Russian Culture in a Nutshell
Invest time in learning the culture of a foreign nation to save you much grief in the future and even a greater waste of time and money resulting out of ignorance.
Russian culture has a long history and tradition and Russians are very proud of it.
Russians consider themselves as a well educated nation. They read a lot, books are cheap, and one can afford to buy 5-10 books a month without serious damage to a family budget.
Russians are also big fond of live performances at theatres and since tickets are affordable (prices in cinemas and theatres are comparable), they enjoy attending theatres: opera, musical, ballet, drama etc.
Usually every city has a few theatres. The theatre culture was developed during the Soviet times when tickets were sold through schools and enterprises: cities were divided into areas and there was a theatre agent responsible for each particular area. The agent would bring tickets for distribution to every enterprise and school in his area and the person responsible for "culture sector" would organize collective visit to the theatre. I think it was an excellent system since people had the opportunity to attend theatres from the early age, starting from attending performances in a Muppet theatre, then moving to the Youth Drama Theatre, then to Drama, Musical and Opera, according to their age. Also attending performances in a company is always much more fun, which contributed to the popularity of theatres. This is how most Russian people have developed their taste for live performances.
Movie theatres are also becoming popular in Russia and they are equipped with the latest sound systems. When Russian people talk about movie theatres, they will usually say "cinema"; if they talk about "theatres", they mean live performances.
During Soviet times there was a well developed system of community work and in every group (class at school, department at work etc) would be also a person responsible for sport, education, political information of the group etc. People that were doing community work were given benefits (free or discounted travel, ability to buy deficit goods, ability to receive a better apartment from the government for free etc) - remember, there was no private property until Perestroika, everything used to belong to the state, which was controlling distribution and would award the most active citizens. Unfortunately the system of volunteering was broken with Perestroika but Russians still have that great community spirit (which sometimes goes to the lengths a westerner would consider as infringement).
Russian culture is non-individualistic. The power of an individual in Russia is much less than in the west and most deals are pushed through family, friends and acquaintances. Russian saying is, "One is not a soldier in the battlefield". In Russia, one still needs to know people in power to make things work. This is why they maintain more friendships than an average westerner. They often have to rely on their friends to help them out. You know someone who knows someone who is in power; this is the way they have the things done. If you know the right people, you can have the most difficult things done with little effort. In my life, a few times I ran into dead ends where there was nothing I could do in the straightforward way; the people were right to refuse me, according to the official rules. But once I could find people who knew someone inside the system, a month wait would turn into just a few hours wait or they would find a place for me where they said the rules would not allow them to give me one. Foreigners would just give up; Russians believe there is always a roundabout.
The majority of Russians consider themselves as Christians, and belong to Russian Orthodox Church. It's a great achievement for the country where atheism was the official state religion for more than 70 years. Frankly, most of them are not true believers. They appreciate Christian moral values but do not follow them. Religion is not a real part of their life. Russians are more aware of horoscopes than the Bible. Church service in Russia can be attended any day of the week and performed every day 2 or 3 times (early morning at 3 a.m., then at 8 a.m. and then in the evening at 7 p.m.). People usually attend the church just to "light a candle" and quickly pray. They do it to ask for something to happen (a business deal, an exam) or to remember a close person who is dead. People do not have to be a member of the church to do it and they do not have monthly contributions to the church. Church survives selling candles and reminder notes and charging for services such as baptizing, weddings and funerals. Church marriage is not official in Russia. A couple has to register their marriage with government authorities first to be allowed to have church ceremony performed.
Medical aid and education in Russia are free, though Russians joke that education becomes less and less free with every year. One can still get a university education for free by passing the entrance tests (exams), but the universities have to decrease the number of students studying on a free basis because of poor state financing.
Since both education and culture facilities used to be widely available, Russians can be considered a highly cultured nation. Their general knowledge is very good: they know a little bit about virtually everything. At secondary schools, they study not only the history of Russia but also the world history, including American and European history. In the same secondary school course (11 years school qualification is mandatory in Russia) they study world literature, world music, and world geography. Many books of western authors are mandatory reading in the course of literature (in Russian translation of course). The standard secondary school program includes studying of a foreign language for 6 years (grades 5-11), usually it is English but also can be French, German or Spanish. Most subjects in the course of a secondary school are mandatory for all schools throughout the whole Russia, and only since recently there are some subjects that students can choose in addition to the general course.
