Welcome all!

First I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, I hope you will enjoy reading it! Do not hesitate to follow me!

This blog has three main objects. First, it allows me to share my impressions and to provide useful informations to people who visit or leave in Moscow.

Than across this blog, I would like to exchange on Russia and more specifically on Moscow, to discuss everyone's outlook and eventually correct some stereotypes!

At last but not least, I would like to publish contributions of foreigners and Russians living in Moscow in order to have a multitude of glance on this wonderful city

I wish you all a good reading!! (There is also a French version of this blog: http://regards-sur-la-russie.blogspot.com/)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

What you should do… or not do while invited by a Russian!

As we can’t deny Russian hospitality, we can say that it’s very common to be invited by Russians in their home! As a foreigner, it’s not always easy to know what you should do and what might offend your host. Of course because you are a foreigner they will be much more understandable towards your inappropriate behaviour when the case! But if you get to respect the local traditions and habits, it’s way better. In order to do that, I did my best to list a maximum of rules and traditions it’s good to apply when you are invited as well as when you invite Russians.

I’ll try to list everything in a logical order, from your arrival to your departure! First of all and like in many countries, it’s better to bring a gift (flowers, wine, chocolate …). Once you arrived at the door, you knock of course, but then you must be careful to not shake hands in the doorway, you must first enter and only then you can kiss or shake hands with your host. When you invite Russians it’s the same, invite them to enter before saying hello. And in most cases, you will have to take off your shoes, don’t make them ask you!

Once inside, you will be offered to sit in the dining room (or often in the living room or the kitchen since most of the flats/houses are not big enough to have a dining room) if you come for lunch or dinner, otherwise in most cases you will be offered a cup of tea. It’s not very polite to refuse the drink, but you can ask for something else. Especially in Moscow, you can ask for a coffee as it’s becoming very popular, if you really don’t like coffee and tea you still can ask for a juice. But keep in mind that drinking tea in Russia is a “must do” (unfortunately for me)! And you never drink tea alone, there are always small cakes or candies to go with it, if you have guests, buy some (and don’t forget like me!). 

If you come for a meal, you’ll realize that all the “закуски” are already set on the table. It’s all kind of appetizers and cold dishes such as ham, sausage, salads, caviar (red) … . If you have Russian guests home it’s good to do the same, bring every cold dishes at once. Warm dishes will come one after another (soup, fish or meat). Concerning cheese (I’m French!), it will always come as an appetizer, never like in France between the main dish and the desert. If you need bread to go with your cheese, you should cut it facing you, if you cut it the other way, you will make wealth go away! (I’m not sure it’s like that everywhere in Russia but it does exist).   

During the meal, you’ll realize soon enough that drinking alcohol can be a big part of it, even if habits already tend to change, drinking vodka during the whole dinner is still very common. And for foreigners very hard!! Wine is becoming popular but it’s more expensive and not always of quality so vodka is still N°1. The first rule to fulfil when you are with Russians is that someone has to give a toast each time the group drinks. And when we say drink, for vodka, it means to clean your glass!! The toast must be for something (French-Russian friendship for example) or someone and the third one is always for all the women that are around the table. The tradition also wants that when someone’s late, he has to drink a “penalty drink”, usually a full shot of vodka, to keep up with the others! Each time there is a toast, you “need” to drink your glass, it can’t be one time you drink and the next time not anymore. If you don’t want to drink alcohol it’s possible, but it should be from the beginning to the end. If you drink only for part of the toasts, there is a great risk that you will hurt the persons who did a toast where you didn’t drink.

Some other rules to respect are that when a bottle is empty you should take it off the table and of course replace it with a new one! As well, you should never pour alcohol in your own glass, someone has to do it for you. Finally, when you pour a drink you should always do it your hand turned inward, to do it with your hand turned outward is like a gesture of denial discordant with the symbolical gesture of pouring a glass.

Regarding other Russian traditions, we can mention the fact that you shouldn’t whistle inside a house, otherwise there won’t be any money ; you shouldn’t open your umbrella inside the house and you should never wish in advance someone’s birthday or any other celebration, it brings bad luck. So for example, if it’s your friend’s birthday tomorrow and that you have to leave somewhere today for several days, don’t call him to wish him a happy birthday one day before. Finally I identified two more traditions, less applied but interesting to know. When some guests or family members leave for a long trip, everyone seats two-three minutes in front of the door, inside, chat and say goodbye in order to bring luck for the trip. At last, when you go out and you come back immediately inside the house because you forgot something, you have to look in the mirror.

I almost forgot one of the most important traditions in Russia, gallantry. It’s very common to see a man open the door for a woman, offer his seat in the metro and hold the door, or to greet a woman by kissing her hand. And without speaking about offering flowers!! (Always an impair number).

