Russia Culture Tips

Russia has a subtly different culture of personal and official interaction to Western Europe. It can, at first, present its self as an extremely hard and serious culture. This is especially marked in public interaction between strangers. However, you will find that most Russians are of course very much like any other person on the inside. Given the opportunity you will see both sides of their culture. When travelling in Russia, knowledge of the following may help to smooth the way.

How to Greet People in Russia

The usual greeting in between people of both sexes is a handshake though it will be stronger and more assertive between males. A male and a female greeting each other may give three kisses on the cheek, alternating sides, if they know each other well. It is expected that you make eye contact whilst greeting as a sign of respect and trustworthiness. Some Russians may see you as untrustworthy if you laugh and joke too much, especially if you are discussing important matters. 

How to Dress While in Russia

Russians, especially in cities, often dress smartly and many obviously see it as a matter of respectability and social standing. You will rarely see anyone dressed in a scruffy manner. You may therefore attract disapproving attention if you come back from an expedition to the city in dirty or damaged clothing. It often seems that a leather jacket is the mark of a man in Russia, as is fur the mark of a woman. If you are offended by animal products then you may have a hard time in a Russian city in winter.

What is the Etiquette in Russia?

The general Russian demeanor is fairly dry and serious. You will rarely see people in public laughing heartily or expressing other outbursts of emotion. It is usually best to try to conduct yourselves in a similar manner, especially when queuing or waiting for services. Otherwise you may find yourself waiting longer than is necessary. Russian men are often very macho in their appearance and conduct. As a male, you are likely to attract disapproving attention if you display attributes that are far removed from this.

  • Affection: Public displays of affection between a male and a female such as kissing are not very common. Again, it is worth simply observing what behaviour is going on around you and using it to guide your own actions.
  • Feet: Avoid sitting with feet up in the air or stepping over someone sitting on the ground. As with many cultures this is considered rude and unclean.
  • Hands & Gestures: Pointing with a single finger can be considered rude, it is best to use a whole hand. Also, the OK sign made with forefinger and thumb and also the thumbs-up can be considered rude by some.

Can you Haggle in Russia?

There is a limited culture of haggling in Russia. If there is a price marked on an object then it is almost certainly inappropriate to negotiate on the price unless perhaps you are buying many items at once. However, if the price is not marked then you may begin the fine art of haggling. The vendor will quote you a price to begin with, depending on whether you are in the tourist district of a large town or in a village market the starting price may be somewhere from ten to one and a half times the going rate. At this point you will need to make a judgement call. On the one hand, paying over the odds can drive up expectations and prices generally for everyone including locals. On the other hand, driving the price of a souvenir down by the equivalent of 25 pence will make virtually no difference to you but may change the weekly income of a rural family by a few percent.

Russian Government Authority

Authority: In Russia, the authorities are strong, well-resourced and are far less constrained by the answerability to 'human rights' that is common in Europe. There are levels of authority including the Police, the Army and the Intelligence Agencies such as the FSB. In any situation where you are dealing with the authorities you need to do so with the utmost care, seriousness and respect. Agencies have the power and capacity to end any of our activities without warning or appeal. It is usually most effective if Sasha does all of the talking and administration while everyone else waits patiently and quietly elsewhere. If you are undergoing personal or baggage searches at borders or airports pay attention to what is being asked of you and comply as efficiently as possible. It is unlikely that the officials will display any of the notions of 'customer care' that you may be used to.

Photographs: Do not even consider taking photographs in the vicinity of any government, police, military or intelligence agency buildings or at border posts. If this is observed, the results may range from being forced to wait on a 'technicality' for many hours to the cancelling of the whole expedition and accusations of spying and espionage.

Food and Drink in Russia

When most people think of Russian food they picture hearty meals of meat and potatoes. However, Russia is quickly becoming a star on the international food scene. Restaurants in cities such as Moscow now serve all kinds of international dishes. Kasha is a staple breakfast dish with milk and oats. While Blini is a small pancake filled with caviar, fish and melted butter. There a lot of different meat pastries that are well worth a try, like Pirozhky. For the sweat lover, try Ponchiki – hot sugared doughnuts. Borscht is another Russian classic. This dish is a beetroot soup with meet and sour cream.

Drinking is part of Russian culture. However, it should be warned that alcoholism is a major problem in Russia. The first thing that comes to mind is vodka. There are many flavors and types of vodka. A traditional way to drink vodka is actually with pickles. Expect shots to be served with much more liquor than you would normally expect. Nalivka is another national liqueur made with fruit or berries. Either way, do take care when drinking. Do not get excessively drunk, and we advise that you do not drink on your way to higher altitudes, as this could cause problems with acclimatization.

What is the Major Religion in Russia?

With so many different ethnic groups spanning such a large geographical area Russia contains many different religions. However, the predominant religion of Russia is Russian Orthodox. Russian Orthodox is a branch of Christianity. Although they follow a slightly different calendar than the Christian groups of the west, the primary Christian holidays are still observed. When entering Russian Orthodox churches, women must cover their hair with a scarf. It is also advised to cover yourself to your knees and your elbows.  

Russian Holidays and Festivals

Russia has many unique holidays, as well as a few familiar holidays. However, the Russian Orthodox church follows a different calendar than typical western sects of Christianity, so the holidays are observed on different days.

  • Russian Orthodox Christmas: Observed on January 7th
  • Maslenitsa Festival: Parades, games, live music, eating and fireworks celebrating the preparation for the Lent fasting time. It lasts a week.
  • International Women’s Day: Celebrated in Moscow in March. Women’s groups from all over come together to promote equality for women.
  • Easter: Usually in early April. It is a quieter festival.
  • Stars of White Nights Festival: A St Petersburg festival that runs from May to July. This festival celebrates the Russian love of opera, classical music and ballet.
  • St. Petersburg Beer Festival: Hundreds of beer venders gather at the Peter and Paul Fortress in June to celebrate all things beer!
  • St Jon the Baptist’s Day: Held on the Saint’s birthday in July, this is actually a pagan holiday. Lots of bon fires and fire displays.
  • International Moscow Film Festival: Held from June to July this festival celebrates all things film, both Russian and international.
  • Den’ Gorda: This September holiday celebrates the founding of Moscow. Free concerts, festivals, and parties create a festive vibe in Moscow.
  • Russian Winter Festival: Sleigh rides, folk music, dance, and ice skating celebrate the coming of winter in Moscow. Happens in December.

Should you Tip in Russia?

In hotels tips are appreciated for bellhops and cleaning services. Around $1-3 USD per bag and $2-$4 USD per day for cleaning. At restaurants tip between 10-15%. For taxi rides, simply round up the fare.

Tips are accepted for guides and porters. See our Tipping Advice Page.

Sustainability in Russia

Russia suffers from a lot of environmental issues. Deforestation, logging, pollution, and nuclear waste are a few examples. As a responsible travel company, we promote sustainable practices while visiting Russia. One major thing you can do as a traveler is not rely on disposable plastic bottles. We advise that you sterilize your water with a SteriPen, iodine tablets, or a backcountry filter.

Another way to limit your impact on the environment is to bring a re-usable shopping bag. When you shop, use this instead of getting your goods in plastic bags.