On the entrance exams at universities and colleges only questions from the general course of the secondary school can be asked. Universities and colleges accept students according to the results of entrance tests, and not according to their marks at school, though having excellent marks can help (for example, you would only have to pass 1-2 exams instead of regular 4).
Intellectually, Russians are interesting people to talk to and enjoy deep subjects. Philosophy is still a mandatory subject when you study for a degree and one of the 3 compulsory subjects for PhD qualifying exam (the other 2 are foreign language and the specialty itself).
At the same time the majority of Russians don't have what you call in the west "good manners". Their manners are not bad, they are just Russian. Russia is quite a tough country and Russians usually do not hesitate to say what they think in a way that doesn't leave room for any misunderstandings. During the Soviet period having "good manners" was considered as a bourgeois survival. Russians are very straightforward. When they meet or phone each other, they seldom spend time on questions like "How are you?" and go straight to the point. They are not rude, it's just a way of doing things.
Having a university or college degree is common. Russia has the highest educational level in the world (more than 40% of the total population have college or university degree). Since Perestroika, the system of higher (university) education is slowly deteriorating as well as the medical aid system, which used to be among the world's best. The problem with Russian education is that it was always rather theoretical and unrelated to practice. Therefore, it's common for a person having an engineering degree to work in sales, or one with a chemical background to find himself in marketing. In the old days having a degree was an end in itself. They are trying to change the educational programs now, but it will take years to build the system.
It's not of any wonder if a woman with university degree works as a secretary. Having a Ph.D. is also not a big deal, and doesn't give you a big advantage; good knowledge of English will provide you with a better competitive edge. The position that one has in a company is not as important as the company in which he or she works. Foreign companies and even foreign public/charity organizations are considered to be the best employment.
Having your own business in Russia is a big challenge. The tax system works in the way that if one has a small business (individual private enterprise), he must pre-pay taxes before he receives permission to act. It's unbelievable, but it's true: one is supposed to estimate his future income, and pre-pay taxes proceeding from the assumption. Then he gets a permission to start his business activity; but he must run to the tax department the second he earns 1 Ruble more profit than it was estimated and paid in advance. Otherwise it will be considered a hidden profit, and one can easily get a fine of the size equal to 200% of the amount of the hidden profit. I understand that it sounds funny, but it just works like this. The authorities are suspicious towards owners of small businesses.
The bigger enterprises have a more convenient tax system. In 2000 the government announced united tax of 12% on profits, and even said the hidden (*black*) capitals may be legalized if the owner pays this 12% tax. At the same time there were comments from top government officials that this is only a temporary retreat, and the progressive tax system will be brought back as soon as people get used to paying their taxes. Actually, the government hoped that people would start paying tax and show their real profits - but Russians know their government. They don't want to be easily trapped by showing off their true income, and then be obliged to pay again enormous taxes of the past (up to 90% in different taxes on profit - state, region, city and others). Collecting taxes is still the biggest concern for the Russian government. Most serious investors of so called "New Russians" transfer their capitals abroad (of course, it's illegal, but there are so many ways to take a roundabout).
This 12% united tax attracted many foreigners to become Russian residents. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, there are sizable communities of expatriates that live there mostly because of the low taxes - investors etc. Other westerners live there because of the low cost of living; on a western disability pension one can live in Russia as a king. They even have their own expatriate newspapers in English!
Before the year 2000, the Russian tax system was very complicated. Counting all the taxes supposed to be paid, the total amount could reach 90%, including taxes on the salaries for employees. To pay 100 rubles to an employee, an employer had to pay about 80 rubles of tax to the state: pension funds, social insurance, medical insurance and so on. There were many federal, regional and city's taxes, which were different from one region to another. The system made companies have double accounting, and sometimes double salaries - an official one and so called "black cash salary".
