Russia has a subtly different culture of personal and official interaction to Western Europe. It can, at first, present itself as a hard and serious culture but Russians are by nature private and undemonstrative towards strangers. This changes among friends and family, when Russians display great emotion and love of the family and community. They feel a deep link to history and nature and the creative arts.

How to Greet People in Russia

The usual greeting in between people of both sexes is a handshake though 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.

What is the Etiquette in Russia?

The general Russian demeanor is fairly dry and serious in public or among strangers. You will rarely see people in public expressing outbursts of emotion, a hang over from the repressive regime during Soviet times when people kept a degree of anonymity. It is usually best to try to conduct yourselves in a similar manner, especially when queuing or waiting for services. Russian men are often macho in their appearance and conduct. Don't forget that many Russians have a strong conservative belief which is linked to the Russian Orthodox belief, so it's a good idea not to be too demonstrative until you feel you are accepted to a more intimate level.

Russian Government 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 the guide does all of the talking and administration. 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.

Do not even consider taking photographs in the vicinity of any government, police, military or intelligence agency buildings or at border posts.

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, a beetroot soup with sour cream.

Drinking is part of Russian culture. 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.