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Social Etiquette in Russia Russia is a country steeped in culture and tradition with many well-known customs dating back thousands of years. Modern Russian citizens have incorporated a number of western concepts into their daily lives including enjoying fast food and American films, but a number of old Russian etiquette rules remain intact, particularly when it comes to meal time.
Meeting and Greeting When meeting a Russian, male or female, for the first time, shake hands firmly while retaining eye contact. Looking away can be considered rude and indifferent. Men should wait for a woman to offer her hand first. Do not shake hands over a threshold; enter the room first, then shake hands. Russians commonly introduce each other through a third person, rather than directly introducing themselves. Russians familiar with each other will greet one another with hugs and, among women, three kisses on the cheeks, starting with the left. As a non-native, do not assume familiarity; wait for your Russian acquaintances to take the lead.
Dress Russians tend to dress modestly and conservatively. The traveler should do likewise. Women usually wear subdued colors and long skirts rather than trousers. Short skirts and low-cut, revealing tops are frowned upon. Women should pay particular care to covering up when visiting historical or religious landmarks and buildings. In Orthodox churches, women should cover their heads with a scarf. Men should remove their hats when entering such buildings. As a rule, men should also dress in darker colors. For business meetings, a dark suit and formal shoes are required.
Culture A good Russian host will put more food on the table than any reasonable person could possibly eat as a way of indicating there is a great quantity of available provisions and guests should feel free to eat as much as they like. Second helpings will be offered a number of times to reinforce this notion, whether it is true or not.
Dining Whether in a restaurant or someone's home, dress smartly for dinner as it shows respect towards the host. Remove your outdoor shoes upon entering someone's home; your hosts may offer you a pair of slippers. Don't be late and do not start eating until your host has indicated you can start. Never turn down an offer of vodka or another alcoholic beverage and take bites of food between sips. Upon rising, ask if there is any way you can be of assistance in cleaning up. The hostess will generally refuse, but will appreciate the offer.
Departure Do not make after-dinner plans as your hosts will be looking forward to spending time with you once the meal is over. To be polite, you should not plan to depart until the guest of honor has gone. If you are the guest of honor, keep this in mind and do not stay too late, even if your host seems to insist upon it. One to two hours after eating is generally sufficient.
Business Besides dressing smartly and conservatively, those attending business meetings in Russia should try to organize them as far in advance as possible. Russian schedules often change. At the start of the meeting, shake hands and engage in some small talk, but avoid political subjects, before getting down to business. Do not be surprised if your meeting is late getting started (although you should always be on time) or gets interrupted. In general, patience is a necessity; negotiations are frequently protracted, particularly those with government departments.
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