I guess there are many other traditions in Russia, I shared the one I know regarding the house and the meal. If you know any other habits and traditions do not hesitate to share them in the comments!! And if you like my papers, do not hesitate to click on the Google+1 button and to share them, thanks!


  1. Bonjour Laurent!

    I appreciate your items about the Penalty Drink, and that one should always wait for someone else to pour the vodka. We wrote about table etiquette recently. I hope you stop by to visit, too.


    Robert MacDonald

  2. Thanks Robert for your comment!!

    I'll have a look at your blog for sure!

    Have a nice day


  3. Thanks for sharing this information about the Penalty Drink,. Your information is really informative for us.

    Russian Girls

  4. Hello Laurent! I would like to add another superstition to the list. Women do not put their handbags on the floor otherwise there will be no money

  5. Hello Olga, thank you for this information! I was always wondering why Russian women were never putting their handbags on the floor!!

    1. Mónica, drinking tea is more common for us, Russians. Coffee is being more and more popular nowadays but tea still remains number one drink.

  6. in every country.. is nice to serve guest with better hospitality.. thx for the info

  7. I have heard from my friends too who have visited Russia already that Russian people are very guest-friendly. The tea offering is something new to me though. Why are they drinking tea instead of coffee?

  8. Hello Saket, Gustav and Monika, sorry for not answering before!

    Thank you for your comments, know that it's appreciated :)

    @Monika, Tea is an old Russian tradition, coffee is rather new for the country and so far mostly in big cities.

  9. Very interesting advice. A lot of is true but it can't be like that at every Russian's home when being invited? All Russians are different.

  10. Hello all, I would like to add about the tradition what was said before. When you get home, you should not just look in the mirror, but also to show yourself your tongue

  11. @Jay: Of course, most of what I listed is linked to old traditions or superstitions, and lots of people don't apply all of them anymore!! But some of them are still well used and as foreigners, I think it's important for us to respect it, when we know about it!
    @Thank you "anonymous" for the explanation. Do you know where this tradition comes from?

  12. Hello Laurent
    I think it came from divination. For example in the old times women used the mirrow in order to see their future and fiances. Well in some ways mirrow was a window between this and the another world. And it could show you dangerous and scary stuff too, such as devilry.
    So showing tounge this means that you are not affraid of devil`s tricks which could be the reasons for your sudden returning home.

    1. Thanks! (read it in November but forgot to answer!)

  13. Hello Laurent :)
    I don't know if this is the correct place to post this question, as I still feel a bit knew to this whole blogger thing, but this was the closest topic to the question I have. But ANYways...I was wondering what gifts are appropriate to give to a Russian? The reason I ask this is because I am planning on moving to Russia soon for study abroad, and I may be living with a host family, so I'd like to get them something. Also, I have heard it is customary to give little gifts to people when you visit their homes, but I mean, are chocolates, flowers, and wine the norm? And if I do that, would that be chocolate and wine from my home country, or can I just buy it in some shop somewhere there? Which do you think would be more preferred? Also, I don't know how the whole gift giving thing works because I've had some Russian friends buy me some really expensive things for nothing, is that because they like me or is it because that is just how Russians are-once they know you, buy you nice things? Idk...just wanna know what I'm getting myself into here with this whole gift thing. thanks! :)
    cheers! :)

    1. Hello!

      It's a very hard question you give here :) First if you'll be living in a host family, you should know how many people are in the family and try to get something for everyone, it's important, even if it's small. As a foreigner, bringing products from your home country is the best choice and will be most likely appreciated. Chocolate, wine, flowers are the norm but if you have some specialties from your country it's better.
      For the expensive gifts from your friends, depends really if they are rich or not, but a Russian friend will be much more involved in friendship than most of us (European, American). And if it's guy they might like you as well :)
      Hope it helps, if you have any other questions, don't hesitate!


  14. Hello again Laurent :)
    Thank you so much for the very quick response :)
    you have been really helpful because i have not been able to find that answer anywhere. all of my younger Russian friends joke with me to just take Vodka, but I mean...I'm pretty sure Russian vodka is superior to the stuff here in the States, lol! As for the friends giving me expensive gifts, yes...they were wealthier. one or two may have liked me though because i just felt their gifts were way too much...to the point where it was uncomfortable for me even to accept.but again, maybe they were just rich, like you said.
    and yes, i have noticed that they are much more involved in friendships than us...but I like that :)
    I'm sure I will have more questions to come in the future, so thank you in advance :)
    I enjoy reading your blogs, and hope to hear more soon.

    cheers! :)