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Culture & Identity
Way of Life
The way of life in Russia has incredible variations. Go to Moscow, St. Petersburg,
Yekaterinburg, and a village and in many ways they may appear to be different countries.
St. Petersburg has a youthfulness and liberal aura as a student center, Moscow exudes
power and wealth, Yekaterinburg feels like an industrial town allowing life in the
desolate unknown, and villages seem to move slowly, but peacefully. The traditional
Russian culture is heavily based on rural living and village life, but the Soviet
heavily industrialized and urbanized the people, changing the daily way of life
in the country.
Today nearly 75% of the people are urban and nearly a third work in industries,
such as mining, oil, coal, metals, machinery, and military equipment. Only about
10% of the people still work in agriculture and the rest work in the services fields.
Although the farmers tend to work from sun up to sun down, for most people the work
day begins at about 8:00 or 9:00 am and continues to about 5:00 or 6:00 pm. The
GDP per capita in Russia is about $18,000, but the wages differ greatly from urban
to rural settings and some occupations, such as engineers in the oil industries
and lawyers everywhere, make significantly more money than nearly any other occupation.
Education is very important to the Russians and getting into some university programs
can be very difficult (although bribery helps). Like workers, most students get
to school via public transportation in the cities. School runs at about the same
hours as most work schedules, but usually finish at about 3:00 pm.
Evening and weekend (Saturday-Sunday) life for young singles tends to be based on
grabbing a drink with friends after work, checking out the local dance club, or
perhaps going for a forest walk. Other forms of entertainment are prevalent in Moscow
and St. Petersburg, but elsewhere the options are limited. For families the evening
and weekends are more about spending time with family as most meals are eaten at
home and during the school year homework occupies much of the evenings.
The way of life as mentioned above is typical, but Russia is anything but typical.
Russia is diverse in every sense of the word and the way of life and culture is
no different. Moscow has high end car dealerships for those looking to spend some
of their excessive millions of dollars and high end shops for the unemployed spouses
of the rich to shop, while village life is simple, filled with hard working couples
trying to make ends meet, but often this comes with a simplicity that revolves around
going to the neighbor's banya (similar to a sauna) to enjoy conversation
Most of Russia is ethnically Russian, but there are dozens
of ethnic minorities in the country and some regions have a high percentage of these
minorities than they have ethnic Russians. The Russian ethnicity is a part of the
eastern Slavic ethnicities, making their closest relatives the
Belarusians and Ukrainians. Of the minority ethnic
groups, many are people of neighboring countries, such as Belarusians, Kazakhs,
Chinese, etc., but others belong to more unique ethnic groups. The largest of these
ethnic groups is the Tatars, who are an ethnically Turkic people who spread across
the country with the Mongols. Many of the other minority
groups are also Turkic people from the Central Asian
or Ural Mountain regions.
The official language of Russia is Russian, which is a
member of the eastern Slavic linguistic group. Russian is written in the Cyrillic
alphabet and is most similar to Belarusian and
Like the various ethnic groups in Russia, many of them also have a unique language,
many of which are either a Turkic language (related to many languages in
Central Asia and in Turkey or a Uralic language
(related to Hungarian, Finnish,
and other minor languages in Scandinavia
and Russia). Russian is the most commonly spoken language and nearly everyone learns
Russian as the main means of communication between ethnic groups. English and other
popular international languages have only recently begun being taught in mass numbers,
but many young people have at least a working understanding of English today.
There is no official religion in Russia and, partially
due to the intentional destruction of religion during time spans under the communists,
the country is primarily atheist or does not adhere to a specific faith. The most
popular religion is Russian Orthodox, but less than a quarter of the people actually
adheres to this religion. There is also a significant Muslim population as many
of the minority groups are, generally speaking, Muslim, although many others have
converted to Orthodoxy or abandoned an attachment to any particular religion. Most
people will claim to be religious or a believer of a Higher Being, but do not practice
a particular religion nor do they prescribe to any individual faith.