Another reality businesses face in Russia is organized crime, which often has close connections with authorities. Small and medium businesses have to pay about 10% of the profits to "raket". Nowadays many businesses prefer to employ "commercial" departments of police organizations or private security companies, which are in reality just a camouflaged "raket". They will "help" you in a case of bad debts, problems with business partners or criminal situations like robbery etc, providing you a "roof". All "criminal cooperations" have official businesses registered, and you pay them an official fee additionally to unofficial.
It was a very funny case in Ekaterinburg at spring 1999, when one of the "cooperations" registered their association as "OPS". In Russian it is a common abbreviation for "organized crime syndicate" ("Organizovannoye Prestupnoe Soobshcestvo"). The guys from "OPS" explained their name differently as "Public Political Union" ("Obschestvenno Politicheskiy Soyuz"). It was one of the most famous and big groups in the city, and the choice of such a name demonstrated that the guys were feeling absolutely comfortable with their status. Well, you consider us as "OPS"? You've got it.
If you have some problems with your business partner, your "roof" ("krysha") will meet with the other guy's "roof", and they will try to settle your business problems trough mutual discussion. If they can't get right, they may apply to an unbiased source - a person "in law" ("v zakone"), who will take a decision, usually quite just. This decision is final, and you can't apply against of it, or get rid of it. There is an official way of settling the problems through a state court, but it's almost out of use: it's long, unpredictable and rather pathetic.
But businessmen are in a better situation than the people that work as employees. With all the headaches and stress, they still have some money and considerably good living standards.
Government employees, particularly medical doctors and teachers, do not receive their salaries for months, sometimes up to 6-8 months. It does not mean that they don't receive salaries at all. It started in early 90th, first as delays with payments. So the first time one received his salary a week later, then next month - 2 weeks later, and so on. Eventually it happens that in June you receive your salary for last December. One receives some money regularly, and he can survive, though the government owes him thousands. This way was quickly picked up by the other organizations, and now even if one works for a private company, he might not receive his salary on time. The government constantly promises to fix outdated payments, and pay pensions and salaries to people working in a budget system on time, but for many years it's only promises.
Russians are smart. They have so many difficulties and problems in life, that they can easily find a roundabout way for anything. They don't have a deep respect towards any law, including traffic rules. Russians are of some the most reckless, but at the same time skillful, drivers, and the most careless pedestrians in the world.
A famous Russian comic, Mikhail Zadornov (it's also quite a coincidence that he is a name-sake of a former Russian minister of economy; once in a foreign encyclopedia they mixed up their photos - at the article about a minister was published a picture of the famous comic; well, nothing to worry about - Russian economy is also a very funny thing), so, this famous comic said: "The state steals everything it can from people. The people steal everything they can from the state".
Stealing is not considered to be a big deal as long as you have not been caught, and don't steal from your friends or the people you know. Stealing from one's work place was considered for years as an essential "skill of well being". During the Soviet time there was such a phrase: "Everything around belongs to the public (nation), so everything around belongs to me".
There was no such term as "private property", that's why Russians don't care about intellectual property either. No other country in the world has such abuse of pirate software, video and audio records, CDs etc exposed for sale on every corner. They used to publish books of Western authors, and the authors found it out only when started to receive letters of thanks from Russia. The pirate production is very cheap, for example a CD with the newest version of Microsoft Office or Windows will cost you $4 or less, the same is applicable for any other software product.
The information from my sites was stolen many times. If foreign based services remove offensive sites (or take care that stolen information is removed) within 24 hours, Russian ISP's advised me to contact the thieves and try to regulate the matter myself. I would understand if it was paid subscribers whose money they did not want to lose, but one of the sites was hosted by a free service provider http://www.narod.ru, and the result was the same: "Yes, we also think it's bad, but we are not authorized to solve such problems. Apply to the site owner". Articles from my Russian site are stolen regularly, I stopped counting. One of my agents also reported a book published in Belarus that was an exact copy of the information from the website. There is no way you can get the thief back. (I recently started placing them on the Black List though
Russians are used to a situation where everything is unpredictable and unstable. They live in a society where anything can happen, and don't wonder when the national currency loses 25% of it's value 3 days after the president's public promise that there won't not be any inflation in the nearest future because the situation has never been more stable. They have to adapt to new rules and laws quickly, and they manage successfully with this task. After "The Black Monday" (17 August, 1998) when the government announced default, and the ruble fell dramatically, people from any Western country would run to change the government. Russians ran to exchange rubles for dollars.
