I personally feel that getting to know the culture (or one of the cultures) that is tied to the language that you’re learning can go a long way towards further igniting your interest in and love for the language. I love to read about the language and its culture(s) as much as I love studying the language itself and in studying culture, I am able to create more ties between myself and the language.
In a past post, I discussed the importance of sociolinguistics – how culture ties into language – and to continue that conversation, I’d like to share culture guides for various countries around the world that I’ve partnered with Kuperard to create to help you make your travels and language learning that much more enjoyable. This post is the second in this series. You can read the first post on Chinese culture here.
Here are 9 interesting facts about Russian culture.
General Facts About Russian Culture
1 // Superstitions are still held by many Russians
- Don’t give even numbers of flowers, only odd (even numbers are for funerals only)
- Don’t greet someone across a threshold, it means you’ll quarrel,
- Don’t seat thirteen people at a table
- Don’t whistle in a house
- If you spill salt, throw a little over your left shoulder and spit three times
Etiquette in Russia
2 // Polite requests far outweigh demands
Making a polite request can go much farther than making a demand, so when asking for something, be sure to wisely choose your wording. The same can be said for almost any culture, but it seems to hold particularly true in Russia.
3 // A refusal to eat may be viewed as offensive
Food in Russia can be a sensitive topic, especially when a host offers it to you and you refuse. Friendships and relationships with Russians will undoubtedly lead to food and drink at some point, so when offered, be sure to accept. The threat of overeating is one that many face, so just be sure to pace yourself and remember that lunch is considered the most important (and typically largest) meal.
4 // Gift giving
If invited to someone’s home, it is an unspoken rule that you bring a gift. Small gifts such as a candle, a bottle of wine, or even some chocolates are appropriate. It’s really the thought that counts more than the gift itself. Gifts for the children of the house are also seen as important, so be sure to bring a few sweets for the kids whenever you call on a friend.
5 // Criticisms of Russia
While you’ll likely hear your Russian friends criticize themselves, but be careful not to offer your opinion on the subject, even if invited to participate in the conversation. It can be interesting to hear the opinions of others, but its best to avoid offering your thoughts.
6 // Two fingers in a V-sign
The sign often known in the west as the “peace sign” is actually the equivalent of the middle finger in Russia, so this is something to be wary of! Swear words in Russian also aren’t viewed positively, so they are something else to avoid.
7 // How are you?
In Russia, especially once relationships have been built, long answers to the question “how are you?” are typical. In fact, the Western equivalent response of “fine, thanks” may even be seen as rude and Russians may be upset by it. When answering the question in conversations with Russians, especially friends, be sure that you’re prepared to answer in a little more detail than what you may be used to.
8 // Smile when you mean it
Russians are often described as being “unsmiling people” but this isn’t true. A Russian proverb states that, ”Laughter for no reason is a sign of foolishness.” This means that Russians prefer to reserve their smiles for the occasions that merit them. The good news is that a smile from your Russian friends means much more!
9 // Greeting
A traditional greeting is shaking hands while close friends and family hug. If a meeting or a conversation goes well, back slaps and hugs are a good sign. A coldness or distance is the opposite. Strong eye contact is also important – failing to maintain eye contact may imply you’re up to no good. It is not unusual for Russian men not to offer women their hand for a handshake, but if a woman presents hers, Russian men will accept it.
Bonus // Names
When Russians introduce themselves using a name that ends with an “a” ( Natasha, Misha, Sasha, Tania), they are likely giving you the intimate form of their birth name (Natasha is Natalia, Misha is Mikhail, Sasha is Alexander, and Tania is Tatiana). Technically, these names are only used when you are on TbI terms whereas in more formal cases, Russians will introduce themselves using their full first name and middle name (their patronymic).
Patronymics are derived from the father’s name and there are both male and female forms. The endings either mean “son of” or “daughter of”. So your friend Vania may introduce himself to a business acquaintance as Ivan Borisovich and Natasha might go by Natalia Ivanovna. Foreigners are not expected to have patronymic names for the more formal BbI introductions, but you can always create your own. The transliteration of my Russian name, for example, is Yana Davidovna.
This guide was assembled with the support of Culture Smart! Russia. The Culture Smart books by Kuperard publishers are a part of a series of nearly 100 titles. You can purchase the books on Amazon and learn more about the company here.
What about you? What are some fun cultural facts you’ve learned about the places and languages that you’re studying? Leave me a note in the comments below!
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My name is Shannon Kennedy and I'm the language lover, traveler, and foodie behind Eurolinguiste. I'm also the Resident Polyglot at Drops and the Head Coach of the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge.