Traveling Russia

Population Size

According to the 2010 census, the population of Russia is 142,905,200, which has been declining since its peak of 148,689,000 in 1991, the year that the USSR was officially dissolved.
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Country Size

Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of territory, with a total area of 6,601,668 square miles (17,098,242 square kilometers). By comparison, the United States comprises 3,794,100 square miles (9,826,675 square km).
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While Russian is the official language, and Russia has an almost 100 percent literacy rate, many Russians also speak English as a second language. More than 100 minority languages are spoken in Russia today, the most popular of which is Tartar, spoken by more than 3 percent of the country's population. Other minority languages include Ukrainian, Chuvash, Bashir, Mordvin and Chechen. Although these minority populations account for a small percentage of the overall Russian population, these languages are prominent in regional areas.
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The government exercises executive power in the Russian Federation. The members of the government are the prime minister, the deputy prime ministers, and the federal ministers. It has its legal basis in the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the federal constitutional law "On the Government of the Russian Federation."

The prime minister is appointed by the president of the Russian Federation and confirmed by the State Duma. He or she succeeds to the presidency if the current president dies, is incapacitated or resigns. The current prime minister is Dmitry Medvedev.

The government issues its acts in the way of decisions and orders . These must not contradict the constitution, constitutional laws, federal laws, and Presidential decrees, and are signed by the Prime Minister.

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Orthodox Christianity is Russia's largest religion with 75 percent of the population belonging to the Orthodox Christian denomination. About 5 percent of the population identifies as Islam. Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism and Buddhism make up 1 percent of the population each. About 8 percent consider themselves atheists.
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The flag of the Russian Federation is a tricolor flag consisting of three equal horizontal fields; white on the top, blue in the middle and red on the bottom. The flag was first used as an ensign for Russian merchant ships and only became official in 1696. The flag continued to be used by the Russian Provisional Government after the Tsar was toppled in the February Revolution and was not replaced until the October Revolution which established the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic - the world's first constitutionally socialist state. From that time period, a 1:2 red flag featuring the abbreviated name "RSFSR" ("РСФСР") was used, until replaced in 1954 with the universal design of the Soviet flag with a blue stripe along the mast. It was not until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 that the tricolor was brought back as the official flag of the new Russian Federation.
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Pirozhki are a favorite Russian (and Eastern European) dish, often sold as fast food, but made at home as well. The stuffing can vary; meat, veggies, hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, cabbage, and fruit are common. A particular variant of pirozhki dough is made without yeast and fried in a pan (much quicker), but this version (my Aunt’s recipe) is my favorite and definitely worth the extra time. The dough can be frozen for use later. We ended up with extra dough and made some additional pirozhki with veggies and cheese and mixed berries with chocolate.

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Customs and Culture

The Russian Family

  • The Russian family is dependent upon all its members.
  • Most families live in small apartments, often with 2 or 3 generations sharing little space.
  • Most families are small, often with only one child because most women must also work outside of the house in addition to bearing sole responsibility for household and childrearing chores.

Russian Pride

  • Russians are proud of their country.
  • Patriotic songs and poems extol the virtues of their homeland.
  • They accept that their lives are difficult and pride themselves on being able to flourish in conditions that others could not.
  • They take great pride in their cultural heritage and expect the rest of the world to admire it.

Communal Mentality

  • For generations until the 1930's, Russian life centred on the agricultural village commune, where the land was held in common and decision-making was the province of an assembly of the heads of households.
  • This affinity for the group and the collective spirit remains today. It is seen in everyday life, for example most Russians will join a table of strangers rather than eat alone in a restaurant.
  • Everybody's business is also everyone else's, so strangers will stop and tell someone that they are breaking the rules.

Etiquette and Customs in Russia

Meeting Etiquette

  • The typical greeting is a firm, almost bone-crushing handshake while maintaining direct eye contact and giving the appropriate greeting for the time of day.
  • When men shake hands with women, the handshake is less firm.
  • When female friends meet, they kiss on the cheek three times, starting with the left and then alternating.
  • When close male friends meet, they may pat each other on the back and hug.

Naming Conventions

Russian names are comprised of:

  • First name, which is the person's given name.
  • Middle name, which is a patronymic or a version of the father's first name formed by adding '- vich' or '-ovich' for a male and '-avna' or '- ovna' for a female. The son of Ivan would have a patronymic of Ivanovich while the daughter's patronymic would be Ivanovna.
  • Last name, which is the family or surname.
  • In formal situations, people use all three names. Friends and close acquaintances may refer to each other by their first name and patronymic. Close friends and family members call each other by their first name only.