Actually, the crisis of 1998 made good for the country: when imported products became unaffordable, the Russian industry had favorable conditions for development and could occupy the large part of the market. Currently economical situation of Russia is stably improving.
Russians had to make the long journey from the total control of the Soviet times to the total uncertainty of the current situation. Their life has changed extremely, and if taking peoples' happiness means of measurement, it definitely changed for the worse. The older people are very sorry for the Soviet times, when everything was understandable, predictable and stable. One could not get a much better life than the others with all his talents and hard work, but he was confident he would have the necessary minimum: a place to stay, a job, free good quality medical aid and affordable prices for goods, his children would have free education and free access to any sport and cultural facilities. Well, guys, it was not such a bad time!
Nowadays people have lost those advantages of the socialist state, and they have yet to have the full advantages of Western capitalism. The majority of Russian people do not really understand the huge difference in the life in Russia and on the West. Russians do NOT consider their life as miserable. They feel that things are changing for the better and "everything's starting to work out" in their country. President Putin with is desire to clean up and stop corruption is very popular in masses. The frantic desperation of early 90th, when there was no food in shops, and late 90th with their economical roller coaster, is no longer there. The child birth rate is on the raise, which is a sure indicator people feel more confident about their future.
Russians like to emphasize their different attitude towards material values and consider themselves as sincere, cordial, understanding and unselfish. They like to talk about "specifics of Russian soul" or "mysterious Russian soul", and repeat the famous phrase of a Russian poet "You can't understand Russia by your mind".
Generally, Russians love their country. They can criticize it severely, but if you try to do the same they will defend it furiously. They feel like citizens of the largest county in the world, which has rich history and deep cultural roots, and they are proud of it.
Daily life for the majority of Russian women is very much the same. One gets up at 7-8 a.m. depending on working hours of her company. Factories and plants usually work from 6-8 a.m., and offices and shops from 9-10 p.m. After a simple breakfast (normally just a sandwich with tea or coffee), she goes to catch a bus/tram/trolleybus/underground train. Most Russians live in flats in outskirts ("sleeping zones"), work in the center of the city, and have to spend from 30 to 90 minutes to reach their working place. Public transport is always overcrowded during the "peak" time, and she does not have any chance to have a seat. People in the transport are like fishes in a can, some of them are touching her, but it's quite normal - there is nothing one can do. People in transport are always unfriendly and irritated, though if you are pregnant, with a small baby in hands or very old, they will offer you a seat.
Normally the working day is 8 hours with one 30-60 minutes lunch break. If one works for a state enterprise, she may have a few tea pauses - there is a poor discipline on those plants, one can easily leave her job to settle some personal problems. Working for a private company means a better salary than working for the state, but also staying after hours often or from time to time.
Leaving her work at 5-7 p.m., she has to make her way all the way back home using the same overcrowded public transport. Having a car is still considered to be a kind of luxury, and even if the family has a car, it's always the husband who drives it. The price of the cheapest new brand car is about USD 5,100, with the average women's monthly salary 3000 rubles (about USD 100). One can afford to buy a second hand car but it's very expensive to keep it on the road. You will also have to use a paid secure night parking or have a garage, both options will make an average woman run out of money.
Using public transport makes one twice as tired. During the cold season (November-March) it will also make you cold because you can't move there, and it's the same temperature inside as outside. So if it's -20Â°C outside, it's probably -18 in the bus. I used to have my own car, and used to go to work by bus, and I can say for sure - public transport exhausts you.
After arriving at her stop on her way back home, the woman usually goes to the nearest shop to buy some food - bread, milk and meat. Russians don't go shopping once a week, they buy products when they are finished. One must buy or provide his own plastic bags in a shop, they seldom give the bags away for free. Carrying bags home also doesn't make the woman relaxed - even if it's only a few kilos and few hundreds meters (usually homes are within 0-2 miles from shopping areas), you still feel it.
The woman arrives home completely exhausted. If she has a child, she must fetch him from the kindergarten on her way back. If she has a family, she must make food for it. Cooking in Russia is more complicated and takes much longer, not only because of different recipes, but also because of the lack of half-ready products. There are half-ready products on the market but they are mostly imported and therefore expensive.
