I first came to Russia a number of years ago and am still able to say that it is one of the most extraordinary and paradoxical countries in the world. I am still discovering new and interesting aspects of it.
Most people will probably experience a kind of shock upon coming here for the first time. The Russian mentality is quite mysterious to foreigners – Russians live life to the fullest and don’t always dwell on the future. They devote a lot of time to leisure, but also work hard. Their actions are often strange and inexplicable… the mysterious Russian soul!
Their business practices can also seem unorthodox. It is a famous stereotype that Russians drink vodka on any occasion: at home and at work, inside and outside, from any vessel and for any mealtime… This is true for most able-bodied Russians – they can handle large doses of alcohol without losing control. Don’t try to compete with them on this – most will not succeed. However, a short, heartfelt and friendly toast will be met with their approval (and admiration if you can pull off a toast in Russian).
Conversations with Russians can touch on both personal and professional affairs , children’s talents and successes, cultural and literary questions, political and societal problems and philosophy. Russians will react warmly to praise for Russian achievements in the spheres of space exploration, armament production, sporting prowess, ballet and culture. Take an active part in the conversation, show that you are informed and interested and you are guaranteed to earn their respect.
People say that a visit to the Russian sauna is a key aspect of business in Russia. In reality, an invitation to the sauna is neither a good nor bad sign. It is not a reflection of respect (or lack thereof) – it is simply a visit to the sauna. I would advise you to go if given the opportunity, as you will not be disappointed!
Russian holidays deserve a special mention. Foreigners don’t always understand how a whole country can immerse itself in celebrating the New Year for two weeks starting every December 31st. I can tell you from experience that your Russian partners’ inaccessibility during this time should be considered a given. Let people have their time off – they work very hard when business resumes!
Russian women are educated and active in life. They possess a certain charm and more and more of them are occupying executive positions in enterprises; more women than ever are trusted with government work. There are many public figures of the fairer sex – if anyone says that women are held back in Russia I would be forced to disagree. I often meet business owners and executives who are smart, successful and beautiful women and I think their number will only increase.
For many Russians a business is only a business when it brings profits of over 50% or even 100%. Russians do not like to wait; they prefer hard work that brings large dividends quickly. If you are planning on coming to Russia for work, try to learn a basic level of Russian. It is impossible to live and work in a country like this without interacting with people and understanding your surroundings. Try not to live ‘the tourist way of life’. Don’t live in a hotel – talk to Russians and try to understand their way of life.
Vodka, potatoes, sauna, the cold, bears, matryoshka dolls and Russian hats – this has remained in the past. Russians like to communicate via IM-applications and don’t always like talking business on the phone; they value beauty in business and a quick profit. It is said that Russia is a bad and scary play to work, that there are many hardships and strange people here. Don’t come to quick conclusions. Russia is wonderful in its uniqueness.
Annelies van den Belt has been the chief executive of SUP Media since 2008. Annelies came to SUP Media with an extensive experience in managing commercial online ventures. Previously she was the managing director of the broadband division of Britain’s leading commercial broadcaster, ITV. Before that she ran the online divisions of online newspapers, the Times and the Daily Telegraph. Prior to these high profile British media positions she worked as the publisher of The Moscow Times and a number of other major Independent Media titles in Russia.