This is an article that I kept delaying, for all the obvious reasons. Writing about anything related to Russia is somewhat taboo nowadays, but hopefully talking about the Russian culture is acceptable.
I want us to leave all political chatter aside and focus on the good things about the amazing Russian people and their impressive culture. We’re going to learn about traditions, art, cuisine, and social nuances that have shaped this culture.
And even though travel to Russian cities like Novosibirsk is not one of the things you have on your to do list right now, learning about the culture of a country is always good.
So, let’s take our attention away from the negative aspects for a while and look at some of the positives – or more generic things – with today’s guide to Russian culture.
Russia is huge
In fact, it is the largest country in the world, covering 6,592,800 square miles. With that size, it’s natural that you come across with all sorts of Russian people, without actually being able to distinguish common characteristics.
So, more than an introduction, this is actually fact 1 on Russian culture. Respect the diversity, it is an enormous place with many different humans living there.
It is no wonder the phrase ‘the broad Russian soul’ exists – there is so much to be said, learned and most importantly, felt about what Russians are.
I tried to get a bit more in depth with my previous article about men in Russia, but generalizing at such a large scale does have some pitfalls.
Still, there is a Russian character, and some traditions and traits that you will notice in the vast majority of Russians. For the sake of simplicity, these are divided in categories below.
Relationships Within the Russian Culture
We will start our exploration of the Russian culture with the relationships and inter-human behavior and traditions.
Russians are very family-oriented
When it comes to romantic relationships, Russian girls are usually very traditional and family-oriented like most Eastern European women.
A lot of people still get married very young, and there is huge focus on delivering children as soon as possible.
For women especially, there is a lot of pressure to have kids while they are still young and fertile.
This is the reason why Russian ladies are not ones for short-term relationships and one-night stands – despite what you might hear.
In reality, since early childhood, Russian women have the value of a stable long-term relationship and establishing a family instilled in them.
Age gap couples are common in Russia
In fact, statistics show that in most marriages there is a certain age difference between partners, with the wife usually being younger.
A lot of Russian girls prefer to date older men and actively pursue them, as they are regarded as more stable, both financially and psychologically.
There is still a lot of stigma about women having romantic relationships with younger guys – it is perceived as unnatural and desperate in the Russian culture.
Friend groups are quite tightly knit and people are usually reluctant to make new friendships
Don’t get me wrong though, Russians are very polite and down-to-earth, but they will not get as close as fast to a new acquaintance.
At the same time, they are very curious about people from different cultures, so your foreigner status can often help you make friends.
They love to introduce others to their Russian traditions and lifestyle and take great pride in what makes the Russian culture unique.
But overall, they can be considered a bit cold when it comes to establishing deeper connections, like most Nordic countries. It’s similar to Norway’s culture, as we’ve seen in my previous article.
Russians are still very sociable and welcoming
In spite of the whole ‘taking their time before you actually become a friend’ thing, Russians are very sociable people and enjoy receiving guests even without a special occasion.
When visiting somebody’s home, be it for a dinner, afternoon coffee or a house party, never show up empty handed.
The hosts have probably made sure there are plenty of food and drinks – it is considered incredibly rude to leave your guests without at least a snack.
That is why, as a gesture of gratitude for their effort, you are also expected to bring something.
Let the occasion be your guide for this one. For instance, if you are going over for pre-drinks, bring a drink (a bottle of beer or vodka do great) or a party snack like potato chips.
If you’ve been invited over for dinner, wine, a good dessert or some fancy cheese or other delicacy are much better. Don’t forget to bring sweet treats for any kids that might be there.
Read More: Is The Russian Language Hard to Learn?
It is a bit of stereotype that Russian parties get very wild, very quick
While this may or may not be true, drinking is a big, big thing in Russia. Vodka, unsurprisingly, is the beverage of choice and all toasts are bottoms-up kind of toasts.
Do not assume you can outdrink a Russian. Chances are, you can’t and the whole experience can have you ending up in Toxicology.
Traditions and Beliefs of Russian Culture
We’re now moving to the broader – and extremely important topic of religion and traditional beliefs in Russian culture.
Religion matters and even non-believers respect the church
This might come as a surprise, especially for a country where atheism was the rule for more than 50 years.
Most Russians nowadays, however, even if they are not actively practicing, consider themselves Orthodox Christians.
The Russian Orthodox Church has immense power over the hearts of a nation, with even spaceships being baptized before they take off.
