That’s an article based on the on-line course “Understanding Russians: Contexts of intercultural communication” by Higher School of economics. There are lots of stereotypes of Russia, very popular among those who have never been to this amazing and authentic country, but here are some observations from expats – foreigners living and working in Russia.
What stereotypes do foreigners have before coming to Russia, and which of them are not upheld?
“The most “popular” stereotype, as surprising as it may sound, the Hollywood images of Soviet Russia with the fur hats and Vodka and cold, and bears. Upon arrival you quickly realize that almost all those stereotypes are completely false.
Another stereotype is connected, probably, with the way business is done, for example, in America. Managers and directors may send emails and make phone calls without meeting their interlocutors at all. In Russia it’s completely not the same. You need to meet them face to face as quickly as possible. A Russian, especially someone who’s in a director level or senior level, expects to be given that kind of a respect. So you need to go his office, need to sit down, shake his hand, have a chat, and better yet go and have a drink afterwards and just make sure you understand him.
So, most likely among all of your partners, you will know more or less about their birthdays, a little bit about their families, every single Russian has a different thing that they like, but most of them have a little bit of an informal jokey atmosphere. With Americans it’s a little bit different, it’s a bit more focused in business.
Foreigners always say that in Russia Russians are so cold in their hearts, but when they open up to you, they are so warm and loving. And then business is exactly the same, when they first meet you, it’s a very big wall, it’s us and you, and then you and them. But when you get to know them a bit better the interpersonal relationship is even stronger and even more than in the States”.
How to describe the Russian culture?
“It’s a very old culture with strong attitude. People are very friendly even in Moscow – that’s the first point. The second point the way of Russian life to have a lot of fun in the evening”.
What is most interesting about different cultures sharing the same territory?
“All cultures are heterogeneous. But specifics of Russian multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism, make it even more diverse than so to say than general.
It is not a country of immigrants but that’s the history, the geography of this country, the amount, the space it covers and the number of various ethnic groups that live there makes it very diverse.
Also it was never a melting pot the way that, for instance, the United States the country of immigrant was. It never allowed such a unification and just the opposite may be the tragic history of the 20th century cut very divisive lines and borders between various peoples and various groups.
So in a way, when we’re talking about Russian culture, we’ll be talking at least about three sub-cultures, not to even taking into account ethnic cultures, but at, at, at least free sub cultures like traditional Soviet period, and more than culture that that probably characterize today big cities and population who’s younger”.
Our next article will be dedicated to Russian Cultural Dimensions: Environment, Time and Action.