Customs of Russia
Marriage and Family
During the Soviet period, a secular "wedding palace" was the only place people could get married. Today some couples get married in a church after their official civil ceremony at a wedding palace.
Housing is difficult to obtain, and young couples often live with their parents for some time. Due to the cost of living, urban couples have small families; rural families are larger. Both husband and wife usually work, but women are also considered responsible for housekeeping.
Child care is available and is sometimes paid for by employers, but grandparents who live with their children often provide child care and do the shopping. Urban apartments are very small. Rural homes tend to be slightly larger than urban apartments but may lack some of the modern conveniences found in city housing.
Food supplies have improved since the onset of reforms, but prices have skyrocketed. Russians with average incomes cannot afford many of the products.
Soup is common for lunch or dinner. Traditionally, zakuski are a popular feature of any meal to which guests are invited. Zakuski are a wide range of appetizers—examples include salads made of fresh or cooked vegetables, and sliced vegetables, meat, or cheese. Those on fixed and limited incomes, mainly the elderly, eat more bread than anything else. Potatoes, carrots, beets, and onions are the most widely available vegetables because these root crops and other cool-weather vegetables grow well during Russia's short growing season. In the winter, when fresh vegetables are not available, pickled or marinated vegetables are popular. These vegetables are often grown at a family's dacha, a cottage in the country.
Common Russian foods include borsch, which is cabbage soup with beets; pirozhki, fried or baked dough filled with meat, rice, or vegetables; and blini, unsweetened pancakes eaten with toppings such as honey or sour cream. Pelmeni, boiled dumplings made of thin dough and stuffed with ground meat, spices, and sometimes vegetables, are served with sour cream and butter. Varenniki are dumplings stuffed with mashed potatoes or cottage cheese. They may also be stuffed with cherries or other fruit and eaten for dessert. Pork, sausage, chicken, and cheeses are popular. Russians drink a great deal of tea, as well as vodka and wine. The latter is produced in the south of the country. Kvass, a slightly alcoholic beverage, is particularly popular in the summer, when it is also used in cold soups.
When entertaining, people often put more food than is necessary on the table as a gesture of respect and generosity toward their guests. This gesture also indicates that there is abundance in the house, which may or may not be the case. Russians generally do not go to lunch in cafés or restaurants because of the expense, or because they feel they can bring better food from home. Some opt to eat in workplace cafeterias.
When meeting, men shake hands firmly. Women who are not urban professionals are less likely to shake hands. Friends and family may kiss on the cheek. Common greetings include Zdravstvuyte (“Hello”), Dobry dien (“Good day”), and Privet (“Hi”). The question Kak dela? (“How are you?”) is taken literally; Russians answer in detail and at length. Asking the question without waiting for a full response is considered rude. “Kak dela?” is not used as a formal greeting.
Titles such as Godpodin (“Mr.”) and Gospozha (“Mrs.”) were not used under the Communists, but they are being revived. In addressing an older or respected person, one uses the given name and a patronymic, which is the possessive form of the father’s first name. For example, Svetlana, daughter of Ivan, would be called Svetlana Ivanovna. Her brother Dmitri would be called Dmitri Ivanovich. Titles and surnames are preferred in formal greetings, however. Nicknames are commonly used among friends, relatives, or peers. Since there are common nicknames for most Russian names, an acquaintance, feeling that he or she is becoming familiar with someone, might ask to use his or her nickname. For example, someone who is becoming friends with Dmitri Ivanovich might ask if he or she can call him Dima.
Close friends and family often visit unannounced in Russia and spend hours sitting around a kitchen table and talking. With new acquaintances, visits are more formal. Russians remove their shoes upon entering a home. Hosts usually offer refreshments, but it is not impolite to decline them. It is common for guests to bring a gift of flowers, food, or vodka for their hosts.
Many Russians have to devote much of their leisure time to getting food, taking on extra jobs, and looking after their households. Urban Russians often have a dacha in the country where they spend weekends and holidays, and they often grow fruits and vegetables there. Soccer is the favorite sport but others, particularly winter sports such as ice skating, ice hockey, and cross-country skiing, are also popular. Watching television is the most common leisure activity, and even small towns have theaters and cinemas. Rural people can watch films at a dvorets kultury (“Palace of Culture”), which serves as a community recreation center. A lively nightclub scene has recently arisen in cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Holidays and Celebrations
National holidays include New Year’s Eve (31 December); New Year’s Day (1 January); Christmas (7 January); International Women’s Day (8 March); Easter; May Day (1 May); Victory Day (9 May); Independence Day (12 June); and Reconciliation Day, formerly the Anniversary of the October Revolution (7 November).
New Year’s Day is the most popular holiday in Russia. Nearly everyone decorates fir trees and has parties to celebrate. On New Year’s Eve, bearded “Grandfather Frost” leaves gifts for children to find the next day.
According to the Julian calendar used by the Russian Orthodox Church, Christmas is observed on 7 January. After the revolution in 1917, Christmas festivities were not allowed. Since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, these traditions have been making a comeback, and Christmas is now a state holiday in Russia.
International Women’s Day honors all women. Men congratulate women on this holiday, and traditionally give them flowers. On 7 March (the day before the holiday), offices often have small parties. Television stations broadcast programming dedicated to women.
On Orthodox Easter, people visit cemeteries where family members are buried, bringing cakes and painted Easter eggs. On the Saturday before Palm Sunday, Russians honor Lazarus, whom it is believed Jesus raised from the dead. At the church service that evening, pussy willows are blessed and handed out to members of the congregation to take home.
Victory Day commemorates the end of World War II, known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia, and it is especially meaningful to the older generation.
Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas