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Russian Cultural Dimensions: Environment, Time and Action

Category: Russia

When Russians face some new situation they usually look at it as a problem, not as a challenge. This is, this new word challenge actually come into Russian language to, to describe exactly that gap that the language and the culture didn’t cover. Challenge is such a new situation, when it’s not a problem for you, but when it’s an opportunity. It had to be a new word to describe it because normally or in many cases the new situation dealing with the environment is seen as an obstacle. Younger generations of Russian do not have the same experience with authoratyrannies as the older generations.

Next orientation is time, and here we speak about single focus or multi-focused time. So Russia is a rather, has a rather strong orientation. A rather strong focus on multiple things and multiple relations, which means that we prefer to do thing simultaneously.

To do several things at once.
For instance, in communication it can be seen by interruptions. Interruptions are considered a standard and even an integral part of everyday Russian life.

For example, when some highly positioned person has an official public speech people will interrupt him, or her. Of course we need to differentiate between context, but normally in other sort of situations, we tend to interrupt more than, for instance, Germans or Swiss people. Germans never ask a person in the shop, a shop assistant, to answer some simple question that one has if it’s still not their line, their turn. They stay in line and wait till the shop assistant is done with the first customer. Only then, they come up and ask her/him those things, but in Russia, they used to do this simultaneously. The shop person will be serving one customer, but another customer can just come up and ask, do you have this sort of tea, for instance, and s/he will say no, and then that customer doesn’t have to stay in line. It’s very simple. It’s very convenient. And this is what common in Russian culture. That’s the difference between multi-focus and single-focus orientation, and even when you know this, it’s still very hard to re-frame from this going up and asking, by the way, do you have kind of tea or beer, for instance. So to sum it up, in general Russians are comfortable giving attention to multiple things simultaneously without getting off track.

And it’s interesting that Russian culture displays strong orientation towards both fixed and fluid aspect of time. When we speak about fixed time, it means that punctuality in this culture is defined precisely. If they say that the meeting starts at 8:00, it starts at 8:00. And fluid time is when punctuality is defined loosely. It means that while of course the meeting is scheduled to start at 8:00 and then it may start at 8:00, or 8:10, 8:20, or maybe even 8:30. Probably not at 12:00, of course. So Russians tend to display a unique combination of fixed and fluent orientations to time.

For instance, Russians expect their counterparts to be punctual when they have certain appointments. But at the same time, deadlines are not as strictly met. It’s always a problem. There is a saying that Russians do everything in the last minute, be it construction of the Olympic hotels and stadiums, or just writing a paper before the deadline. Usually things are done over night. Of course, there are people who are much more punctual like individuals who are doing things really nicely well, on time and so on, and so forth.

And, also another part of this fluidity if you want to put it this way, things can be canceled due to a pressing family or business matter. Actually, this is not only about time, this is also about the importance of interpersonal reality. Remember that we spoke about emotionality, saying that it’s the type of value when interpersonal reality is more important than objective world, and this is exactly where it shows up, in the fluidity in certain things in Russian culture.

Past, present, or future, what is important for the Russian culture?

Russians show strong preferences, or better say, have a strong orientation toward past and present, probably not future. So, for Russians in order to achieve result you need to build trust and you need to build relationship. They place a great deal of value on personal relationships and trust. And again, here we see the connection with this emotionality basic value which puts the importance into personal relationships.

In Russia, truly close relationships may take a long time or they may need special circumstances establish. But if they’re already established, if you have friends once they’re established, such relationships generally last a lifetime. That makes Russian friends are real friends for life. Because, even when contact is broken for a long period of time, people separate and don’t see each other a pre-established relationship can  be picked up again at any time. And, so to say, renewed with the same vigor and emotionality.

Based on materials of the on-line course “Understanding Russians: Contexts of intercultural communication” by Higher School of economics.

Our next article will be Expats about communication and language barriers in Russia.

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