Cross Cultural Tips: Do's and Don'ts

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DO learn or make an effort to familiarize yourself with the Cyrillic alphabet. It will help you decode street & metro signs, maps, timetables and menus. Also, you may want to learn a few phrases for bargaining in Russian.

DON’T smile all the time. Russians have a saying “to smile without a reason is a sign of a fool”. It is recommended you don’t smile randomly at strangers while going shopping or taking public transport. In Russia, smiles are reserved for family members, friends and colleagues.

DON’T whistle indoors. If you are with a group of Russians and you happen to forget, you will be scolded. It is believed that whistling brings bad luck, and that it will lead to losing money.

DO expect to spend … As a foreigner you will also find yourself paying more than a Russian for some museums – often as much as 10 times the price Russians pay. If you’re a student, flashing your ID can save you money at museums and other institutions.

DO shake hands with gloves on. Shaking hands with gloves on is considered to be extremely impolite. Be ready to take your gloves off if you are about to be introduced to someone.

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DO go for ‘business lunches’, which are great value and very filling.

DON’T sit by the corner of the table. Russians believe that someone who always chooses a seat at the corner of the table might never marry or be romantically involved with someone. You will notice that in every single restaurant or bar, if there is a large gathering, girls are usually in a rush to sit somewhere in the middle.

DO dress up for a night on the town. You can better your chances of getting in to the top clubs by making a sartorial effort – high heels and short skirts for women, all black for men. Russians also make an effort when they go to the theatre or a posh restaurant – you should do likewise to fit in.

DON’T ask for a mixer with your vodka. Few traditions in Russia are as sacrosanct as the drinking of vodka. If you need something to wash it down, you can chase it with a lemon, a pickle or, a separate glass of water. Vodka is drunk in swift shots and it is traditional to eat a little something after each shot, so order some vodka snacks too.

DO take parts in toasts as they are a very important ritual. If you are invited for a celebration, you are expected to participate. In Russian culture it’s an important gesture indicating friendship and appreciation.

DON’T leave empty bottles on the table. Russians believe that leaving an empty bottle on the table brings you bad luck, specifically, that you are going to become poor.

DON’T show up empty-handed if you have been invited to dinner at a friend’s house. You can expect a warm reception in a Russian home, however, never show up without anything to offer in return, as this is considered to be really rude.

DON’T wear your shoes inside. This tradition is centuries-old. When entering in a person’s home, you should take off your shoes to avoid being disrespectful. Hosts often provide slippers for their guests.