Orthodoxy is a Christian religion that claims to be the most loyal to the Christian
faith and religion as it was described by Jesus and the Gospels in the New Testament.
Christianity, including Orthodoxy, was founded after the death of Jesus in about
30-33 AD; various branches of Orthodoxy were officially recognized by governments
long before Catholicism was recognized in the Roman Empire.
Orthodoxy and Catholicism have many of the same beliefs; both believe that there
is a single God who created everything and a savior, the son of God, Jesus Christ
who is the forgiver of sins. However, Orthodoxy is decentralized so each bishop
oversees their local country or region, giving each orthodox country a different
leader. In this way, no bishop has more power than any other, meaning the tenants
and interpretations of the faith remain relatively unchanged. These beliefs are
based on the teachings of the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, in
particular the life and teachings of Jesus, which is found in the gospels (in the
Traditional Russian clothing reflects the weather as the clothing tends to be long-sleeved
and warm. For Russian women this generally means long dresses that cover the arms
and fall to the ground. These dresses are often times heavily embroidered and often
times include the color red to some degree. However, the variations of the dresses
vary greatly from region to region and even over time, although most have loose-fitting
white sleeves and red on them. Most women also covered their heads with some sort
of cloth or handkerchief. Likewise, men traditionally wore clothing similar to that
of historic Europe with pants, shirts, and often times a vest. Boots were common
due to the snow and mud, while hats were essential through much of the year, often
times being made from fur.
Today the dress in Russia is modern western-styled clothing, but aspects of the
past have survived. Boots and hats remain essential in the winters and women generally
plan their outfits and hair with their hat in mind. Fur is also still a common clothing
items, but today primarily for women's coats. Women also tend to dress liberally,
especially in the summers when outfits can be scarce and white pants can be nearly
transparent. The opposite is true for Russian men; pants are the norm, but they
are almost always black, as are shoes and boots. Blue jean and tennis shoes are
expensive so uncommon in Russia today.
As a visitor to Russia any western-styled clothing is fine, but try to avoid anything
with a political message or anything that may indicate where you are from (although
foreign shirts are somewhat of a status symbol in Russia). Despite your best efforts
to fit in, blue jeans and tennis shoes will give you away as a foreigner unless
you are in Moscow. Other than this, just try to dress for the occasion; many churches,
nice restaurants, and political sites require long pants and long-sleeved shirts
for entry, while Black Sea beaches are fit for swimsuits and the clubs at night
can be rather risque.
The people of Russia maintain much of the Soviet mentality as they rarely get involved
in other people's personal affairs and tend to keep to themselves when in public.
Due to this attitude, the people take offense at few things. Although everyone will
notice odd behaviors and cultural abnormalities, rarely will anyone point out your
As a visitor to Russia try to follow the lead of the locals
by dressing in alike manner (see above for details), dining in the local etiquette
(see our Russia Dining & Food Page), and avoid
sensitive conversation topics, such as politics, finances, and business unless initiated
by your local counterpart. Also try to avoid being loud, rude, or showing off wealth.
Russians identify in multiple different ways, but most
see themselves first as Russian. This term is one that is based heavily on ethnicity
and language, while the culture attached to these people has little role in the
identity and citizenship has no role in the identity. Much of the former Russian
culture was destroyed or re-defined under Soviet rule and today the culture vastly
differs from region to region and from rural settings to urban settings so the cultural
similarities are strong, but not an important aspect in defining the Russian identity.
Ethnic Russians and Russian speakers abroad are always considered a part of this
identity, no matter where they were born or live.
Russia is home to dozens of ethnic minority groups and most of these people primarily
identify with their ethnicity, but perhaps also with their language, culture, and
religion. The way each group identifies varies drastically as some groups have abandoned
their native language for Russian, while for others religion is very important and
one of the most important parts of thei identity.
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