Gift Giving Etiquette

Gift giving using takes place between family and close friends on birthdays, New Year, and Orthodox Christmas.

  • If you are invited to a Russian home for a meal, bring a small gift.
  • Male guests are expected to bring flowers.
  • Do not give yellow flowers.
  • Do not give a baby gift until after the baby is born. It is bad luck to do so sooner.
  • Russians often protest when they are offered a gift. Reply that it is a little something and offer the gift again and it will generally be accepted.

Dining Etiquette

If you are invited to a Russian's house:

  • Arrive on time or no more than 15 minutes later than invited.
  • Remove your outdoor shoes. You may be given slippers to wear.
  • Dress in clothes you might wear to the office. Dressing well shows respect for your hosts.
  • Expect to be treated with honour and respect.
  • Offer to help the hostess with the preparation or clearing up after a meal is served. This may be turned down out of politeness. Asking 'are you sure?' allows the hostess to accept your offer.

Table manners are generally casual.

  • Table manners are Continental -- the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
  • The oldest or most honoured guest is served first.
  • Do not begin eating until the host invites you to start.
  • Do not rest your elbows on the table, although your hands should be visible at all times.
  • You will often be urged to take second helpings.
  • It is polite to use bread to soak up gravy or sauce.
  • Men pour drinks for women seated next to them.
  • Leaving a small amount of food on your plate indicates that your hosts have provided ample hospitality.
  • Do not get up until you are invited to leave the table. At formal dinners, the guest of honor is the first to get up from the table.

Russian Business Etiquette and Protocol

Relationships & Communication

  • Russians are transactional and do not need to establish long-standing personal relationships before they do business with people.
  • It is still a good idea to develop a network of people who you know and trust. The Russian word "svyasi" means connections and refers to having friends in high places, which is often required to cut through red tape.
  • Patience is essential.
  • It is best to err on the side of formality when you first make contact.
  • Sincerity is crucial as it is required to build trust, and trust is needed to build a relationship.
  • Most Russians do not trust people who are 'all business'.
  • An indication that you have successfully developed a personal relationship is being asked for a favour by that person.

Business Meeting Etiquette

  • Appointments are necessary and should be made as far in advance as possible.
  • It often takes roughly 6 weeks to arrange a meeting with a government official.
  • Confirm the meeting when you arrive in the country and again a day or two in advance.
  • The first week of May has several public holidays so it is best avoided.
  • You should arrive punctually for meetings.
  • Typical Russian schedules are constantly changing and everything takes longer than expected, so be prepared to be kept waiting.
  • Meetings can be cancelled on short notice.
  • The first meeting is often a vehicle to determine if you and the company you represent are credible and worthy of consideration for future business dealings.
  • Use the time effectively to demonstrate what differentiates your company from the competition.
  • Expect a long period of socializing and getting-to-know-you conversation before business is discussed.
  • Have all printed material available in both English and Russian.
  • Russians expect long and detailed presentations that include a history of the subject and a review of existing precedents.
  • Meetings are frequently interrupted. It is common for several side conversations that have nothing to do with the topic of the meeting to be carried on during the meeting.
  • At the end of the meeting, expect to sign a 'protokol', which is a summary of what was discussed.

Business Negotiating

  • Meetings and negotiations are slow. Russians do not like being rushed.
  • It is a good idea to include technical experts on your negotiating team.
  • Hierarchy is important to Russians. They respect age, rank and position. The most senior person reaches decisions.
  • Russian executives prefer to meet with people of similar rank and position.
  • Russians see negotiations as win-lose. They do not believe in win-win scenarios.
  • Have written materials available in both English and Russian.
  • Russians view compromise as weakness. They will continue negotiating until you offer concessions.
  • Russians may lose their temper, walk out of the meeting, or threaten to terminate the relationship in an attempt to coerce you to change your position.
  • Russians often use time as a tactic, especially if they know that you have a deadline. Be cautious about letting your business colleagues know that you are under time pressure or they will delay even more.
  • Nothing is final until the contract is signed. Even then, Russians will modify a contract to suit their purposes.
  • Do not use high-pressure sales tactics as they will work against you.