After the supper, the family can watch TV for a couple of hours, then they go to bed.
Some people regularly visit gyms, probably about the same proportion of population as in the west (which means most people don't). Weekly movies or dining out are rare, discos or night clubs are more popular but still unaffordable for many people. Entertainment is expensive, and usually they it is limited by visiting friends or relatives on the weekends.
Generally, the daily life of a Russian woman can be described as *home - work - home* or *home - work - shops - home*. You can say that it's normal for the life in any western country as well, but there is one big difference: even small things in Russia require much more efforts. Small things that will take you a couple of minutes, in Russia can take you half an hour or even the whole day.
For example, I know about a case where a foreign company refused to pay 1-day salary to a Russian employee that she spent in some government committee in order to obtain the necessary information requested by the foreign boss. "You could just make a phone call; there was no need to go there in person to get the information", said the foreign boss. For a Russian, it is crystal clear that a phone call will not get you the complete information on the government procedure, nor the government officials would supply such information via fax or mail it to you for free. Such practice is normal for western world but is a complete alien for Russian officials.
A stop on you way home to buy milk would take you two minutes; in Russia it can take a woman 10 times longer, since she has to specially walk to the shop and there stand in a queue (most shops in Russia, especially in regional cities, still sell over the counter and bill items manually).
This *time rule* is applicable to everything: getting things done in Russia takes longer and requires more effort. The word "convenience" was not in favor when the current system of Russian life was designed. The problem is not the availability of goods (food and goods are in abundance) but poor logistics.
Another thing about Russian daily life - they do not really enjoy it. They get awakened not to enjoy a new day but to cope with today's problems. There is little comfort and contentment. Russians are used to minor everyday difficulties, and they don't even bother them anymore. Russian daily life is tough, and it's probably the reason why they smile so seldom. Rarely you will see a smiling face in a bus or on the streets - the fact that usually makes foreigners wonder.
A Russian, living in Russia, might argue some of the points I discussed here, but a Russian, living abroad, will agree with me. There are differences that a person living in Russia cannot realize, and they involve not only better cars and homes ("New Russians" have it all!) but the very basic values of existence.
I believe the main difference in Russian and western way of life comes from those base beliefs: western life is built on the cult of "enjoy", Russian life is built on the base of "God endured, so we have to endure too".
Westerners live to enjoy; Russians live to endure.
Russians are survivors.
This cultural paradigm can be demonstrated by the difference in religious rituals in western and Russian Christian churches: there are no benches and amphitheatres in Russian Orthodox churches. The whole 1-2 hour service people are supposed to spend standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a badly lit, stuffy, one-level room, where one struggles to see the priest. Many people stand on their knees during the service. Russian Christian church service promotes humility through enduring; while a western Christian church service promotes integrity and enhancement.
The very word "enjoy" has some indecent flavor in Russian: it is something that is not very appropriate, but done nevertheless. A Russian would usually say "I love/like [doing something]" rather than "I enjoy" [doing something]. Therefore they love (like) some things but doing them does not result in the feeling of contentment - this is actually what I mean by saying "They don't enjoy it".
Which of course doesn't mean Russians don't know how to have fun! They do know how to have fun, and many Russians abroad miss exactly Russian limitless fun (as comparing to reasonable, appropriate western fun). Also, the English phrase "to have fun" is hardly translatable to Russian, since Russians do not make their purpose "to have fun" or "enjoy". Fun is just something that happens without plans, when people are happy and cheerful. In general, Russian people are much more spontaneous and playful that westerners.
The keyword to Russian family life is dependence. The family life is built on dependence, and Russians are attached to their family members.
The roots of this situation are in the way of being. Russians live in small apartments in large blocks, with 2-3 generations living together. It's normal when grown single children live with parents, and even when married children with spouses stay with one of the parents.
During the Soviet time one couldn't buy an apartment (Russians call them "flats"), he could only "receive" it from the state. The apartments were given to people for free, according to the time they worked on the enterprise. One should only pay a small fee for communal services. The state norms for giving the apartments were rather tough, with 5-8 square meters for a person. A family with 2 children of the same gender would get only two-room apartment of about 30 square meters (kitchens, bathrooms and passages were not taking into account). A divorced woman with a daughter would get only one-room apartment.
