Good to Know about the Russians
Like any other nation, Russians have certain traits that make up their cultural specifics. Knowing about such specifics beforehand, you will certainly feel better adjusted.
They Love Being Hospitable
Russians are renowned for their hospitality. They love inviting guests and are happy to visit their friends and acquaintances themselves. Generously served table is the main feature of such visits. When a Russian friend invites you for a cup of tea, you are advised not to eat at all before the visit. This is because Russians normally cover the guest table with almost everything edible they have in the house, including their home-made treats. A good housewife would be most disappointed to see an empty table in the middle of a party. For her, it would mean that the guests are still hungry and that the meals were insufficient.
Don't Go Visiting without a Gift
Russians don't visit friends and family unless they bring gifts. Even when you are invited to a modest meeting of friends and not some grand birthday party, you cannot arrive empty-handed. This may be a cake, candies, a bottle of wine, or a chocolate bar for the youngest family members. In fact, the gift itself is not so important. You just need to have one. Otherwise, you may be seen as a bit tight-fisted.
Russians Are Superstitious
Russians usually spit over their left shoulders when a black cat crosses their way, knock on a wooden item to avoid self-jinxing, and not whistle in a house to avoid losing money. If Russians have to return home after having forgotten something, they have to look in a mirror before leaving again.
To ensure a trip will be safe and successful, Russians have to sit in silence for a moment before leaving. Many believe that a broken mirror or spilt salt may bring bad luck.
Prior to an important event, such as an examination, Russians wish each other "Ni pukha ni pera" which correlates with the English "Break a leg!" and derives from a wish to a seeking hunter to gain neither beast ("pukha") nor bird ("pera"). Superstitious people believe that the opposite of whatever they wish will befall that person, i.e. good luck. The expected response is "K chertu!" meaning "To hell!", as otherwise the wish will not come true.
Students also have their superstitions:
- they don't cut their hair during end-of-semester exams;
- at midnight before an exam, they call out loudly for good luck, looking out of the window and waving their grade record book;
- and they place a five-rouble coin under their heel during an exam.
People believe that these actions could bring you good grades. Certainly, all superstitions should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Russians Value Real Friendship
Friendship is a very important thing in the lives of Russians. A sincere friend might be valued higher than a blood relative.
Friends' fidelity and loyalty are not just empty words for many Russians.
They might start their friendship at primary school or at university and it will last throughout their lives.
Russians Like a Good Chat
Russians are not the ones who keep their opinions to themselves. Many people have developed an opinion on many aspects – from ways to grow marrows to White House foreign policy. Westerners often believe that opinions are suppressed in Russia. However, Russians freely express their opinions in different places – from lecture call of students to a press conference with the president.
Russians Don't Smile to Strangers
Russians are not accustomed to smiling without a reason, let alone concealing bad moods and life issues under cheerful expressions. This is just insincere, many Russians say. In public places, they prefer to maintain a concentrated expression. However, when Russians find themselves among friends, colleagues or close relatives, they could instantly become the most radiant cheerleaders, with inexhaustible laughter and joking.
Russians Value Women
The world knows that Russia is a country of the most beautiful women. Natalia Vodyanova, Maria Sharapova, Anna Kournikova, and many more Russian celebrities are living proof of this.
Russians treat women in a special way. A man will give up his place to a woman in public transport, prevent a door closing too fast near a woman, and offer his hand to help a woman get out of a car. This is viewed as gallantry rather than infringement of women's rights or playing down their business skills. However, gazing at passing women in public places, pursuing them, paying obtrusive attention, or whistling are regarded as insults.
Russians Love Jokes
Russians are generally very cheerful people. They love joking, pulling each other's leg, and telling funny stories. They value good humour and satire and are capable of joking at their own expense. Russians often use citations from popular movies, in particular, Soviet comedies which are loved by almost everyone, regardless of their age. Sometimes, in order to understand Russian jokes, you need to just go and watch Soviet movie hits – Love and Doves, Moscow Does not Believe in Tears, The Pokrovsky Gate, The Diamond Arm, and many more.
Russians Like Visiting the Public Steam Baths
Going to the banya (a sort of sauna) is a special pastime for Russian men and women. They believe that time in the steam room cleans both your body and soul. Russians go to banya for not only to wash, but also to spend time with their friends.
The banya procedure includes selecting good company, washing, and sitting in the steam room. The longer you stay there, the better your health becomes and the stronger you become in spirit. After the steam room, people dive into an ice-hole or ice-water pool. After you finish the banya procedure and come out red-faced, you'll traditionally be greeted "S legkim parom!" (something like "Enjoy your steam!").