Culture background Russian culture has a long history and tradition and Russians are very proud of it. Russians consider themselves as a well educated nation.
They read a lot, books are cheap, and one can afford to buy books a month without serious damage to a family budget. Russians are also big fond of live performances at theatres and since tickets are affordable prices in cinemas and theatres are comparable , they enjoy attending theatres: Usually every city has a few theatres. The theatre culture was developed during the Soviet times when tickets were sold through schools and enterprises: The agent would bring tickets for distribution to every enterprise and school in his area and the person responsible for "culture sector" would organize collective visit to the theatre.
I think it was an excellent system since people had the opportunity to attend theatres from the early age, starting from attending performances in a Muppet theatre, then moving to the Youth Drama Theatre, then to Drama, Musical and Opera, according to their age. Also attending performances in a company is always much more fun, which contributed to the popularity of theatres. This is how most Russian people have developed their taste for live performances.
Movie theatres are also becoming popular in Russia and they are equipped with the latest sound systems. When Russian people talk about movie theatres, they will usually say "cinema"; if they talk about "theatres", they mean live performances.
During Soviet times there was a well developed system of community work and in every group class at school, department at work etc would be also a person responsible for sport, education, political information of the group etc.
People that were doing community work were given benefits free or discounted travel, ability to buy deficit goods, ability to receive a better apartment from the government for free etc - remember, there was no private property until Perestroika, everything used to belong to the state, which was controlling distribution and would award the most active citizens.
Unfortunately the system of volunteering was broken with Perestroika but Russians still have that great community spirit which sometimes goes to the lengths a westerner would consider as infringement.
Russian culture is non-individualistic. The power of an individual in Russia is much less than in the west and most deals are pushed through family, friends and acquaintances. Russian saying is, "One is not a soldier in the battlefield". In Russia, one still needs to know people in power to make things work.
This is why they maintain more friendships than an average westerner. They often have to rely on their friends to help them out. You know someone who knows someone who is in power; this is the way they have the things done.
If you know the right people, you can have the most difficult things done with little effort. In my life, a few times I ran into dead ends where there was nothing I could do in the straightforward way; the people were right to refuse me, according to the official rules.
But once I could find people who knew someone inside the system, a month wait would turn into just a few hours wait or they would find a place for me where they said the rules would not allow them to give me one. Foreigners would just give up; Russians believe there is always a roundabout. It's a great achievement for the country where atheism was the official state religion for more than 70 years.
Frankly, most of them are not true believers. They appreciate Christian moral values but do not follow them. Religion is not a real part of their life. Russians are more aware of horoscopes than the Bible. Church service in Russia can be attended any day of the week and performed every day 2 or 3 times early morning at 3 a.
People usually attend the church just to "light a candle" and quickly pray. They do it to ask for something to happen a business deal, an exam or to remember a close person who is dead. People do not have to be a member of the church to do it and they do not have monthly contributions to the church.
Church survives selling candles and reminder notes and charging for services such as baptizing, weddings and funerals. Church marriage is not official in Russia. A couple has to register their marriage with government authorities first to be allowed to have church ceremony performed. Medical aid and education in Russia are free, though Russians joke that education becomes less and less free with every year.
One can still get a university education for free by passing the entrance tests exams , but the universities have to decrease the number of students studying on a free basis because of poor state financing. Since both education and culture facilities used to be widely available, Russians can be considered a highly cultured nation.
Their general knowledge is very good: At secondary schools, they study not only the history of Russia but also the world history, including American and European history.
In the same secondary school course 11 years school qualification is mandatory in Russia they study world literature, world music, and world geography. Many books of western authors are mandatory reading in the course of literature in Russian translation of course. The standard secondary school program includes studying of a foreign language for 6 years grades , usually it is English but also can be French, German or Spanish.
Most subjects in the course of a secondary school are mandatory for all schools throughout the whole Russia, and only since recently there are some subjects that students can choose in addition to the general course. On the entrance exams at universities and colleges only questions from the general course of the secondary school can be asked.