Nowadays one can buy an apartment, and the state does not give apartments to people for free anymore. Buying an apartment is unachievable for the majority of people because of small salaries. One of my friends, 38-year old single woman, still lives with her mom in one-room apartment, and they have zero chances to get a better one unless she gets married and leaves. (Which is also doubtful as there are 10 million (!) more women of marriageable age in Russia than men and all men who wanted to get married are normally married by the time.)
Living in small apartments together with parents and/or children makes Russians take care of each other. They have to be considerate and ready to compromise. One has to adapt to the family lifestyle and rules.
Any person has his own limit of patience and acceptance of the things but Russians have much higher potential limits. If compare those limits with thermometer, Americans have 20-degrees "thermometer", and when they reach this point, their emotional "thermometer" just fails to work further. For them it's a critical situation. Russians have 100-degrees thermometer, and in the same situation, which is unacceptable for an American, they will act as if nothing happens.
That's why I think that Russian women have the proper skills to make good wives. They usually do not let situation to come to the point of no return. It does not mean that they give up their goals easily, but they try to reach them in a different, less complicated or roundabout way. They do not intend to prove their point, and the result is of more importance than the rightness. You won't even notice how it happened that you eventually did what she wanted! And it does not mean that the woman is devious or the like; for her it's just natural.
Well, coming back to Russian family life.
Russians get married early, at the age 18-22. Because they don't really care much about making a career (see Myth 2 for details), they don't wait until they are independent. Young couples usually stay with wife's or husband's parents during the first years of marriage.
Being single in Russia puts a label on a woman. If she is over 25 and still single, it means that something's wrong with her. Not any amount of money she earns or her career successes can give her high social status, if she is not married. From the other hand, it's not such a fortune for a woman - to be married in Russia. A decent woman is supposed to stay at home, while her husband is allowed to spend time with friends in cafes, restaurants and discos. All housework is also women's responsibility, and it's quite a lot if taking in consideration the lack of home electronic utilities. About 80% of Russian families do not have even an automatic washing machine and microwave. Russian society is pretty male dominating.
Infidelity is common in Russia. Women outnumber men, and a guy can easily find somebody for affairs. Sleeping around is a kind of honor for a man. Women are not supposed to do it to be respectable, but still, guys find partners, so I believe that the girls just keep quiet. One of my male friends of 38 years, who has probably about 30 new partners every year, aged from 18 to 40 (he is not married, at least!), well-traveled and well-educated guy, a former national level sportsman, told me once in a frank impulse: "The only good thing about Russia is girls. Beautiful, gentle and accessible".
For the women agreeing on casual sex is the way of attracting a partner that she hopes may later offer her commitment. Single girls all desperately want to find a "worthy" man and get married. Marriage for Russian women is the same type of thing as career for western women - it gives them a respectable social status.
One of the most prominent Russian traditions is hard drinking. It does not mean they all are alcoholics; Russians are just drinking more alcohol when they are drinking.
It's applicable more in particular to men though women also drink much more than it's accepted on the West. Drinking a bottle of vodka for three, or a bottle of vine for each is normal and is not considered as excessive. Refusing to drink as much as the rest of the company is considered as disrespect. The favorite men's drink is Russian vodka, the favorite women's drink is Soviet Champagne - a decent Russian sparkling vine. Russians have poor taste in vines and prefer sweet vines.
Drinking until one falls is all right. The parties usually take place in private apartments, and majority of the guests stay to sleep overnight occupying all free space on coaches and the floor. The next morning the party may continue. Hangover, named in Russian "pokhmel'ie", is supposed to be cured by drinking a small amount of alcohol ("opokhmelitsya"). It does provide some relief but thereafter people usually can't stop. Small shops on the streets (kiosks) selling mostly alcohol and chocolate, work 24 hours 7 days a week, and the party can get extra drinks any time if they think they did not have enough.
A Russian joke:
(The diary of a foreigner working in Russia)
Was drinking with Russians. I think I'd better die.
In the morning came Russians, and said we should "opokhmelitsya". I'd better die yesterday...
