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Expats moving to Russia will almost certainly experience some degree of culture shock. The weather is often harsh, the language seemingly impenetrable, and the people themselves can often appear distant and uncaring. That said, expats living in Russia will also find themselves in a land of surprises and adventure, and will be able to enjoy the country's sublime theatre, dance, art and music.
Russian people speak with pride about the nature of their “Russian soul”, and are often eager to share their traditions, passion for life and rich culture. With patience, good friends and an open mind, expats will be well equipped to deal with the culture shock of living in Russia.
Meeting and greeting in Russia
Living in Russia’s big cities, like Moscow or St Petersburg, is a curious and contradictory interplay of invisibility and exposure. At times one may feel like they have disappeared altogether as people in the streets seem to look through each other. It’s important to realise that this kind of behaviour is a result of the fact that Russian people have a public mask that is different from their private selves.
Expats shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that everybody in the country is rude and unfriendly. Once acquainted with someone, Russians are usually generous, warm and helpful, and may go out of their way to help.
When meeting someone, Russian greetings are normally done through a firm handshake.
Drinking in Russia
Drinking alcohol is a central part of Russian culture. Expats should be prepared when their local friends and coworkers invite them out for drinks. This is an issue that generally impacts men more than women, but any expat should make an effort not to underestimate the dangers of over-drinking.
Gift-giving in Russia
Gift-giving is an important part of Russian culture. It’s best to not show up to a party empty-handed, although when asking a Russian host what to bring, they'll probably tell the expat not to bring anything.
It's normal practice in most businesses to buy vodka, whisky or brandy for men and a good wine or liqueur, or chocolates and flowers for women. If someone has done something helpful, it's usual to thank them with gifts that would be considered extravagant elsewhere.
Language barrier in Russia
English isn't widely spoken in Russia, although it's sometimes spoken among young professionals. It's worth attempting to master the Cyrillic alphabet, in which some letters look exactly like letters from the Roman alphabet but denote completely different sounds.
Issues arising from different methods of transliteration to and from Cyrillic script, particularly with names on passport and visa documentation, can cause problems that reach far down the bureaucratic line. Wherever possible, it's worth the time and energy to correct any such mistakes and inconsistencies immediately.
►See Banking, Money and Taxes in Russia for advice on managing your finances while living in Russia.
'Try to get out and see things, meet people. Experience what is unique about Russia and Russian culture. The more Russian you speak, the more fun you will have.' Read more about Russian culture in Amanda's interview.
Are you an expat living in Russia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Russia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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