Universities and colleges accept students according to the results of entrance tests, and not according to their marks at school, though having excellent marks can help for example, you would only have to pass exams instead of regular 4. Intellectually, Russians are interesting people to talk to and enjoy deep subjects. Philosophy is still a mandatory subject when you study for a degree and one of the 3 compulsory subjects for PhD qualifying exam the other 2 are foreign language and the specialty itself.
At the same time the majority of Russians don't have what you call in the west "good manners". Their manners are not bad, they are just Russian. Russia is quite a tough country and Russians usually do not hesitate to say what they think in a way that doesn't leave room for any misunderstandings. During the Soviet period having "good manners" was considered as a bourgeois survival. Russians are very straightforward.
When they meet or phone each other, they seldom spend time on questions like "How are you? They are not rude, it's just a way of doing things. Since Perestroika, the system of higher university education is slowly deteriorating as well as the medical aid system, which used to be among the world's best. The problem with Russian education is that it was always rather theoretical and unrelated to practice.
Therefore, it's common for a person having an engineering degree to work in sales, or one with a chemical background to find himself in marketing. In the old days having a degree was an end in itself. They are trying to change the educational programs now, but it will take years to build the system. It's not of any wonder if a woman with university degree works as a secretary.
The position that one has in a company is not as important as the company in which he or she works. Having your own business in Russia is a big challenge. The tax system works in the way that if one has a small business individual private enterprise , he must pre-pay taxes before he receives permission to act.
It's unbelievable, but it's true: Then he gets a permission to start his business activity; but he must run to the tax department the second he earns 1 Ruble more profit than it was estimated and paid in advance. I understand that it sounds funny, but it just works like this. The authorities are suspicious towards owners of small businesses.
The bigger enterprises have a more convenient tax system. At the same time there were comments from top government officials that this is only a temporary retreat, and the progressive tax system will be brought back as soon as people get used to paying their taxes. Actually, the government hoped that people would start paying tax and show their real profits - but Russians know their government. Collecting taxes is still the biggest concern for the Russian government.
Most serious investors of so called "New Russians" transfer their capitals abroad of course, it's illegal, but there are so many ways to take a roundabout. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, there are sizable communities of expatriates that live there mostly because of the low taxes - investors etc.
Other westerners live there because of the low cost of living; on a western disability pension one can live in Russia as a king. They even have their own expatriate newspapers in English! Before the year , the Russian tax system was very complicated.
To pay rubles to an employee, an employer had to pay about 80 rubles of tax to the state: There were many federal, regional and city's taxes, which were different from one region to another.
The system made companies have double accounting, and sometimes double salaries - an official one and so called "black cash salary". Another reality businesses face in Russia is organized crime, which often has close connections with authorities. Nowadays many businesses prefer to employ "commercial" departments of police organizations or private security companies, which are in reality just a camouflaged "raket".
They will "help" you in a case of bad debts, problems with business partners or criminal situations like robbery etc, providing you a "roof". All "criminal cooperations" have official businesses registered, and you pay them an official fee additionally to unofficial. It was a very funny case in Ekaterinburg at spring , when one of the "cooperations" registered their association as "OPS".
In Russian it is a common abbreviation for "organized crime syndicate" "Organizovannoye Prestupnoe Soobshcestvo". It was one of the most famous and big groups in the city, and the choice of such a name demonstrated that the guys were feeling absolutely comfortable with their status. Well, you consider us as "OPS"? If you have some problems with your business partner, your "roof" "krysha" will meet with the other guy's "roof", and they will try to settle your business problems trough mutual discussion.
If they can't get right, they may apply to an unbiased source - a person "in law" "v zakone" , who will take a decision, usually quite just. This decision is final, and you can't apply against of it, or get rid of it. There is an official way of settling the problems through a state court, but it's almost out of use: But businessmen are in a better situation than the people that work as employees. With all the headaches and stress, they still have some money and considerably good living standards.
Government employees, particularly medical doctors and teachers, do not receive their salaries for months, sometimes up to months.