Russian drinking traditions are very much a cultural thing, and the person who drinks and does not become drunk is always respected. It's called "he can drink". The more you drink and don't fall down drunk, the more your friends will respect you. Many business deals are solved while drinking together, it's probably one more reason why women don't succeed in making careers.
Drinking alone is considered as being an alcoholic, drinking in company is encouraged.
Russians do not drink without a reason. It does not mean that they do not drink just when they want, it means that every time they want to drink they bring up a reason. It can be anything - from buying a new thing (in this case they call it "obmyt" - in literal translation "to wash" the new thing) to celebrating the weekend.
The process of drinking is specific. The glasses of all company members must be full, then somebody should propose a "toast" - what for the company is going to drink this drink. "Toasts" can vary from trivial "Na zdorovie" or "Budem zdorovy" ("For our health") to any other wish or somebody's desire: "Za udachu" ("For good luck"), "Na dorozhku" (before leaving - "For the way"), "Daj Bog ne v poslednij raz" ("Hopefully it's not the last time when we drink, with God's help") etc. After the toast people clink their glasses with each other and drink their drinks. Everybody must finish his drink, otherwise it means that he does not support the toast. The next toast follows in 5-10 minutes.
READ ALSO: Russian wedding customs
The biggest Russian holiday is New Year (1 January). During the Soviet time people were not allowed to celebrate Christmas (Russian Christmas is 7 January), and New Year was the most cheerful holiday.
The next holiday is the Old New Year (13 January). Russians had a different calendar before February 1918. The difference between Julian (the old Russian) and Gregorian (European) calendars was 13 days, and after the Soviet government adopted Gregorian calendar Russians started to celebrate many holidays twice: according to the new style and the old one.
Non-official "Men's Day" is 23 February, it is a public holiday called "The Homeland Defender's Day". All men in Russia are liable for call-up (including reservists), so they all are celebrities. On this day women usually give men small gifts.
Official "Women's Day" is 8 March. On this day men give women gifts, usually flowers. Men also are supposed to do all the housework, this is pretty nice - at least once a year women can take a break and forget about all those dishes, cooking, kids, take a magazine and relax on the coach...
1 April is non-official "the Day of Laugh". People tell jokes to each other, newspapers and TV publish funny stories and jokes. The motto of this day: Do not trust anybody on 1 April ("Pervoye aprelya - nikomu ne veryu").
1 May is the Day of Labor. During Soviet time there were huge demonstrations on this day, as everybody was obliged to show his loyalty to the state; now only communists organize meetings on this date.
9 May - Victory Day. 2-day public holiday (8-9 May), the day when Nazi Germany capitulated in 1945 after 4-year war with Soviet Union and other countries. Soviet Union lost 20 million people in the war. The minute of silence announced on the Central TV in the memory of deceased at 9:00 P.M., and fireworks thereafter.
12 June - the Independence Day. It's an official holiday but Russians are not used to it yet. They spend this day on their "dachas" - small plots in countryside where they plant some vegetables.
1 September is the Day of Knowledge - it's the beginning of a school year. Children go to schools with flowers for teachers, there are meetings before the classes start - nice and exciting.
7 November - the Day of October revolution (25 October according to the old calendar). It's still an official holiday in Russia though there is not such a huge celebration as it used to be during the Soviet era.
12 December - The Constitution Day. This day the first Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted in 1993 (previous Constitutions were all Soviet Union's). It is a recent public holiday, and there are no special customs connected with this day.
Russians LOVE to celebrate. They adopted the Western holidays such as St. Valentine, Catholic Christmas (they celebrate Christmas twice - Catholic and Orthodox) and Halloween. They also appreciate Chinese New Year, Muslim and Jewish holidays, as Russians are very tolerant to other religions.
When there is a public holiday, the weekend is shifted towards the holiday: if the holiday is on Thursday, Sunday will be the working day and Friday the day off. The same when the public holiday is on Tuesday: Saturday becomes the working day and Monday the day off. If the holiday is on Wednesday, there will be no long weekend.
There are quite a few long weekends every year, which many Russians use to travel, locally and abroad, the others spend holidays on their "dachas" (country-side houses).