Do you speak Russian? Even if you don't know the language, it can't hurt as a hotelier to know body language, dress code and some customs if you want to receive guests from the Russian Federation well and avoid misunderstandings. Check out this crash course.
Text: Karen Cop // FOTOS: iStock
Past years have seen fewer Russian business travelers visiting, but lately the situation has improved. The exchange of goods between Russia and Germany for example “is increasing again, in 2018 by 8.4 percent to 61.9 billion euros," the German-Russian Chamber of Foreign Trade reported. It is time for hoteliers to refresh their "Russian" and address their guests correctly during their welcome.
Although it is becoming increasingly common in Russia to address people as ,”Gosposcha”, the woman, or,”Gospodin”, the gentleman, plus surname, when registering at the hotel your Russian guests will certainly give their full name. This means: First the first name, then the name of the guest’s father and only in third place the surname. Russian businessmen often introduce themselves to each other only with their first and last names. "Dobryj djen" for "good day" and "spasibo", i.e. thank you, are very easy to pronounce, sounding almost as they are written. But beware: Many a gesture or facial expression carries a different meaning than you would think. A smile, for example.
Russian guests may seem very serious and strict, but they are not. Nevertheless, smile as seldom as possible. A Russian proverb says: "A baseless smile speaks for stupidity.” And Russian businessmen want to radiate seriousness and strength. They shake one another’s right hands, with firm pressure and direct eye contact, but leave out too conspicuous a grin. Especially among strangers, smiles are not considered polite, but intrusive. If you have nevertheless smiled broadly in greeting, you need not be surprised if the guest asks: "Have we met before?.”
That doesn't mean that you should make the contact as impersonal as possible; on the contrary: Russians love profound conversations and are physically much less distant than More distance than North Europeans, for example. A tip from Markus Eidam, managing director of the foreign experts Eidam & Partner, in his book "Russland-Knigge": "Don't be surprised if your conversation partner touches you occasionally on the arm or if you are hugged by a friend to greet you".
"Clothing will determine how you will be welcomed, your mind will determine how you will say goodbye to each other” is a Russian rule. Anyone who strolls up to a Russian guest in casual jeans and introduces himself as a hotel manager will be met with displeasure. Russian businessmen generally wear respectable, classy suits, preferably tailor-made and of the best quality. Expensive watches and necklaces are status symbols worn openly. Russian businesswomen in costumes, high shoes and sparkling jewelry might appear as if they had dressed up for an evening event even though they're going to a conference. Most Russian businesswomen are fashion-conscious and well-groomed – which does not mean they will not negotiate as toughly as men.
In Russia, small gifts are presented at every conceivable opportunity and handed over as a welcome gift. A small welcome gift will certainly win over your Russian guest in the hotel. You can hand it over directly upon arrival or place it on a table or bed along with a personal greeting. The gift could be a soothing hand cream, fine pralines or a bottle of wine or champagne. The key here is for you to you wrap it luxuriously and lovingly. The small investment will pay off because Russian guests are usually very generous when it comes to tips.
Many Russians are still a little superstitious: To shake hands under a door frame is supposed to bring bad luck. If other people become cautious on Friday the 13th, the Russians consider Monday the 13th to be particularly prone to misfortune and you should not be surprised if on such a day no business contracts are sealed in your conference rooms.
Although Russians love gold, as not only the Hermitage and Winter Palace in St Petersburg prove, they may still feel uncomfortable with golden flowers in their rooms: In Russia, yellow flowers are no symbols of happiness and friendship, but rather of jealousy and infidelity. Only on March 8 is the rule no longer does the rule no longer apply because this is International Women's Day. Russian women can expect to receive small gifts from all sides, including colleagues and business partners. Yellow mimosas and daffodils are perfect on Women's Day! But only in an uneven number, because an even number of fresh flowers is only presented at funerals and bereavements.
Or a beer. Or wine. It's true that when Russian business partners reach an agreement, they toast to it immediately, not later on in the evening. So, don't be surprised if a call goes to the bar in the morning. This does not mean that things will continue like this throughout the day, but it remains a custom that international business partners should tolerate instead of snubbing Russian guests with horrified gestures.