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11 Things You Only Learn When You're Friends With a Russian

Picture of Anastasiia Ilina
Updated: 26 January 2018

The common stereotype that Russians aren’t friendly and don’t smile much is, in fact, true. Luckily, that doesn’t mean Russians don’t have friends. They do, and due to the unfriendly society, they tend to stay close with their friends and value these relationships. Here’s what to expect if you befriend a Russian.

There Isn’t a Bad Time to Talk

For Russians, good friends always have time for a chat. Whether you are struggling with a tragic loss, or you’re indecisive about what dress to wear to a party, no topic is unworthy of conversation. Russians are very compassionate, and they tend to form very close ties, though they might not have a large group and aren’t as likely to be friendly with every stranger. This just allows for more time to get closer to their friends. Such relationships result in long-lasting bonds, so your Russian friend will likely become your go-to person.

Friends Are Always Welcome

Showing up at somebody’s front door is not frowned upon in Russia. Russians are brought up to believe that guests are always welcome, even those who show up completely out of nowhere. If you happen to stop by a Russian friend’s house for a chat, chances are there will be tea set up—the best drink for conversation—along with little snacks. Your friends might even attempt to feed you a full meal.

Friends Are Always Welcome

Showing up at somebody’s front door is not frowned upon in Russia. Russians are brought up to believe that guests are always welcome, even those who show up completely out of nowhere. If you happen to stop by a Russian friend’s house for a chat, chances are there will be tea set up—the best drink for conversation—along with little snacks. Your friends might even attempt to feed you a full meal.

Money is Never an Issue

Splitting the bill or going Dutch is not particularly common in Russia. On a date, it’s absolutely unacceptable, but even when out with friends, nobody counts out how much each person spent. The same goes for outings or even lending someone money. Friendship means trust, and if a friend cheats you out of money, then that person is no friend after all. The general rule of thumb is to be generous with valuable people.

It’s Useful to Have Friends

More to the point, it is useful to have friends in the right places. Russia is an unstoppable bureaucratic machine, and the system can work against the people. Knowing people in hospitals, courts and in the police force is always useful when you need advice, but also to speed up certain processes. You will want to be sure to return the favour and give thanks, but generally speaking, Russians are very willing to help their friends.

Pleasantries Are Redundant

This is not to say that it is OK to be outright rude, but being overly polite and exchanging meaningless pleasantries is generally not the best way to start a conversation with a Russian, and that applies even more so with friends. Russians don’t greet each other with a meaningless “How are you?” Nor do they expect an “I’m good”, in return. You can skip that part of your chat with a Russian friend, and nobody will feel as though social conventions weren’t observed.

You Will Meet the Family

In the Soviet era, you could also say that you’d meet the neighbours, too, as so many people lived in communal apartments, where a family had only one room to themselves. Inevitably, you’d see the family, and they would take interest in your life while also attempting to feed you, of course. If your friend is possibly more than a friend, his or her parents might also view you as a potential spouse, so expect questions about family history, education background and career prospects.

You Will Never be Bored

Russians love a party. Whether it’s a small get together in their home or a big and festive gathering outside, the party will happen. Russians love playing host, guests are treated with respect, and the fun doesn’t stop until the last guest leaves. But guests are also expected to partake in the fun and do their part in creating the good atmosphere. It doesn’t matter if you have work in the morning or if you were planning on an early night—fun is a commitment in Russia, and your friends will expect you to be there.

Get Ready to Hear the Truth

There had to be a downside, right? Well, here it is. A Russian friend won’t find it challenging to tell the truth. If you ask, “Do I look fat in this?” and you do, then the answer will be a definitive “yes.” No good friend would let you go outside looking fat in something. Bottom line—your friend will always have good intentions when they tell you the truth.

Friends Help

Asking friends to help with errands and tasks is not uncommon. If you’re there for them in the good times, then why shouldn’t you be around for the rough stuff? They’ll happily help you move house, cook for a dinner party, walk your dog—anything within reason. So much so, that it might require some talent to avoid getting all your friends involved because whether you like it or not, they will attempt to help or give advice.

No Thank You Necessary

Voicing gratitude is not a necessity in Russian culture. The closer you get to a person, the less often you have to say please and thank you. Such is the nature of human interactions in Russia; the more polite you are, the more formal the interactions are considered. If you are friends with a Russian, you’ll quickly learn when excessive gratitude is unnecessary.

Show Some Affection

Hugging and kissing is very normal for friends, so don’t be afraid to show some love. Traditionally, Russians would kiss three times on the cheek when meeting. Now, one kiss is more common, but a hug will also be expected. This might not be such a strange act for women, but men from other countries sometimes find it odd. Don’t fret. There’s no judgement here. Embrace the culture and play it by ear. You might not want to engage in an embrace with someone who was going for a handshake.