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Monday, November 11, 2013

Russian Taboos

Don’t Show Up Empty Handed

If you’re asked to join on a dinner, or even stop by for a visit, don’t show up without anything to offer in return. It’s not always most important what you do bring, but moreso what you don’t. Bringing some chocolates, flowers (no even-numbered flowers, please), or even a toy for the kid is a better idea than to have no idea.
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In Russia, hosts usually prepare for their company by offering their best prepared meals and special foods they normally wouldn’t splurge on themselves. If you show up with nothing, it’s a sign that you haven’t a care for the hospitality in the first place.

Don’t Forget to Take Your Shoes Off

This rule applies to both Russian and Asian cultures. In many Russian apartments, there are many rugs, on the floors and even the walls (quite an interesting tradition). Some may be quite nice – like Persian rugs and intricate designs, and often aren’t the simple type that you just vacuum up to clean. This tradition has been going on for centuries, and hosts usually offer tapochki (slippers). At nice parties, some women may bring an extra pair of heels or shoes for inside use.
Even if it’s not mentioned, it’s still a strong cultural norm. Don’t be the awkward dude sitting in the living room with snow covered shoes.

“Na Zdorov’ye!” is Wrong

Before you make a special toast with your evening meal or perhaps just a casual blessing of vodka, keep in mind the proper toasts. The rules to Russian toasts are quite diverse, especially among nations of the former Eastern bloc – I recall variations and traditions of “cheersing” and drinking across Georgia, Moldova, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia that were in many ways similar but in some key ways different.
But “Na Zdorov’ye”, literally meaning, For Your Health, is a Polish toast. Instead, try using, “Zah Vas”, which means, “To You”

Never Take the Last Shirt

A funny Russian phrase begins with, Никогда  отдать последную рубашку (nee-cog-dah ot-dat pos-led-nuyu rybashku) – Do not take back the last t-shirt. To put it in simpler terms – no matter of what expense you have for yourself, never be the one that takes the last. Always give back, and keep giving.
While living in Russia and meeting locals and their friends or families, I noticed some people who otherwise did not have much, were politely inclined to give what they felt was able to be given. The special bottle of the families’ wines produced and made in their own Moldovan or Georgian homes, for instance, were the proper and chosen drinks for a common meal with guests. And while Moldovans and Georgians are not wholly Russian, the traditions they live by are quite similar.
This is not limited to common accommodations and drinks, but also photos, and other decorations you may find intriguing in one’s home.  Don’t simply take something just because it is offered – some Russkies may offer something not to get rid of it, but out of simply a respectful and caring act.
Unless if you’re into taking all that you can like some traveling gypsy, have some respect for the cultural norms, and understand that you can always refuse the first few times, even when your friends may insist. Personally, I only took gifts that had a strong memorable or shared aspect between the people I came to know, and the time we shared together. Likewise, I tried to give back anything that I could; as it is always nice to return this favor.

Informal Dress Codes Are Not So Usual

Russians are known to dress quite nice, for a variety of occasions. A casual neighborhood, city park walk or even a meal with friends. Nice dresses and heels, suits or ties, it’s common to see others’ dressing their best as a sign of respect. I personally liked this a lot about Russian culture.
Dinner parties, trips to the opera, ballet, or even a theater – dress nicely, and expect others to do so too. Dining out is often considered a nice occasion, so the ripped jeans and Pearl Jam t-shirts can stay at home. Even if the venue is not so formal, it’s a good idea to be prepared.

Going Dutch is Not Expected

This is where Russkies and some Westerners have some differences – while we live in different and changing times , the tradition of covering a meal and evening with a female is generally upheld. If you ask a nice lady out for diner, I wouldn’t expect her to pay for the meal or anywhere else you decide to go. Some may offer to split the bill, but I wouldn’t count on it. Hell, some of them may not even bring their rubles with them for such an occasion. If you expect to see her again, it’s a safe bet that you should be ready to foot the bill like a gentleman.

Don’t Expect A Lady to Carry

If you’re accustomed to all things that are politically correct, double think it for a second. That lady carrying her luggage down the metro steps, or the lady at the airport getting ready to get her bags ready for her departure – always be there to lend a hand. It’s polite, and as a man you are expected to be the one that assists in such a situation. You will see this even when getting in a taxi – the drivers will commonly be the ones that assist in the luggage. Such is a lesson in everyday life – lend a helping hand.

Never Disrespect Invalids

When you board a bus, or the city metro, you’ll first notice that younger people will always be ready to lend a seat to the elderly, women, and children. This is a common norm you will run into everywhere, and may not always be the case in some countries. While some may be offended in some countries being offered this privilege, it’s a sign of respect in Russia, and especially when elderly or pregnant women are standing there waiting for a seat it’s downright rude.

Never Joke About Family Members

Though a lot of jokes you may hear in Russia and CIS, or perhaps even in many non-American countries may not be the most politically correct- you still should abide by a common rule. Never, ever, joke of the family members.
Growing up, I heard a plethora of “your momma” jokes, and while those jokes aren’t the type we often hear later on in life, it’s the same idea. The jokes surrounding others’ family members are generally taboo to make, and to be quite honest – risky. You can crack a joke on  ethnicity, appearance, or gender based jokes, but if you insult another’s mother and father, it may not come across as a joke at all.

Bodily Functions Are Frowned Upon

It is incredibly impolite, and you should not expect any kind of pride associated with such things. Burping loudly is not a game changing display of authority or humor. So if it happens, don’t make a big deal out of it. Some say not to even apologize, but to simply ignore it. It’s not of the most epic impressions you would want to make, so keep it in mind.

Never Shake a Hand Through a Doorway

Russian’s are very superstitious, so superstitious in fact, it ties into getting acquainted. It is considered rude to shake hands with your gloves on – so take your gloves off before any proper interaction occurs. Additionally, shaking ones hand at the door is considered back luck. So make sure to take your gloves off, and save the hand shaking for indoors. And even then you have to take off your snow boots or else you’ll come across like a total ass.

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