Vodka, Swearing and Camel Milk: What you need to know about doing business in Russia and CIS
After five years working as a sales manager in Lithuania and Latvia, I am now facing the challenge of being Business Development Manager at Norbar Torque Tools in Banbury, Oxfordshire, responsible for Russian speaking countries and the Baltic States.
While working in Lithuania and Latvia, I learned a lot about the ways of doing business in both Baltic and Russian cultures. In the last 8 months I have acquired plenty of experience travelling in Russian speaking countries - particularly Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The knowledge I have gained here has been fascinating and sometimes very challenging.
Take for example the business dinner (which in my opinion is one of the most important parts of my work). What do you think the dress code is there? Pretty formal? No. In Russian and Baltic cultures there are no dress codes! People can come to a business dinner just wearing shorts and t-shirt and feel very relaxed about that. However, if it is your first meeting, or a meeting with the board, they would usually wear something a little more formal.
Another exciting thing is the traditional Russian drink – vodka. My personal opinion is that in business dealings with Russians vodka can be used as a chemical weapon. At dinner you will be offered lots of it. After dinner you will be offered even more! Obviously sharing a drink is all in good jest but sometimes some people in Russia will try to get you «too relaxed» under the motives of industrial espionage. So you must always keep yourself under control and keep any important secrets, well, secret. It is also worth noting that swearing in Russian business culture has nothing to do with the Vodka – colloquial language is just part of business conversation!
Food is not something that differs too much across Russia and generally there isn’t anything that will surprise western Europeans…until you get to somewhere like Kazakhstan. I remember once a sales partner in Kazakhstan invited us for a dinner to a traditional Kazak pub. When the meal arrived on the table I realized it was horse meat and the soft drink was camel milk. I remember my colleague who visited Kazakhstan with me posted on Facebook “Just had a horse meat” and somebody from the office replied – “be careful, it might contain beef!” It was the joke of the week considering horse-gate was in full swing back at home in the UK at the time.
So doing successful business in Russia and CIS comes down to three things; casual clothes, swearing, vodka and occasional horse meat.
Olegas Belecki, Business Development Manager, Norbar Torque Tools
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