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Russia

Culture & Identity

Way of Life

Russian Culture - Russian girls
Russian girls

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.

Russian Culture - New Year
New Year

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 and company.

Ethnicity

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.

Language

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 Ukrainian.

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.

Religion

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 New Testament).

Dress

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.

Behavior

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 cultural mistakes.

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.

Identity

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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This page was last updated: November, 2013