Not surprisingly, Russia has an ingrained culture around eating or drinking, and if you’re there long enough to solidify your business relationships, chances are you’ll be invited to a colleague’s home for dinner.

If so, be sure to arrive with a gift for the host family—nothing so expensive that it would embarrass them, but books and anything indicative of your own culture are always appreciated—as well as a large appetite.  In Russia, cleaning your plate is a signal to the hostess that you want more food, and even after you insist that you’re full she will likely push you to keep eating.


4. Drinking

As you have probably heard, vodka plays a special role in Russian life and is used to gain trust and cement budding relationships.  No matter what the occasion, it’s likely you’ll find yourself involved in a toast at some point.  In fact, it’s considered a bad form to refuse to drink alcohol with your hosts, unless for health or religious reasons. Refrain from eating or drinking anything until the first toast has been made, and while drinking be sure to pace yourself, as your colleagues will likely have far more stamina than you.

5. Communicating

Your coworkers will likely have a rudimentary knowledge of English, but you will have more of an advantage in the workplace—and you will earn respect as well—if you are able to speak Russian.  Even a fundamental understanding of the Russian language will score you points when it comes to negotiations and earning trust, so send us an enquiry to get started today.  Otherwise, take our free online Russian language level test to see where you would place.