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Let’s talk about Russian talk. Should one get closer or keep the distance?

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Elena, article’s author

Welcome to our new edition of Matryoshka’s Diary. This week our author Elena will tell you about personal communication in Russia which reveals yet another layer of Russian contradictions. People don’t smile at strangers, but a smile reserved for friends is warm and sincere; eye contact in the streets is avoided, but in business and personal communication lack of eye contact is considered rude, if not suspect. Let’s find out the main dos and donts. And if you want to read more articles of the author, click HERE

Too close and personal?

Years of communal living have accustomed people to keeping a close personal space during conversations. You may find that Russians stand uncomfortably close to you. If they know you well, there will be a lot of shoulder patting and even hugging. Women are used to walking arm in arm. Don’t take jostling on public transportation or somebody cutting in line personally. This habit stems from the Soviet era, when people had to “storm” a bus or train to get to work or push ahead in the line to buy winter fruit for a child. A handshake is the most common greeting, particularly in business, with kisses and hugs reserved for close friends and relatives. As we have seen, don’t shake hands across a threshold (read more about superstitions HERE)

Formal and informal address

It is considered rude to use the ” ty” (the familiar second person singular form) when you meet someone for the first time, unless they are very young. Always use the polite form of address until you are invited to switch to the familiar one – a sign that your friendship with the native speaker has reached a warmer, more intimate level. The polite form, ” Vy;’ is joined by the name and patronymic- the father’s name plus a suffix, “ovna” I “yevna” for a female, and ” ovych” for a male. For example, Irina Sergeyevna means “Irina, daughter of Sergey;’ and Igor Alexandrovych is “Igor, son of Alexander.” To address people by their first name, especially in an official business situation, is considered rude.

Mr., Mrs., or Miss

There is no direct equivalent in Russia of Mr., Mrs., or Miss. The previous convenient unisex Communist form of address, Tovarishch (Comrade), is now obsolete. The restored prerevolutionary forms of address, Gospodin (Mr.) and Gospozha (Mrs. or Miss), though sometimes used, particularly in business situations, are not yet commonly accepted. There are amusing and inventive ways of addressing strangers in public places:

  • Any woman of preretirement age, in a shop or on public transportation, would be called “Devushka” (Girl)
  • a man may be addressed as something like, “Man in gray hat” or “Man with brown briefcase.”

Speaking Russian

Starting your day with a polite Russian greeting might involve you in a tongue twister, with its clusters of consonants: “Zdrastvujte” (Hello). It’s much easier to replace it with a rolling ” Dobroje utro” (Good morning) or “Dobry den” (Good afternoon). Don’t let the language structure put you off. Try to learn the simplest greetings and everyday phrases; this will be appreciated. Don’t be put off by the heated exchanges you’ll hear when your Russian partners talk to each other. Russian discussions are fast and loud, and to the foreigner often sound like a quarrel. Also, the intonation drops at the end of a sentence, making it sound assertive, if not aggressive. When traveling to Russia for the first time, you go with your own preconceptions, based on the movies you have watched, the music you’ve heard, or the books you’ve read.

Come study with us – we will help you to broaden your understanding and make you a more tolerant and appreciative traveler. Discover the Russian soul and the true Russia: strong-spirited, compassionate, and warm.