Essential Business Etiquette Tips for Doing Business in The Russian Federation

by Diane Marcus, Essential Business Etiquette

Now that the 2012 summer Olympics are over, we will turn our eyes towards Sochi, Russia for the 2014 winter Olympics. Sochi is located on the Black Sea near The Republic of Georgia. It is said to be the Russian Riviera. Sochi is a resort town and it will be hosting the majority of the Olympic events.

You may be one of the lucky people chosen to do business for the Olympic events. It is not too early to begin doing your research before travelling to Russia. Hire a firm that deals with the tricky paperwork needed to do business there. Knowing etiquette is one thing and dealing with customs, paperwork and legal matters are another. Start learning as much of the Russian language as possible. It is not necessary to know a lot, but saying, hello, goodbye, how are you and addressing people with the proper terms for Mr. and Mrs. goes a long way in cementing a deal. Russians are skeptical of outsiders. In order to help cement a deal, forming friendships are necessary to get a sale. Learning a bit of their language will help you form a closer friendship.

The proper name of the country is The Russian Federation. It is a huge land mass stretching from Eastern Europe all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The country covers nine time zones. With so many different regions, it is difficult to generalize about customs and etiquette. With that said, there are some things that are common to most areas.

Introductions
People in Russian shake hands when they meet and/or kiss on both cheeks. Once you are outside the United Sates, always wait for a woman to extend her hand to you first. If she does not extend her hand, do not offer your hand, but smile and nod your head and say “it’s so nice to meet you”.

Russians use a first name, a middle name and a last name. The middle name is often the first name of their father ending in –vich or –ovich which means son of. For women, their middle name will end in –avna or –ovna which means daughter of. Stick with using formal names for a while. It may take some time before they are comfortable using your first name. Use “Gaspodin” for Mr. and “Gaspazhah” for Mrs.

Meetings should always be set up in advance. Your client may or may not be on time. Nevertheless, you are expected to be on time. Plan on being punctual but be flexible. Russians can show up to a meeting anywhere from 30 – 120 minutes late. You are there to get the deal, not make a scene if they are late. You will need much patience when it comes to showing up for appointments.

The first meeting is always about “getting to know you”. You are being watched from the time you get off the plane to the time you leave. They are looking at your character. Everything you say or do will be noticed. Plan on being in Russia at least twice as long as you would while doing business in the United States. Relationships are key to getting the sale. It takes time to get to know someone.

When you meet someone for the first time, present your business card. Have it translated into Russian on the reverse side.

Attire
The Russian people are quite conservative and quality clothing is important to them. Most business people wear darker clothing. Men should wear suits, a shirt and tie with good leather shoes. Women should not wear pantsuits. Bring suits with a skirt or a dress. If you wear a sleeveless dress, make sure it has a jacket with long sleeves. The hemline should be at the knee or below. Russians will judge you first on your attire and secondly on the way you conduct business. You will need to look your best at all times.

Reasons to do Business in The Russian Federation
Like India, Russia has a huge middle class and it is growing all the time. Many people in the large cities speak English. They start to learn English by the third grade in their schools. However, do not take for granted the people you are calling on will speak English. Find out ahead of time and hire a translator if there is any doubt. In addition, they have 99% literacy rate! Russians are new to doing business with the outside world.

Climate
Russia is a vast country. It has great plains, the Caucasus and Ural Mountains, tundra and dessert. However, half the country is north of the 60 degree north latitude.

It is quite cold and snowy for about six months of the year. It is very important that you research the area you will be travelling in regarding the weather.

Entertaining
Business entertaining is becoming more common in Russia. You may even be asked to close a deal over dinner. People like to drink while doing business. Your clients may drink heavily at the meal. I wouldn’t be so quick to try to keep up with them. You are there to represent your company and make the best deal you can. You cannot do this if you have had too much to drink. You could always say you cannot drink due to health problems or your religion if you want to make an excuse.

People in Russia use the continental style of eating. That is, they will keep their fork in their left hand and their knife in their right hand. If you cannot balance your food on your fork, just eat American style. They prefer to keep their wrists on the table, not put their hands in their lap between courses. There is one negative for doing business in Russia. You will find it very difficult to find a non-smoking restaurant. Your clients may even smoke at the table.

There is no doubt that doing business in Russia will be a great challenge. However, statistics show that many Americans are already doing business there. You may want to research these businesses and ask them for advice. Never assume your employees will know how to conduct themselves and business in a foreign country. Getting professional advice ahead of time before you go is an absolute must. Showing the Russian people consideration and respect will be the key to getting your sale.

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