Christmas is not on the 25th December
Well, Orthodox Russians adhere to the Julian calendar, according to which Christmas is on the 7th of January.
Other religious holidays move as well, so don’t be surprised if somebody tells you they do not celebrate when you expect them to.
And speaking of the winter holidays, why not see how it’s celebrated in Santa’s country? I wrote an in-depth article on how they celebrate Christmas in Finland.
Before religious holidays, there is fasting
For Orthodox Christians, it means excluding animal products from their diets for a few weeks before a big holiday, such as Christmas.
But fasting is not about going temporarily vegan, in fact on certain days eating fish is allowed, and shrimp, caviar, prawns and other seafood delicacies are permitted during the entire fast. Also, honey is OK.
So it’s a weird sort of plant-based eating, for a religious purpose. It said that restricting what you consume helps focus on spiritually preparing for the holiday.
You will see a lot of products marked as suitable for people who are fasting. It is a widely spread tradition, that comes to prove just how much Russians still respect the Orthodox teachings.
Russians respect religious holidays, but their favorite one is the New Year’s Eve
It is celebrated with loud parties, lots of drinking, dancing and fireworks at midnight. Pretty standard, right?
One cute and unexpected thing is that kids actually get gifts on Christmas Eve AND New Year’s Eve.
The Russian equivalent of Santa Claus is Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), who is usually assisted by Snow white.
This lady is not to be confused with the one who lived with seven dwarfs, although they share the same name.
She is said to be Ded Moroz’s granddaughter and there is also a separate fairy tale on her.
The second most popular holiday is Victory Day
The victory of the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany is commemorated on the 9th May.
An enormous annual military parade takes place in Moscow, as well as other cities throughout the country.
For locals, this demonstration of military power is a reminder of a glorious past and a source of national pride within the Russian culture.
A similar holiday, the Defender of the Fatherland Day, celebrates the men who fought and still fight for Russia.
The Russians are VERY superstitious
One very common tradition is taking a seat in silence before leaving for a long trip.
Most Russian families do it – after going through the chaos of packing, checking if anything is forgotten and preparing the home for a longer absence, they sit silently on the sofa for a few minutes.
Not doing it is considered bad omen.
And there are many other superstitions that are followed in Russia by most people.
Now, let’s get to the truly tasty part about Russian culture – the food. As you can expect, there’s a lot to talk about, so let’s jump right in!
Blini are a mouth-watering way to ease yourself into Russian cuisine
Those tiny, porous pancakes go equally well with chocolate spreads and caviar.
Actually, under no circumstances miss the blini with caviar — they are the perfect neutral backdrop for the strong taste of caviar.
Buckwheat porridge is amazing (known as kasha)
The buckwheat grains are boiled with water or milk if you want to be fancy, and then served with butter and a variety of toppings.
For breakfast, Russians prepare it with milk and add plenty of sugar to sweeten it, while if they use it as a side dish to something savory, they drown it in butter and sour cream.
Although butter is not the healthiest food in the world, buckwheat kind of is. Not only is it rich in protein and micro elements, but it also satiates you for longer hours than the corn flakes you might be used to.
Just one more unmissable dish – pelmeni
There isn’t really a good explanation as to why exactly the boiled, meat-filled dough tastes so amazing, but it does.
Usually, they are better at restaurants where the chefs prepare the dough themselves, but even if you see them in the freezer of a supermarket give them a go.
Just boil them for a few minutes and serve with sour cream (you will notice a lot of Russian dishes are served with sour cream).
How to drink vodka in the Russian culture
Now that we’ve mentioned that Russians drink obscene amounts of alcohol (to the point where alcoholism and issues associated with it are a big problem in Russian society), let’s unveil how exactly do they drink.
First of all, not with the main dish, but with a snack or salad. There is a range of dishes, appetizers of sort, prepared specifically to go with vodka.
Pickles, caviar and beetroot salad are just a few. In all cases, remember that drinking in Russian culture is about conversation and connection and that your liver will thank you if you try to consume responsibly.
This might not be a relevant closing paragraph, since the last item on the list was vodka, but I’d like to note that there is still a lot to be explored about Russian culture.
For instance, Russian literature is very rich, beautiful and has had an enormous influence on European literature as a whole. Same goes for Russian cinema, music and performance art.
Sadly, a lot of that remains little known to people from the West. So I encourage you to try and experience these features of Russian culture as well, even if you do it with a glass of ice cold vodka in hand.