Russian Business Etiquette

Dress Code

Business attire is formal, and similar to what you would wear to a meeting in the States. Dark suits and ties with good shoes are de rigueur except among computer programmers , who like their American counterparts, wear clean, new looking jeans or casual sportswear.

The key is to look prosperous and up-to-date, and to fit in with your clientele. Men do not usually take off their jackets during negotiations, and standing around with your hands in your pockets is considered rude. Russian business women have both European and American fashions to choose from and most are well groomed and chic. Overwhelmingly, women chose skirts and dresses as opposed to pants for the office. It is common to see women in Russia covering their heads as if they are going into an Orthodox church.

In homes and some offices, shoes are removed at the door and slippers are put on. Your hosts will most likely have a supply of slippers for guests, though if your feet are very large you might want to bring a pair of light weight travel slippers.

Meet and Greet

Russian men always shake hands. It is a habit ingrained in them from the time they can walk and talk. Long time friends might hug or slap each other’s back after the handshake. Women in a business setting also will shake hands but they may accept a kiss on the cheek from someone they already know well.

Russian etiquette demands the use of both the first name and the patronymic during face to face negotiations. A patronymic is a traditional middle name, which is the name of one’s father with a suffix attached to it. For example, if your first name is Igor and your father was Andrey, you would be referred to as “Igor Andreyovich”. Good friends may use only the first name or a diminutive (nickname) and subordinates speaking among themselves may only use the family name when referring to a supervisor.

Social get togethers are less formal and you can wear something casual unless you’ve been told otherwise. You can also be a little late – but no more than half an hour. If you have been invited to somebody’s home for the evening be sure to take a gift with you. Flowers, vodka and chocolates are the most common. Preferably vodka.

The name of the game is…patience!

Patience is a valued personal trait in Russia and you’ll do better if you show you have it. As a foreigner you’ll be expected to be on time but your Russian counterpart may be as much as two hours late. Don’t pace, fret or get angry. Sit and wait patiently: Perhaps you are being tested. Or, more likely, traffic in Moscow is snarled!

Seal the deal

Be sure that your business card is double sided, in English on one side and properly translated Russian on the other. This shows that you are willing to take that extra step to work with international partners. Be sure to send translated copies of any proposals ahead of time to give your potential partner’s time to develop a response.

For better or worse bribery, is the way business gets done in Russia. Be prepared to track down whatever local authority has the power to give your proposal approval and when you meet with them, be prepared to offer a “gift” of money or high-quality luxury goods.

And perhaps most important of all, be willing to have a drink. No negotiation in Russia will begin in earnest until all parties involved has finished a bottle of vodka. Come prepared to give a toast.

Don’t be surprised if there is a flare of tempers during negotiations and your prospective partner / client walks out. They’ll be back. And remember, “final” offers are not really the end of the negotiations. Be patient and hold out for what you want. It’s likely that the final outcome will swing more in your favor.